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Life at Norlha Blog

Cham Dance

Every year around December, when the cold has settled in and the new year is close, the monastery in Garnying, a few kilometers from Ritoma, holds its ritual Cham dance. A cham dance is a ritual performed by monks, who don colorful brocade robes with long sleeves and perform slow moves to the sound of the ritual music of Tibetan instruments; cymbals, drums and trumpets of various forms. There are many themes to the dances; the Black Hat, the obstacle-destroying Deer, the Skeleton, Lord of the Cemetery. Most dancers wear masks, impersonating wrathful deities and their entourage.

Some monasteries perform dances one at a time, or only some, on specific occasions. Cham dance can last all day, with short interludes by comical characters, such as the Atsara, of Indian translator, and Hashang, the Chinese monk whom Kamalashila defeated in the famous dialectical debate held in Samye in the 12th century.

The Garnying Monastery’s cham is the year’s most important event. It includes a wide variety of dances and attracts people from all over the prefecture. The resources invested are impressive; the monk’s ritual and ceremonial costumes and garb are new and spectacular, made from the best brocades and fabrics available and much care and attention to detail is given to all aspects of the ceremony.

We at Norlha feel fortunate to have such rich cultural manifestations present on our doorstep, an inspiring reminder that the local heritage is alive and well.