Monastic Dances of Sikkim
The reputed mask dances of Sikkim are uniquely beautiful and these dances, known as 'Chaams' are practised during festivals and other ceremonial events. Such monastic dances are similar to one another, but the theme of every dance is distinct and involves the idea of the victory of good over evil. Demons are exorcised in these dances and Chaams dance is performed during the celebrities of the New Year ceremonies. Chaams is believed to extricate all kinds of evil forces from the land while the old year is bid farewell. The dances are performed as a means of welcoming the New Year and ushering in good luck. Masks of dragons, birds and animals are worn by the Chaams dancers, while the costumes were generally finely brocaded. Satin clothes are used, which are embroidered in gold, particularly the cape and gown. The 'dorjee' or the thunderbolt sceptre is held by the cape. The garment referred to as the 'Gyab-dar' extends to the ankles from the headgear. It is tucked at the waist. This robe is said to be similar that which was worn by Lama Pal Dorjee during the time of his assassination. Trumpets and cymbals are the musical instruments which accompany such dances.
The beginning of this dance is proclaimed from inside the premises of the gompa. Long copper horns and radong are blown during the commencement of the Chaams dance. The beginning of the dance is marked by the sounds produced by gongs, ceremonial drums and cymbals. Dancers arrive on the dance floor, clad in bright, beautiful costumes and swirl in style. Bearers of incense sticks move amongst the audience, imparting a magical ambience to the dance performance. As the dance progresses, the actual drama starts unfolding, wherein the most significant character is 'Mahakala', and the other protective deities are invoked in his presence.
Colourful masks and elaborately designed costumes are the main characteristics of the Dance of the Masquerades, which include the 'Nam-Ding' and 'Sha-Yak'. In this dance, the dancers make animal faces. Dancers wear masks of animals like the lion, tiger, yak, mythical creature called the winged 'Garuda' and also of the stag and walk about in measured footsteps, cheered on by the music of trumpets, cymbals and others. There exists an interesting legendary tale associated to the Chaam dance. During the ninth century, a pious ruler known as Ral-Pa-Che of Tibet, devoted the majority of his time to the religion of Buddhism. He is also credited with translating numerous scriptures into Tibetan language. However, Lang Darma, one of his brothers had offered an opposite prayer to harm his faith in Buddhism. He conspired against the holy king and eventually assassinated him, following which he occupied the royal throne. Upon ascending the throne, Lang Darma initiated his evil attempts to eliminate Buddhism from the kingdom by demolishing monasteries and destroying sacred books and scripts. He also persecuted the lamas. This evil ruler was murdered by Lama Pal Dorjee with the aide of bow and arrow, when the lama had put on the camouflage of a Devil Dancer.
The people residing in Sikkim displayed complete dexterity in paintings. 'Thangka' is a beautiful religious scroll which is hand painted and employs bright hues. The patterns are etched on fabric. The themes of Thangka are a portrayal of the life of Lord Buddha and also the lives of the great saints, Buddhist masters and 'Bodhisattvas'. Concepts like 'Mandalas', 'Tashi Taggye', the 'Wheel of Life', 'Dharmachakra' and many others have been used in such paintings. Red and yellow are the principal colours that are employed in the paintings and are said to possess a certain symbolic significance. These colours signify the distinction between life and fire, intellectual and emotional, as well as immaterial and material. On the other hand, the colour orange, which is produced by the combination of the colours yellow and red symbolise wisdom and profound knowledge. Blue, violet and green are the other colours utilized in these works of art. The colour blue is said to signify positive energy and green is used to imply the vegetable aspects. 'Lossar' and 'Saga Dawa' are the festivals wherein Thangka paintings are carried out.
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