A traditional Cham Lama dance is an event held by Tibetan monasteries during special Buddhist festivals.
Monks in colorful costumes wear masks and they dance to the music played from traditional instruments (such as the ritual drum), also performed by monks. The longer it goes on, the more they seem to get in a trance.
The dancers have to be both well-trained and strong as the ritual dance must be performed very precisely and the masks are very heavy.
Cham was introduced in the eight Century by Padmasambhava (who introduced Tantric Buddhism to Tibet), to subjugate the local demons that were obstructing the building of the first monastery in Tibet, Samye.
The origin of Cham dance is not clearly known. Sharing its roots with Tantric mystic arts, Cham is said to have first originated in the Himalayan range and so is still date kept as a treasured secret in the lap of the mountains. According to a legend, the Cham dance tradition was started by Guru Padmasambhava in the late 8th CE. When the king of Tibet, Trishong Detsen called Guru Padmasambhava to get rid of evil spirits that did not allow to build the Samye monastery, the revered Guru performed the dance ritual. The same ritual over the period of time became the elaborate Cham Dance, a practice specific to the sect of Mahayana Buddhism.
The first day is considered as the practice day. Though the dance is done with utmost importance and dedication.
On the second day, this is the main day of the dance festival, people from around the monastery and also from far off places throng to witness the magnificent festival.
The preparation continues..
The Puja starts…
The Dance Starts …
The ritual dance-drama of ‘Cham’ is a highly choreographed event. A select group of resident lamas dressed in brightly patterned attire and masked gears perform as directed by the ‘Chham-spon’, the mystic dance master. All the lamas of the monastery dress up in their full ceremonial attire, recite the mantras associated with the ‘Chhams’ led by the Rimpoche, the highest in the order of monks of the monastery. The recitation creates the appropriate ambiance. The performance is not just a dramatization of the philosophy of ‘good over evil’ but also ritual offering to the deities of the monastery and the guardians of the faith.
The masks worn in Cham represent various characters, which are mostly preserve all through the year in the form of statues in the “Gon Khang”, the room dedicated to the guardian divinities in each of the monasteries. The masks range from benign to fearsome forms that represent famous characters from historical episodes or Tibetan fables, powerful divinities in their various manifestations, mostly representing the Dharmapalas or protectors of the faith.
Performed at the monastic courtyard around the central flagpole, the performers hold ritual instruments in hands and dance to the tunes of the monastic orchestra. The hand gestures of the dancers symbolize different aspects of the dance-drama. For comic relief in the somber sequences, performers jump into the scene in the guise of skeletons and other characters, performing comic and acrobatic feats.
The Cham Dance often last from 2 days to over 15 days, right from invocation of deities to the commencement. As the ‘Chhams’ approaches its end, the climactic scene is enacted. A sacrificial offering, human figure made from dough, is ritually cut into pieces and scattered in the four cardinal directions. Accordingly, its destruction represents killing of the enemy of Buddhism and the purification of the human soul from the three evils of ignorance, jealousy and hatred.
Cham Dance is an insight into the rich culture and heritage of Buddhism, get ready to attend a performance that you cherish forever.
With burning of the evil, peace reigns the earth.