Buddhist monks perform mask dance in Rumtek monastery

By Tashi Pradhan, ANI, Jan 9, 2009

Sikkim, India -- It looked a virtual riot of colours at Rumtek Monastery, 26 kilometers from the state capital Gangtok, recently when many masked Buddhist monks performed a special dance before visitors from within India and abroad.

Kagyad Chaam is the unique, colourful mask dance of monasteries in Sikkim, has been presented to the world as an insight into the religious tradition of the hill state.
Chaam, performed by the monks of the monastery is an important event on the annual religious calendar of the village.
Through these mask dances, teachings of Lord Buddha and other religious values are presented to people, evil spirits and misfortunes are warded off and a new year is ushered in.

These masks are usually that of various animals and deities, with whom, as per the local people here, one meets after death. The masks not only enthrall the locals but even the foreign tourists who are the practitioners of Buddhism and find seeing the dance as a blessing.
"This is the first time I am seeing these dances. It is really good and moving. There is a lot of power in it that transforms it to even the audience, which is quite fascinating," said Philip, a tourist from England.
Performed by the lamas in the 'Gompa' (monastery) courtyard to celebrate religious festivals, these dances demonstrate perfect footwork and grace.
Costumed lamas with gaily painted masks, ceremonial swords and sparkling jewels jump and sway to the rhythm of echoing drums, trumpeting horns and chanting of monks.

"Buddhism is coming to European countries as well but still India is the natural place for it.
I appreciate this place very much because I have travelled around the main places of Buddhists last month and noted that they have modern facets of Buddhism, like we don't use much of rituals and colorful costumes as we can see here. But still the meaning of Buddhism stands the same," said Edwin, a Russian tourist.
This dance is performed symbolizing the destruction of the evil forces and hoping for peace and prosperity to flourish in every house of Sikkim.
The solemn nature of the dance is interspersed with comic relief provided by the jesters. Kagyed dances enact various themes from the Buddhist mythology and culminate with the burning of effigies made of flour, wood and paper.
With a total of about 250 monasteries, the culture of Sikkim is closely linked to Tibetan Buddhism.
Sikkim is also the seat of 17th Karmapa Lama Ugyen Thrinley Dorje, the only senior monk to be recognised by both China and the Dalai Lama.