11 Of The Scariest Looking Creatures In The Animal Kingdom Bhutan’s Famous Chham Festival

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Bhutan’s Famous Chham Festival

Bhutan’s Chham Festival

Dance and music play a very important role in the cultural life of the Bhutanese people. Every village and community has a rich dance tradition that marks the passing seasons, shared occasions and shared experiences. We will look at the importance and place of Cams(Mask dances) performed during festivals throughout the history of the people of Bhutan.

Like the building Dzongs and the rise of The choice System, dances have had a similar role to play in helping to bring people together. Through these dances, common people learn their place in the country’s history. Cams usually performed during the Tshechu festival.

of Cams were mainly created to convey religious messages to people. Some were composed by Guru Rinpoche while others were created by Tertoen Pema Lingapa, Zhabdrung Rinpoche and other great saints. During the mask dances, the deities of tantric teachings are invoked and through their power and blessings, misfortunes are removed. All evil spirits and demons that are hindering the spread of Chhoe (doctrine) are suppressed so that the doctrine of Lord Buddha may flourish and bring joy and happiness to all beings.

Masked dances are performed by monks as well as lay people. Below are some of the dances performed during the Tshechu festival.

Jean Chham

Zhana Chham dancers wear long black hats, traditional boots. The dancers assume the appearance of Neljorpas (Yogis) and in this way they subdue the enemies of the doctrine. This is done in order to lead beings or souls to the Buddha’s teachings. This dance is also performed as a rite of land purification during the construction of the Dzongs, Lhakhangs AND Chortens. The goal is to appease the evil spirits of the land and take possession of the land from them.

The practices performed during the dance are so special that just by looking at them one is purified. All barriers to trust and understanding have been removed. Because of its importance, Zhabdrung Rinpoche performed this ritual himself.

Tungam Chham

Tungam Chham dancers wear beautiful brocade dresses, traditional boots and a terrifying mask. The dance has a very deep symbolic meaning. A ritual sacrifice is performed. The dances represent the gods. They attract and surround evil spirits and trap them in a box. The chief dancer then destroys them by stabbing them Phurba (Ritual Dagger). Therefore, dancers not only save the world from evil spirits, but also free them from evil deeds.

Tungam Chham shows the terrible form of Dorji Dragpo (Ferce Thunderbolt), thought Guru Rinpoche to subdue the enemies of the doctrine.

Ging Tsholing Chham

This is a dance which combines two sets of characters, Ging and Tsholing. The Tsholing dancers wear long brocade colored dresses and wear hideous masks. Ging dancers wear Tagshams(Tiger Skin Funet) and hideous dark blue (male) and red (female) masks with a flag on top. Each Ging dancer carries one from (Drum) in the left hand and a drum in the right.

Ging Tsholing Chham was first performed by Guru Rinpoche to subdue the demons that were obstructing the construction of the Samye monastery in Tibet. Guru Rinpoche, through his magical powers, transformed into various fierce forms of defenders of the doctrine. Thus, he was not only able to subdue the demons, but also to secure their help in building the monastery. These transformations of the Guru are manifested in the chama of Ging and Tsholing.

Tall Tshechus The festival, Ging Tsholing is also performed to purify the area just before the appearance of Guru Tshengye and their group. Creepy whistles are sounded to ward off evil spirits. Ging dancers tap the spectators on the head with their drum stick to drive away the dirt from them. The Tsholing dancers, after destroying the evil spirits symbolized by an image on the black box, are driven away by Ging. The Ging dancers stand back and perform the victory dance while beating the drums.

Guru Tshengye Chham

Guru Rinpoche took various forms to help all living beings. Guru Tshengye’s Dance describes his eight main manifestations. The display of the glorious deeds of the great Guru during the dance strengthens the faith of the spectators.

Guru Tshengye Chham begins with the appearance of Guru Dorji Drolo. Other manifestations follow it at regular intervals. All eight manifestations wear long brocade dresses and individual masks. Guru Rinpoche himself finally enters the stage followed by other members of the group. He is accompanied by his two main consorts, Khando Mandarava on the right and Khando Yeshey Tshogyel on the left. The fairies or attendants are symbolized by children wearing white masks.

Guru Rinpoche takes his place on the throne as his manifestations perform individual dances in turn and at the end, sit in a row next to the Guru. During the dance, spectators bow to Guru Rinpoche and receive blessings. It is also a sacred occasion for some of the spectators. They get a new name for their babies from the Guru.

The retina also consists of Ringa Chudrug (sixteen fairies). They wear beautiful brocade dresses and decorative aprons with carved bones. They chant and dance before Guru Rinpoche and his manifestations. The annual Tshechu usually ends with the Guru Tshegye dance.


Paccham dancers are dressed in knee-length yellow skirts and Ringa (golden crowns) and do not wear masks. They carry a Drilbu (a small bell) and a Tangte (a small drum) in each hand. This dance shows how Tertoen Pema Lingpa, in a vision, in the paradise of Zangdopelr. He saw this dance being performed by the Pawos and Pamos who were taking the dead devotees to the presence of Guru Rinpoche. Pema Lingpa introduced the same dance on earth to take devotees and followers to Guru Rinpoche’s heaven after their death.

Drametse Nga çham

Drametse Nga chham is performed by sixteen dancers, each wearing a mask representing either an animal or a bird. They have a Nga in their left hand and a drum in their right hand. They wear knee-length yellow silk skirts.

Around the end of the fifteenth century, Lam Kuenga Gyeltshen, one of Pema Lingpa’s descendants, left Bumthang accompanied by his sister, Ani(anim) Choten Zangmo. They arrived and settled in Drametse in eastern Bhutan.

Kuenga Gyeltshen, in his vision during meditation, arrived at Zangdopelri and met Guru Rinpoche. There, in his vision, Guru Rinpoche’s attendants transformed into deities resembling the faces of various animals and birds and performed a dance.

Kuenga Gyeltshen saw the dance and established the tradition of this dance in Drametse. Hence, the dance is popularly known as Drametse Nga Chham.

Shazam Chham

This dance is performed by four dancers dressed in knee-length silk skirts and deer masks. Guru Rinpoche submitted Lungs Lha (Wind Lord) who was causing suffering to the people of the world. He rode on Lung Lha’s deer and restored peace and happiness to the world.

Shazam Chham is therefore performed in gratitude to Guru Rinpoche for this.

Durdag Chham

Durdag Chham is the dance of the Lords of the Cremation Lands and is performed by four dancers. They all wear white suits and white skull masks.

According to Buddhist belief, there are eight Cremation Grounds where Chochongs (protectors of religion) live. In the middle of Chochongs They are Duthrod Dagmos(Lords of the Cremation Grounds) who are bound by oath to protect the doctrine from demonic enemies.

Raksha Marchham

The Raksha Marchham or dance of the Judgment of the Dead is based on Bardo Thoedroel(Book of the Dead), a text hidden by Guru Rinpoche and later rediscovered by Tertoen Karma Lingpa in the fourteenth century. According to Bardo Thodroelwhen living beings die they wander in Bardon (the state between death and rebirth). Buddhas during this period manifest in various forms and gather to perform justice on dead beings according to their deeds in their previous lives. As it appeared opposite Sign Chhokigap (Lord of Death) those beings who have lived their lives according to the doctrine are rewarded. On the other hand, sinners and unbelievers of the doctrine must go through terrible Bardon. For their sins, they face different rebirths Nyelwa (hells) where terrible deities torment them. These sinners must endure their punishment until they are cleansed of all their sins and finally gain proper rebirth. The punishment can be spread over hundreds of years depending on the type of sin.

The judgment given depends on the different lifestyles in their previous lives. The judgment by the assembly of Buddhas is dramatized through the Raksha Marchham dance. Buddhas manifest in Sign Chhoekigap, Lhakaap(white god), Nagchung deer(black demon), Raksha Lango (Ox-headed Minister of Justice) and other deities wearing masks of various birds and animals.

Raksha Marchham is considered very special and it is believed that a person is partially cleansed of his or her sins whenever he or she witnesses the dance. The main purpose of the dance is to remind people to live good lives so that they can be freed from horror. Bardon and are able to have happier moments in their future lives.

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