Bhutan Religious Dances and Music

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Bhutan Religious Dances and Music .

Religious dances are called cham and there are a large number of them. Dancers wear spectacular costumes made of yellow silk or rich brocade, often decorated with ornaments of caved bone. For certain dances they wear masks which my represent animals, fearsome deities, skulls, manifestations of Guru Rinpochen or just plain human begins. The masks are so heavy that dancers protect themselves from injury by binding their heads in strips of cloths which support the mask. The dancers then see out through the opening of the mouth.

Dances can be grouped into three broad categories: instructive or didactic dances which are dramas with a moral (the Dance of the Princes and Princesses, the Dance of the Stag and the Hunting Dogs, the Dance of Judgment of the Dead); dance that purity and protect a place from demonic spirits (Dance of the Masters of the Cremation Grounds, the Dance of the Black Hats, the Dance of the Ging and the Tsholing, the dances of the Ging with sticks and the Ging with swords); and dance that proclaim the victory of Buddhism and the glory of Guru Rinpoche (all dances with drums, the Dance of the Heroes, the Dancer of Celestial Beings, the dance of Eight Magnifications of Guru Rinpoche).

The most famous dance are the following:

The Dance of the Black Hats (Shanog) :

A spectacular dance in which dancers representing Tantrists with supernatural powers take possession of the dancing area to drive out evil spirits and purify the ground with their footsteps. This dance also tells the story of the year AD 842 by a monk, Pelkyi Dorje, who had hidden his bow and arrows in the voluminous sleeves of his garment. Beating drums as they dance, the ‘Black Hat’ dancers proclaim their victory over the evil sprits.

The Dancer of the Drummers from Dametsi (Dametsi Ngacham):

This is the best-known dance of all, composed in the 16th century at Dametsi Monastery in Eastern Bhutan by a saint who a vision of Guru Rincpoche’s heaven. Twelve men wearing yellow skirts and animal masks beat drums as they dance; they represent Guru Rinpoche’s entourage and they are celebrating the victory of the religion.

The Dance of the Masters of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag):

This dance requires some measure of understanding of Tantric symbolism. Two skeletons guard the eight cremation grounds which are situated on the edges of the cosmic diagram where Tantric deities dwell. Their mission is to protect the cosmic diagram from demonic influences.

The Dance of the Fearsome Gods (Tungam):

Dancers dressed in brocade and wearing masks of wrathful deities represent the entourage dance. Armed with ritual daggers (phurpa), the dancers execute and redeem an eveil spirit by liberating its conscious principle from its body.

The Lute Dance (Dranyen Cham):

This dance celebrates the founding and spared of the Drukpa school.

Religious Songs (Choeshe): Very similar to the preceding dance and performed in the same costume, this dance and the song which accompanies it commemorates the beginning of a pilgrimage to Mount Tsari in Tibet by the founder of the Drukpa school, Tsangpa Gyare.The Dance of the Four Stages (Shacham): This dance commemorates the vanquishing of the God of the Wind by Guru Rinpoche commandeers the god’s stag as his own mount.

The Dance of the judgment of the Dead (Raksha Marcham):

This dance is one the most interesting of the Tshechu and it is extremely didactic. It is divided into two parts.First comes a long dance by the Rakshas who are aides to the God of the Dead-Shinje Choekyi Gyelpo- enters together with his attendants, the white god and the black demon who live with all beings and bear witness to their actions. Next begins the judgment proper. The first to enter is a sinner dressed all in black with a black mask, holding a basket containing a piece of meat that symbolizes his sins. The God of the Dead listens to his tale, then has his actions writhed on a scale. The good actions are symbolized by white pebbles, the bad once by back pebbles. Then has his actions weighed on a scale. The good actions are symbolized by white pebbles, the bad ones by the black pebbles. The white god tries to save the sinner by emphazing his good actions. Whereas the black demon then describes the man’s wicked actions in detail. In the end, the sinner is sent to hell to the great joy of the black demon who accompanies him on the road to hell, symbolized by a length of black cloth A general dance ensures and then a virtuoso man enters. As a sign of his piety, he us dressed in white, with a white face, and he holds a prayer flag. The same judgment scene as before unfolds and the virtuous man is sent to paradise on a road which is symbolized by a length of white cloths. The black demon tries to seize him at him last moment but the white god saves him and he is welcomed by celestial beings.

The Dance of the Princes and Princesses (Pholay Moley):

This is certainly one of the Bhutanese public’s best-loved which is also a little lewd. The written story of King Norzang concerns the king’s love for his favourite queen, Yidrogma, which provokes the jealousy of the other queens. The latter arrange things so

That the king goes off to war, and they then force Yidrogma to flee to her father in fear of her life. But when the king returns from battle he soon understands the stratagems of the other queens and begs Yidrogma to come back and live with him, which she finally consents to do.

The popular version of the original story is quite different : two princes go off to war, leaving their wives in the charge of a couple of old servants. As soon as the princes are out of sight, the princesses and maidservant start romping with the atsaras. When the princes return they are furious and cut off the noses of their wives as punishment. The old servant also cut off his wife’s nose. The then princes allow themselves to weaken and they call for a doctor to sew back the noses. Although the doctor gladly sews back the noses of beautiful princesses, he is far less enthusiastic about sewing on that of the maidservant, who smells awful. In the end all’s well that ends well and everyone is reconciled.

The Dance of the Stag and the Hunting Dogs (Shawa Shachhi):

This dance depicts the conversion to Buddhism of hunter named Gonpo Dorje by the great saint Milarepa (1040-1123). More like a theatrical play than any of the other dances, it is very long and is usually perfomed in two parts, each of which concludes one day of Tshechu.

The story goes that while the saint Milarepa was meditating in a cave, he heard shouting and barking. He came out of his retreat and saw stag covered with sweat and trembling with fear. Milarepa calmed it by singing a religious hymn and took it under his protection. Soon afterwards two dogs appeared which had been chasing the stag, and Milarepa won them over with one songs. The hunter arrived unexpectedly, looking for his dogs, and when he saw them lying down with the stag at Milarepa’s feet, he flew into rage and shot a poisoned arrow at the saint. The saint used his superhuman powers to snap the hunter’s bow, while the arrow, instead of hitting him, returned to the astonished hunter. Milarepa then intoned a song that succeeded in convincing the hunter to give up hunting and take up Buddhism.

The first part of this dance has a comic tine, starting with the hunter’s servant who jokes with the atsaras. The hunter, crowned with leaves and carrying his bow, then arrives with his two dogs. He performs non- Buddhist ritual aimed at bringing him good luck on the hunt, while his servant and the atsaras clown around him.

The second part is more dignified and religious. Milarepa appears clad all in white except for his characteristic red hat. He holds pilgrim’s staff in his hand with his songs he converts first the dogs and then the hunter. The conversion is symbolized by a rope over which the hunter and the dogs must jump.

The Dance of the Ging and the Tsholing (Ging dang Tsholing):

It is said that this dance was performed for the first time in Samye Monastery in Tinet, in the eight century, by Guru Rinpoche himself. The Tsholing, terrifying deities who are seen as protectors of the religious, purity the ground of demonic influence. The Ging, who make up Guru Rinpoche’s retinue, then chase away the Tsholing in order to take possession of the area and proclaim victory for the religious by beating drums. They tap the public on the head to drive religion bye beating drums. They tap the public on the head to drive out impurities, and the public whistles to keep demons far aways.


The Dance of Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche (Guru Tshen Gye):

The Eight Aspect under which Guru Rincpoche manifested himself on various occasions appear in a procession with the principal aspect of Guru Rinpoche shaded by a parasol. Certain other aspects are accompanied by their retinues and small celestial beings. In order of appearance they are:

Dorje Droloe: ‘Liberated Diamond-Thunderbolt’, who has a terrifying dark red mask and a garland of skulls around his body, holds a diamond-thunderbolt (dorje) and a ritual dagger (phurpa). He earned this name after vanquishing evil spirits who were creating obstacles to the Buddhism at Taktsang in Paro and Singye Dzong in Kurtoe. Dorje Droloe is followed by his entourage of fearsome deities.

Tshokye Dorje: ‘Diamond – Thunderbolt Born from Lake’, who is dressed in blue brocade and wears a peaceful blue mask, carries in his hands a diamond-thunderbolt and small bell. His name derives from his miraculous birth in a blue lotus on Lake Dhanakosha.

Loden Chogse: ‘He who whishes to Acquire Supreme Knowledge’, who wears rode of red brocade and a white mask with a knot of hair and crown, holds in his hands a little drum and bowl. He got this name after his hands a little drum and bowl. He got this name after he had listened to the teachings of the Vajrayana and mastered the sciences inculcated by the Indian masters; tutelary deities then appeared to him.

Padmasambhava: ‘Born of the Lotus’, who wears a monk’s robe of dark red and yellow, wears a white mask with a pointed red hat, a so- called pundit’s hat. He got his name after he used his supernatural powers to transform the wood-pile 9on which the king of Zahor wanted to burn him alive) into the lake.

Guru Rinpoche: ‘Most Precious Master’, is the chief aspect, yet he is not listed as one of the Eight Aspects. He wears a mask of gilded copper crowned by his characteristic hat and is attended by two monks with a third shades him with a parasol.

Shakya Sengye: ‘ Lion of the Shakye Family’, who has red and yellow monk’s robe and wears a mask resembling Buddha’s face with a hairstyle of tight blue curls, holds a begging bowl in his hands. He was called by this name when, after having renounced his kingdom, he went to meditate and study in the cave of Maratika in Nepal with the master Prabahati.

Pema Gyelpo: ‘ Lotus-King’, who wears robe of red brocade and a pinkish orange mask with a bread, holds in his hands a mirror and a small drum. He got this name when he returned to his native kingdom of Ugyan (Oddhyana); at the moment the chiefs of the country wanted to burn him but could not succeed in doing so. Seeing this as a sign of the spiritual realization of Guru Rinpoche, they converted to Buddhist doctrine ever afterward.

Sengye Drathok: ‘ He with the Voice of Lion’, is clad in blue brocade; his blue mask crowned with five skulls is terrifying. He was called by this name after the power of the his words vanquished 500 heretical masters who had tried to destroy the doctrine of Buddhism. The principal aspect of Guru Rinpoche is seated, whereas each of the other aspects, with the exception of Padmasambhava, dances before going to join the principal aspect of Guru Rinpoche is seated, whereas each of the other aspects, with the exception of Padmasambhava, dances before going to join the principal aspect. Then a public blessing takes place forward to receive a thread of blessing, not from a monk who represents Guru Rinpoche but from Guru Rinpoche himself, incarnated as a human beings adorned with bone ornaments come to dance and sing the praises of Guru Rinpoche. The dance area is transformed into a heaven, and celestial beings adorned with bone ornaments come to dance and sing the praises of Guru Rinpoche. The dance concludes with a final procession and the exit of all the aspects of Guru Rinpoche. It is the culmination of a Tsgechu because it is the most religiously important.

Religious Music…

Like the dances, religious music reflects a strong Tibetan influence. The instruments are long trumps (dungchen), oboe (gyaling), a double – sided drum (nga) held in a frame and beaten with a curved drumstick, cymbals with a vertical movement (rolmo) or horizontal movement (silnyen), a trumpet made from a femur (kangling), and a hand – held drum that s beaten with hard pellets attached by strings, and the small bell (drilbu). Music gives rhythm to the dances and religious ceremonies, and it punctuates the singing or recitation of the texts.