Cham Dance of Eastern Himalayan Region

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The word ‘chams’ is of Tibetan origin, and simply means “a dance.” Cham Dance is an ancient ritual mask dance is unique because it is performed exclusively by the monks during multi-day religious festivals. It is a sacred festival performed by the Buddhist monks in different monasteries of Bhutan, Tibet, Sikkim and different parts of India (especially Himalayan region). During which they perform 1,300-year-old mystical dances, collectively called cham, in order to transform evil for the benefit of the entire world.


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The monks who perform this dance has to meditate for days or even weeks beforehand, visualising and invoking protective deities. On the day of performances, the monks visualise themselves as deities, they perform ancient movement by chanting sacred mantras, it is believed that they draw in the evil in the crowd and the surrounding world. The evil is trapped in an effigy or a human body made of dough. Then the dance master cuts open the effigy and draw the evil into his body to show it peace and the path to liberation .


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The first Cham was is believed to have been performed by Indian saint Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) during 740-760 AD, He was invited to Tibet to banish evil spirits. He began dancing, using tantric mudras (various body positions, but predominantly of the hands) and invoking the gods. From this successful performance, some say that Cham dances gradually spread to all other Tibetan monasteries. While mostly concentrated there, it eventually spread to Bhutan, where it is similar in strength, as well as to certain regions of India and Mongolia.


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The Monks performing Cham are robed in highly ornamented costumes of brightly coloured silk and wear elaborate masks, the mask that monks wear represents various deities and demons, as well as animals. Sometimes they dance holding ritual instruments. Other monks accompany them, in instrumental music ensembles, playing traditional Tibetan instruments. There is a leader present who keeps time with cymbals, while others play wind instruments or drums.


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The deities are also depicted in wrathful forms in order to show that evil comes from within. Evil does not exist externally, it comes from within the mind. Evil is created by ignorance, anger, desire, jealousy, and ego. The nature of the mind is clear, but it is covered by the ego, as clouds cover the sun. Cham removes the ego from evil’s mind, allowing it to see clearly the path to transformation. It is believed that even simply witnessing the dances as an audience member is said to bring one closer to enlightenment.


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