Accepted paper:

Tibetan ritual dance as public performance and state ceremony: the evolution of the Tshe bcu in Bhutan and the 2011 Dochu La festival

Authors:

Geoffrey Samuel (University of Sydney)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines recent transformations of Tibetan ritual dance (’cham) and attempts to assess its meaning in contemporary Bhutan. It also discusses a recent attempt to update and further transform the ’cham tradition in the context of the commemoration of a complex and problematic episode in modern Bhutanese history, the 2003 campaign of the Royal Bhutanese Army to drive out several Indian separatist groups which had set up encampments in southern Bhutan.

Paper long abstract:

The core elements of Tibetan ritual dance ('cham) derive from Indian Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism. They involve the dancers acting out and materialising a mandala of the Tantric deities which is created imaginatively by the lama and other Tantric adepts, and focussing its power on the destruction of internal and external obstacles to welfare and spiritual progress. In Tibetan cultures, these dances, which have parallels in other parts of Buddhist and Hindu Asia, developed into large-scale public events. They were performed on an annual basis or more frequently by most major monasteries, acquiring additional layers of meaning and symbolism, as well as further dance-sequences with a primarily narrative rather than ritual orientation. The rulers of the Bhutanese state, which was founded by a refugee Tibetan lama in the early 17th century, mobilised this performative complex further to serve as a key representation of the state's political and religious authority. These annual Tshes bcu (tenth-day) rituals are now performed annually by most major centres of political authority in Bhutan, despite the marginalisation of the monastic establishment within an increasingly secularised Bhutanese state. The paper examines the transformations of 'cham and attempts to assess its meaning in contemporary Bhutan. It also discusses a recent attempt to update and further transform the 'cham tradition in the context of the commemoration of a complex and problematic episode in modern Bhutanese history, the 2003 campaign of the Royal Bhutanese Army to drive out several Indian separatist groups which had set up encampments in southern Bhutan.

panel P25
Transformations in contemporary South Asian ritual: From sacred action to public performance