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Goen Zhey

The classical dance of Goen


Goen Zhey being performed in traditional costumes.

This classical dance is the celebration of the coming of Zhabdrung Rinpoche otherwise known as Zhabdrung Nagwang Namgyal to Bhutan from Tibet. Traditionally it is performed for three days at the Gasa Tashi Thong Moen Dzong by twenty one artists who are believed to be the warriors of Zhabdrung.

Reasons for selection

The Goen Zhey is perhaps the longest and is believed to be the source of all other Zhey, classical Bhutan dances. It has all the characteristics unique to Bhutan and if not documented, there is chance of its disappearance. Moreover, this dance is not well known in other parts of Bhutan, and as a means of promotion and preservation, is presently being taught at the Academy by a 75-year-old man who hails from Goen, the place of its origin.

Area where performed

This spirited and virile dance evolved amid the surroundings of high-perched Gasa Tashi Thong Moen Dzong. It is located at a vulnerable spot near the north-west belt adjoining Tibet. The performers are the local artists of this area.

Essential elements of the performing art

Music, Dance

Detailed explanation

Goen Zhey is a beautiful and spirited classical dance form. Thematically it draws substantially from the coming of Zhabdrung Rinpoche to Bhutan across the high passes of Laya. The artists of the Goen Zhey were known as pazangp .

The characteristics
The artists put on black toego or upper garment to signify that they are externally lay people. To signify internally their being disciples of Zhabdrung Rinpoche, they put on red gho, Bhutanese dress for men. Since they are artists, they wear a ring on the head and pho chued on the left side to signify they are warriors.

Its tune is unique to the country and the gestural movements of the body are accompanied by the melodious song that springs forth from a faithful mind.

The verses express spiritually bountiful wealth handed down by the successive saints of the Drukpa Kagyue lineage and especially celebrate the light of dharma kindled by Zhabdrung Rinpoche.

The Goen Zhey deserves a special place as it preceded most of the other classical dances and songs presently performed in the country.

To this day the Tashi Thong Moen Dzong alias Yulgyel Dzong the victorious Fort of Gasa District has no other well known festival other than the Tshechu festival held annually on the 10th day of the 8th Bhutan month which falls in the month of September. The festival lasts for three days with no other forms of entertainment besides Goen Zhey which also continues for three days. It has 25 sections which are divided for three days according to the sequence desired by the festival organizers. However, depending on the need it is also performed in Thimphu during special events.

It is believed to have been performed for the first time in 1616 when Zhabdrung Rinpoche came to Bhutan at age of 23. His great attribute was the unification of Bhutan and the introduction of the unique system of governance in which temporal and spiritual rules go in tandem. For the last few decades, the Goen Zhey remained isolated and unrecognized until His Majesty the King, during one of his visits happened to see Goen Zhey performed at the Gasa Dzong and recognized it to be one of the important intangible cultural heritages. Thereupon, His Majesty took personal interest in it and a 75 year old man, perhaps the only living custodian of Goen Zhey, has been deputed to teach the art at the Royal Academy of Performing Arts, for promotion and preservation.

Publication and textual documentation

not yet available

Audio documentation

not yet available

Visual documentation

not yet available

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

no information at present

Data provider

Phuntsho Gyeltshen
Royal Academy of Performing Arts
Address: (Special Commission of Performing Arts)Post Box #493 Chubachu, Thimphu, Bhutan