The Mov­ing Man­dala: In­side Bhutan’s Sa­cred Dance Fes­ti­vals

At the an­nual events, monks per­form cham, chore­ographed ri­tu­als that serve as en­light­en­ing vi­su­al­iza­tions and honor the in­flu­en­tial guru who danced them.

Bhutan Times - - Editorial -

The sound of dron­ing oboes builds a sense of ex­pec­ta­tion in the crowd as the Guru Tshengye dance opens with the wrath­ful man­i­fes­ta­tion, Dorje Droloe, tak­ing pos­ses­sion of the ground. In a spir­i­tual cul­ture that in­her­ited a host of eas­ily of­fended pre-Bud­dhist spir­its of the land­scape, Va­jrayana adopted rit­u­al­ized meth­ods for de­mar­cat­ing and cleans­ing sa­cred ground be­fore a re­li­gious event. This may in­volve med­i­ta­tion, walk­ing the perime­ter of the per­for­mance ground, recit­ing mantra, dis­pens­ing of­fer­ings, and/or the of­fer­ing of torma [rit­ual, multi-colored, sculpted forms made of flour and but­ter by monks].

Dorje Droloe per­forms a se­ries of cer­e­mo­nial high march­ing steps cross­ing the dance space back and forth with arms up­lifted, hold­ing the rit­ual scepter in one hand and the dag­ger in the other. Usu­ally danced by thecham­pon [dance mas­ter], Dorje Droloe acts as the mas­ter of cer­e­monies. He goes on to lead a for­mal cir­cu­lar pro­ces­sion in which the fully en­light­ened Guru Pema Jungney (ac­tu­ally a ninth man­i­fes­ta­tion por­trayed by a mas­ter lama), dressed in fine robes and wear­ing a golden mask, is pa­raded to his throne in grand style—with or­na­men­tal para­sol, mu­si­cians, and a full en­tourage. Mean­while, Dorje Droloe and the other Guru Rin­poche em­a­na­tions, along with a ret­inue of wrath­ful deities, con­tinue to dance in a wide cir­cle spin­ning back and forth.

Eight monks take turns danc­ing into the cen­ter of the cir­cle per­form­ing so­los rep­re­sent­ing each man­i­fes­ta­tion. These danced so­los are not pan­tomimed or dra­ma­tized, but are dis­tin­guished mainly through their strik­ing masks and cos­tumes and less so through the chore­og­ra­phy. The peace­ful man­i­fes­ta­tions dance with de­lib­er­ate majesty while the wrath­ful man­i­fes­ta­tions dance with build­ing en­ergy and speed. Mean­while, the dancers re­main­ing in the wide cir­cle mir­ror the move­ments of the fea­tured soloist and in­tone praises to each spe­cific form of the guru.

Once the eight man­i­fes­ta­tions com­plete their dance and exit the court­yard, an­other cham is in­tro­duced into the larger dance—Dance of the Six­teenDaki­nis [fe­male wis­dom fa­cil­i­ta­tors], or Rigma Chu­druk Cham. It is a cham within the cham. The dance is per­formed as an of­fer­ing to Pad­masamb­hava. The six­teen dancers sing and dance the of­fer­ing of pleas­ing gifts (flow­ers, in­cense, but­ter lamps, per­fume, or­na­ments, and so on). For this dance, young slen­der monks are cos­tumed to look like daki­nis in long bro­cade dresses over­laid with aprons of carved bone lat­tice­work. These spir­i­tual guides dance un­masked wear­ing wigs of long black hair with a crown of five golden lobes. Their dance move­ments are slow, serene, and pur­pose­ful, fea­tur­ing con­tin­u­ous, flow­ing arm mo­tions and com­plex­mu­dras [hand ges­tures] that sym­bol­ize the spe­cific of­fer­ings to the guru. They look as if they are speak­ing a sign lan­guage.

Dur­ing the tshechu, while the monks are per­form­ing these dances, the en­tire crowd of fes­ti­val at­ten­dees lines up at vary­ing times in an un­hur­ried man­ner to re­ceive bless­ings, holy wa­ter, and a prayer cord from the guru and his at­tend­ing monks. Peo­ple visit with fam­ily or friends as they wait in line and feel quite pleased at hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to be blessed. At this point, per­for­mance and re­al­life merge as the au­di­ence mem­bers en­ter the per­for­mance space to in­ter­act with the per­form­ers in their roles as en­light­ened be­ings, and the per­for­mance be­comes a real-life rit­ual event.

As the daki­nis com­plete their dance, the guru’s en­tourage of wrath­ful deities comes swirling into the dance space, lead­ing an­other cir­cu­lar pro­ces­sion fol­lowed by Guru Rin­poche, his eight man­i­fes­ta­tions, monks, lo­cal of­fi­cials, folk dancers, the in­cense car­rier, and the mu­si­cians. The daki­nis bring up the rear, con­tin­u­ing their flow­ing chore­og­ra­phy. It seems like ev­ery­one gets in on the ac­tion as the oboes, dungchen [long tele­scop­ing horns], bells, cym­bals, drums, and chant­ing fill the air with the sounds and sights of Va­jrayana Bud­dhism.

Through the Guru Tshengye Cham, the Bhutanese recre­ate a man­dala—a vi­sion of a per­fect uni­verse— and place them­selves in it. They join in the com­pany of their spir­i­tual he­roes as they pay homage to and seek bless­ings from their revered guru. Thus, by view­ing and en­ter­ing into this dance man­dala, they im­print on their minds and teach each suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tion the qual­i­ties Pad­masamb­hava ex­em­pli­fied and the val­ues they hold dear. In this way, the guru con­tin­ues to dance the foun­da­tion for the flour­ish­ing of the dharma.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Bhutan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.