Gyalwang Karmapa supervises rehearsal of the cham dances
Februrary 10, 2012 - Bodhgaya
Tibetan year draws to a close, Tsurphu traditionally offers
a special ritual known as Gutor. This ten-day long ritual is
dedicated to the Great Protector of the Karma Kagyu, Gonpo
Bernakchen, (Mahakala in Sanskrit). This year's ritual will
be very special as, for the first time since the Gyalwang
Karmapa came to India, the complete Tsurphu Gutor Ritual
will be offered, including ritual dances, known as Cham in
Tibetan, performed by monks from seven Karma Kagyu
monasteries in Nepal and India: Rumtek, Ralang , Mirik,
Benchen, Phodong, Old Rumtek, and Old Ralang. An audience of
about one hundred devotees clustered together in the chilly
shrine hall at Tergar Monastery to watch an all-day
rehearsal of the Cham.
wore partial costume - jackets decorated with rich brocades,
white, embroidered Tibetan boots, topped with brocade, and,
swinging from their belts, a golden brocade chab-shu. The
chab-shu , a square bag holding a small water-container,
represents the water pot which fully ordained monks
traditionally carry. The cold climate in Tibet forced them
to wrap the water pot in cloth to prevent the water from
freezing. Over the years, the pot became smaller and the
cloth transmuted into the chab-shu.
forty dancing monks circled the shrine hall, bodies swaying,
arms rising and falling, as they rehearsed the routines
under the eagle eyes of the Gyalwang Karmapa and Gyaltsab
Rinpoche. The dances were accompanied by the susurration and
clashing of cymbals, deep, resonant Tibetan chanting and the
insistent beat of the largest temple drum.
began with the Ground Purification Dance and included
Protector Dances, a Skeleton Dance, a Yak and Deer Dance,
the Monkey Protector Dance, and the famous Black Hat Dance.
The dances involved a range of tempos and footwork and hand
and body gestures. The Deer flourished their antlers and
bowed to the Buddha, the Skeletons jiggled around, the
Monkeys jumped up and down, arms dangling at their sides.
were very vigorous: lively leaps, hops and vigorous jumps
and squats. Others were more sedate, as if in slow-motion:
bent legs raised almost to waist height, foot turned
outwards, followed by a ponderous step or two and a slow
twirl. The monks' faces were strained with concentration,
and, in spite of the chill in the hall, the dancers could be
seen surreptitiously wiping the sweat from their faces.
rehearsal proceeded, three sparrows dived and whirled above
the dancers. The little birds flitted from thangka to
thangka or perched momentarily on the great mandala offering
set on the table at the front of the shrine hall. Above the
table, on the podium, a life-like statue of the 16th
Gyalwang Karmapa sits impassively on the throne.
will start on the 14th February and the Cham dances will be
performed on the 20th. At that time, the monks will don
masks and full costume, and it is possible, though not yet
definite, that the Gyalwang Karmapa himself, Kyabje Jamgon
Kongtrul Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche will join in
parts of the Cham, which would transform the ceremony into
an even more unique event.
Report by Jo Gibson