Stag Mask Portals

Deer Bon Influence Biography Main


Masks from From left to right: Begtse Chen, Ekajati, "White Face Beast," Mahakala

Cham, Tibetan Monastic Dance

To define cham ('cham) broadly, it is Tibetan Buddhist ritual dance performed by monks for lay people. There is great variety among cham dances according to the sect of the hosting monastery, the religious occasion, the region of performance and the traditions of the particular monastery. Though this stag mask is from a Tibetan area of China, the video below depicts dancers in Mongolia performing a dance. The tradition has spread wherever Tibetan Buddhism including ethnically Mongol areas. The map below is approximate, but gives a good impression of the areas of Tibetan Buddhist religious influence. Areas of Tibetan Buddhist (Vajrayana), influence are marked in magenta.

{Caution! You may find this video uncomfortably loud. Adjust the sound on your computer or on the dial below the image.}

{a} Buddhisms in Asia

Click to view larger
Cham continues to evolve today. As Tibetans have
Click to view larger
gone into diaspora since the 1950's, the tradition has spread all over the world. Mona Schrempf has examined the changes in cham that have occurred when it is performed for Western audiences in the West. According to her article, they are abbreviated and selected for entertainment value (Schrempf, 95). At right is a photo I took of monks filming a cham in eastern Tibet in 2004. Perhaps they film for their own records, for instructional purposes, or promotional purposes in order to gain sponsorship from abroad.

There are several stages to a cham performace and in its full form, it lasts for several days. It is quite a social gathering for the people who attend. The little girl pictured at right (forthcoming) is dressed in her best to see that 2004 cham, even wearing an intricately braided wig.for more on the clothing worn at these events, see Tibetan Silk Dancing Dress. Spectators may talk during the performance and come and go as they please.

Click to view larger
Besides the masks, cham dancers will also often wear brightly colored robes and sometimes aprons and other ornamentation traditionally made of bone. These are visible on the monk above, left. They may hold ritual
Click to view larger
implements in their hands. The dances they do are often slow, spinning dances hopping on one foot with the other leg extended. As the video below and the video on the deer page shows, dances also have extremely vigorous parts with leaping and full body movement. The monks must spend many days practicing these movements, which are carefully prescribed in texts like the 'Chams Yig. The 'Chams Yig was written mainly by the fifth Dalai Lama around 1650 and gives guidance on movements, clothing, music and how they should be integrated in cham (Nebesky-Wojkowitz, 85). As pictured at left, a cham will have many monks whose role it is to blow wind instruments, clash cymbals or beat drums.

A tent over the cham provides shade from the bright sunlight

Stag Mask Portals

Deer Bon Influence Biography Main


Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Rene de. Tibetan Religious Dances: Tibetan Text and Annotated Translation of the 'Chams Yig. Ed. Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf. The Hague: Mouton, 1976.

Pearlman, Ellen. Tibetan Sacred Dance: A Journey into the Religious and Folk Traditions. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002.

Ricard, Matthieu, Charles Hastings, translator. Monk Dancers of Tibet. Boston: Shamabala, 2003.

Schrempf, Mona. "From 'Devil Dances' to 'World Healing': Some Representations, Perspectives and Innovations of Contemporary Tibetan Ritual Dances." Tibetan Culture in Diaspora, Papers for the 7th PIATS, Graz 1995. 91-102.

Thanks to Lauran Hartley and the deer page of Khandro Net <> for directing me to relevant meanings of deer in Tibetan Buddhism

Image Credits