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Mongolian traditional dance masks of Buddhists – Masks dance revival

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P & C December 1998
- Face Music / Albi

- last update 03-2016

Text in German

The dance with masks experience a revival

At the beginning, Tsam ceremonies were held to exorcise evil. Tsam in Tibet (cham, means mask dance) had a narrative content and was once practiced in Tibet, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, China, and Mongolia. But only in Ladakh and Bhutan and at a few remote, inaccessible monasteries it was protected from destructive politics and the impact of Western civilization. The festival fell victim to ruthless goverments.

The performance with masks and dance began to restart as the result of tourist attraction rather than religious tradition and their rituals.

In 1990 the Mongolian museums released new exhibitions with masks and costumes on the basic of old documents (they strictly follow Buddhists iconography).

Since 1989 there have been produced, by order of the Juulchinn company D. Batbold, N. Gankhuyag, Ulaankhuu and Kh. Buuveibaatar under the teaching of Lama Danzan, Lama Sereeter and with the artists Chamban Darambarar and Tsend, new masks and Tsam costumes. They all have been active in ceremonies and have themselved performed Tsam dancing in the monastery of Bogdo Gegen ("Living Buddha"). In the same period there was founded the "Ensemble Tumen Erkh", and it began to perform mask dances in Mongolia and abroad. Later the Ensemble Temuzhin, the Mongolian State Folk Song and Dance Ensemble, the Jamukha Ensemble were established. The monks from the Mandshir Monastery of the Tuv aimag have started to create masks and costumes, and they have initiated new performances.

At the end of 1990 Tsam has also began to be performed again in monasteries. The Ikh Khuree Tsam was performed for the first time on 15-04-1999. Since that, Khuree Tsam has been performed every year in religious and traditional rituals. In order to create the masks and costumes and for the cheography, there have participated Khamba Danzan, Gesgui Sereeter and some other lamas and also some artists of the Duinkhar Datsan monastery in the production. Today in Mongolia efforts are being made to revive the tradition, with elderly monks who survived persecution teaching young monks the rituals and choreography of Tsam. Now Mongolian's Tsam takes its place again in the Buddhists' religion and traditional rituals. Tsam masks of Mongolian production, for example, are exceptionally large and have an artistic expressiveness and are only rarely matched in other countries.

Amarbayasgalant Monastery started again to perform its famous Tsam in 2002: the dance of "Dharmaraja" (Yama) or "Kalarupa" (Lord of Death, King of the Dharma).

- more information see brief History of Tsam in Mongolia

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