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1881 - Sarat Chandra Das (Scholar, Bengal Educational Service)
Celebrations at Tashilhunpo 2
Shigatse, Tibet

 

On the 16th [of December] I was asked by the Deba Shika to go with him the following day to see the Grand Lama dance, or cham. On my observing that I feared the whips of the stage guards (djim-gag-pa) if I mixed with the crowd, he promised to have seats reserved for our party.
   Early the next morning men and women dressed in their best began streaming into the monastery to see the cham. Accompanied by the Tung-chen, the Deba Shika, and a lama friend, we went our way towards the Nyag-khang, in the courtyard of the Tsug-la khang, in which the dances were to begin. On the way we stopped to visit an old chapel containing several inscriptions relating to Gedun-dub, the founder of Tashilhunpo, and the mark of a horse's hoof impressed on a rock, which passers-by touch with their heads.
   Then we took our seats on the balcony of the second floor of the Nyag-khang building, and watched the preparations for the dance. Twenty-four sacred flags of satin, with embroidered figures of dragons and other monsters worked in threads of gold, were first unfurled at the top of long and slender poplar poles, and square parti-coloured flags were also hung all around the Tsug-la khang. About a dozen monks wearing coats of mail had masks which, for the most part, represented eagles' heads. The dancers entered one after the other, and then followed the abbot of the Nyag-pa Ta-tsan, Kusho Yon-djin Lhopa by name, holding a dorje in his right hand, and a bell in his left. He wore a yellow mitre-shaped cap, with lappets covering his ears and hanging down to his breast. He was tall and fair; he looked intelligent, his manners were most dignified, and he performed his part most cleverly.
   After a while the flag-bearers, the masked monks, and all the cortege repaired to the great Tsug-la khang of Tashilhunpo, which is about 300 yards long and 150 feet broad. Round this courtyard are four-storied buildings with handsome pillared balconies, the Grand Lama's seat being on the western side. The long balconies on the east and south were occupied by the nobility of Tsang, and those on the north by Mongol pilgrims and a number of Shigatse merchants. The abbots of the four Ta-tsan had seats just above the Nyag-pa, who, to the number of fifty odd, and assisted by their Om-dse and the Dorje Lopon, these holding in their hands cymbals and tambourines, went through a short religious service under the direction the Kusho Yon-djin Lhopa. This latter made during this service peculiar motions with his hands, in which he held, as I have said, a dorje and a bell.
   When this was over a figure with a dark-coloured mask, and presenting the Hoshang Dharma-tala, Iadvanced, and the spectators flung him khatags, which his two yellow-faced wives picked up. When these three had left the scene, the four kings of the four cardinal points appeared, dressed in all the wild and barbaric splendour in which such monarchs could indulge. Then came the sons of the gods, some sixty in number, dressed in beautiful silk robes glittering with gold embroideries and precious stones. These were followed by Indian atsaras, whose black and bearded faces and uncouth dress excited loud laughter among the crowd. Then appeared four guardians of the graves, whose skeleton-like appearance was meant to remind the spectators of the terrors of death. After this the devil was burnt in effigy on a pile of dry sedge, and with this the cham came to an end. While it was in progress incense was burnt on Mount Dolma (Dolmai-ri), behind the monastery, and on all the other neighbouring mountain-tops. I learnt from the Tung-chen that there were several books on the subject of these religious dances and music.

 

Das, Sarat Chandra
Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet
First Published 1902; reprint New Delhi 1970 edited by W.W. Rockhill

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