Wangdue-Phodrang Tshechu (DAY 1)

Dance of the Lord of Death and his Consort (Shinje Yabyum)

Costume : Brocade long dress, buffalo masks

The Bodhisattva Manjusri (Jampelyang) represents the body of wisdom of all the Buddhas. When he takes the appearance of the terrifying Lord of Death, he becomes the Lord (Je) of the Death (Shin) and thus is called Shinje. Being the Lord of Death, he is also the ruler of the Three Worlds which he protects. His wrathful buffalo face guards the four continents and blesses them before the arrival on earth of the God of Wisdom.

The Dance of the Four Stag (Shacham)

Costume : knee-length skirts, dear masks

Long ago when Ugyen Rimpoche was in this world, he subdued the King of the Wind (also the Lord of the North/West direction) who created much unhappiness in this world through his great power, by making the sentient beings and word tremble. Ugyen Rimpoche rode the stag, which happened to be the mount of the God of the Wind, when he subdued the earth and he appeased all beings by establishing peace and happiness.

As a blessing, the first of the incarnation of Nam Nying (Namkhe Nyingpo) who was Guru’s disciple, found the effigy of the face of a stag and so the dance of the White stag came into being. During this dance, the gratitude of the pious people is demonstrated to all the beings destined to be converted in the future. After all the allegations of the world have been overcome, happiness and peace will reign supreme.

Dance of the 21 Black Hats (Shana)

Costume : Large black hat, felt boots, colourful brocade long dress, no mask

The Black Hat dancers assume the appearance of yogis who have the power of killing and recreating life. In order to lead to the field of Buddha beings who cannot be led by peaceful means, they subdue these enemies of the Doctrine through their external compassionate anger but internally they have an accomplished peaceful mind. They have the appearance of Tantrists who are good to beings through terrifying but really accomplished acts such as killing and expelling bad spirits. By the wisdom of their knowledge, the five poisonous sins disappeared in the sphere of emptiness.

This dance can also be referred to as ‘Gar’ dance. It is derived from the different traditions of the Tantras (texts of Northern buddhism). They say that with the help of gods who have meditated deeply upon the mantras (sacred formulas), the ‘Gar’ which are the gestures of the dancers’ hands are transformed into mudras (sacred mystic gestures) and their feet which pound the earth are forming a mandala (mystic geometric figure).

The Black Hat Dancers who perform the ritual for the earth firstly build a tantric mandala and then cut the demons into pieces. Thus, they take possession of the earth in order to further protect it and they dance the thunderbolt step to impress their power on it (The thunderbolt step is a particular step in the religious dances).

Dance of the 21 Black Hats with Drums (Shana Nga Cham)

Then when the Black Hat dancers have destroyed the malevolent enemies who persecuted the beings and the Buddhists, they beat the great drums of Buddhism. The sound of the drums represents the religion itself which cannot be represented in any other way because it has no visible form.

Dance of the Three Kinds of Ging (with sticks, with swords, with drums) (Peling Ging Sum)

Costume : The Ging are wearing knee-length skirts. For the dance with the sticks, they are wearing animal masks. For the dance with the drums, and for the dance with the swords, they are wearing colourful terrifying masks. 

At Wangduephodrang, the demon Nyulema (vernacular : Yulim) wears a yellow mask and appears with atsaras before the dance. The origin of the happiness of all beings in the three worlds is the religion of Buddha. To propagate this religion in the world, one must listen to the teachings, then practice thinking and meditating in the places of meditation. Any kinds of demons, human or non-human, who are creating obstacles to the doctrine and who have no fast powers and bad thoughts are called Jyungpo Nyulema. There are many means by way of magical formulas to subdue these malevolent spirits. On this subject, the great ‘Treasure Discoverer’, Pemalingpa, when he went to Zangtho Pelri, saw the dance of the Three Kinds of ‘Ging’ who are emanations of Ugyen Rimpoche. This was the blessing which explained how to subdue the demons Nyulema by magic. The deep teachings of these dances appeared to Pemalingpa.

Thus, although all the demons Nyulema who are creating obstacles to the religion are fleeing anywhere in the Three Worlds, the Ging with sticks can find them, thanks to their knowledge. They catch them with the hook of compassion, beat them with the stick of wisdom and tie them with the noose of compassion.

The Ging with the Swords purify the atmosphere from such bad deeds as robbery, killing or the separation of one’s self from one’s tutelary (Yidam) which are caused by the Nyulemas. The Ging with the swords send their minds in the paradise of pure consciousness, while they use as sacrificial offerings their body of flesh and blood.

After these demons have been vanquished, the Ging with the drums, dance with happiness. They beat the drums of the religion which is thus propagated.

This dance is performed to bring good luck and wish happiness to all living beings. These dances are considered as blessings and in all the countries, they are connected with religious ceremonies. Those who master the practice of the two degrees of meditation must explain the doctrine. Then when the visions have been explained, when the merit which is represented by the devotion for the assembly of Gods has been attained and when all sorts of black demons have been suppressed, the White Gods are victorious and the doctrine of Lord Buddha is propagated and thus for all living beings, joy and happiness arise.

Kyecham (accompaniment dance)

Costume : knee-length yellow skirt, bare-feet, animal mask sword in the right hand

When King Norzang left for the north, the protectors of the religion, guardians of the doctrine and the assembly of the King’s tutelary deities becomes his armed companions, thanks to their various magical powers and they openly accompanied him to war.

This is the classical explanation of this dance from whence it takes its name. However, there is another explanation which is closely related to the popular explanation of Phole Mole, the following dance. Kyecham and Phole Mole are inter-related.

The son of an old man and a pretty girl got married. They seemed to be a compatible couple, but during a fight he cut off her nose. First their love was so great, that they could not be separated but then they got attracted by somebody else because mind and body are not constant. This is a universal law which says that there is no real substance in the worldly components. Many people behave like this and bring upon themselves suffering in this life and in one to come.

Dance of the nobleman and the Ladies (Phole Mole)

Once upon a time, in a Kingdom called Nadem in the North of India, there was a king called Norzang who had five hundred queens. One day, the son of a hunter received a favour for saving the life force of a serpent deity: he could borrow from this deity the noose which brings anything. With it he caught the very beautiful daughter of King Driza, called Yudrongma, who was so pretty that no girls compare with her. He offered her to King Norzang who became passionately attached to her. When the king stopped looking at all other queens, they could not bear it so they asked Hari, the sacrificator , how to kill Yidrogma. Hari, by black magic, caused King Norzang’s father to be disturbed by a dream which was in the form of prophecy. This prophecy said that the father and son had enemies, savage men from the north and that if they did not find a way of subduing these enemies immediately far away from the Kingdom, it will be too late and the kingdom will be destroyed. Then, following his father’s command, King Norzang was to leave for the north but his wife Yidrogma was not happy and she begged him to take her with him. The King explained to her in details that he could not take a woman while going to war in a far country but that his heart which was attached to her, was sad.  Yidrogma as a souvenir, gave him her ring, one of  her clothes and the white silk which covered her head. Then, he left for North and conquered the foreign enemies. Afterwards, he returned to his country and defeated all his internal opponents. In the mean time, Yidrogma had fled, through her magical power, to her father for fear of being killed, while the King was away. The King welcomed her back and once again she came to the human world where she lived happily with King Norzang.

This is he classical explanation of the Dance of Phole Mole, taken from the biography of King Norzang. Here is the explanation of what really happens in this dance which is more a comical and very crude play than a dance :

The two actors are princes, two princesses and old couple and the clowns. The two princes are going to war and are leaving the two princesses in the care of the old couple. As soon as they depart, the clowns try to frolic with princesses and corrupt the old women who is also behaving quite badly. When they return, the princes are scandalised by the behavior of the princesses and cut off their noses as a punishment. The old woman also has her noose cut off. Then a doctor is called to put the noses back but the old woman smells so much that he has to use a stick because he does not want to approach here. Finally the princes marry the princesses and everybody is reconciled.

Dance of the Stag and the Hounds (Shawa Shachi)

Long ago, Jetsun Milarepa (1040-1123) was deeply meditating in a hermitage called Nyichangkurta on the border between Nepal and Tibet, when he heard a man shouting and dog barking. He went out of his cave and saw a red haired stag who was sweating from all over his body and was trembling with fear. Because of his great compassion, Milarepa sang a religious song and the stag having forgotten his fear laid down on the right of the Lama. Chasing the stag, a red dog arrived running as fast as lightening and full of fiery wrath. For the dog also, Milarepa sang a religious song and immediately he allayed the temper and the passion of the dog. The dog laid down on the left of Lama and here were both the stag and the dog, lying down like mother and son. Following the dog, a hunter called Gonpo Dorji arrived. He was a frightening, fierce and strong man, carrying a bow and arrows. When he saw Milarepa, the stag and the dog, he became enraged. He told Milarepa, ‘you protect the stag and the dog, let us see if you can protect yourself from this arrow’, and bow broke into pieces, the string of the bow was cut and the arrow was turned against himself. Gonpo Dorji, your arrow is returned, now listen to my song’. As Milarepa was singing, a violent regret for whatever actions he had done before was born in him and  he confessed his bad deeds. He promised to take an oath not to sin again, he practiced the religion and attained full realization.

This dance is generally performed like a play in two parts. The first part takes place the first day while the second part is on the second day of the Wangduephodrang Tshechu. Usually, there are two dogs and not just one like in the above story. The first part is quite comical; the hunter’s servant appears first and jokes with the clowns. Then comes the hunter crowned with leafed and carrying a bow and arrows. He is accompanied by his two dog. These dancers are wearing knee-length yellow skirts and dog masks. The servant jokes very disrespectfully with his master who, before going hunting must perform some good-luck ritual. The priest who is called, performs the ritual in ways contrary to the Buddhist tradition, while the atsaras  and the servant go on with their jokes.

The second part is more serious and bears religious connotations.

Milarepa appears, wearing a long white dress, white hat and holding a pilgrim’s staff. Cupping his right ear with one hand, he sings in soft and plaintive voice. The two dogs, the stag and the hunter, one after other, arrive at the spot and are instantly won over by the songs. Their conversion is symbolized by a stretched rope over which the dogs and the hunter jump. This part exhibits some fine acrobatics.