Drametse Ngacham: The Masked Drum Dance of Drametse marks_1
  • Manage No, Sortation, Country, Writer ,Date, Copyright
    Manage No EE00000014
    Country Bhutan
    ICH Domain Performing Arts
    Though the Masked Dance originated at Drametse, it is now widely practiced and exhibited during the Annual Mask Dance Festivals held by Dzongs, monasteries and community temples around the country.
    Year of Designation 2005
Description The Masked Dance of the Drametse community is a sacred dance performed during the Drametse festival in honor of Guru Padmasambhava, a Buddhist master. The dance performance also commemorates the founder of the Tegchok Namdroel Ogyen Choeling Monastery, Ani Choeten Zangmo; and venerable Khedurp Kuenga Gyeltshen (1505-/) who introduced the Masked Dance. These two are the eldest daughter and the fourth son respectively of the great treasure revealer, Terton Pema Lingpa (1450-1521). According to oral accounts, Drametse Ngacham was introduced in 1518, just three years before the death of Pema Lingpa. The name of the mask dance is derived from the Drametse village community, which falls within the Drametse gewog village block of Mongar Dzongkhag district in the eastern part of Bhutan. The term Ngacham refers to the dance implements held by performers, a hand-held circular flat drum and mallet. Tegchok Namdroel Ogyen Choeling Monastery was established in 1530. The three-day Drametse Tshechu festival takes place twice a year, organized by the monastery administration. The dancers include monks from the monastery as well as laymen. The origin of the mask dance, its characteristic choreography, masks, and costumes are specified in detail in the Kabum, Collected Works, of Pema Lingpa. Pema Lingpa have seven siblings and Sangdag is one of his sons who fathered Tenzin Chogyal and gave birth to Ani (Nun) Choeten Zangmo. Therefore, Ani Choeten Zangmo is the great grand daughter of Pema Lingpa. Though Ani Choeten Zangmo has no intention to indulge in the leading a family, she was forced to marry Yeshey Gyalpo, son of Sumthrang Choeje Sherab Drakpa. Driven by her destiny, she became renunciate and later established her permanent seat at Drametse where she recognized a place of peace and tranquility, Dra-me “No Obstructions” to her meditational practices at the summit of a Tse, small ridge. During her stay, her brother Kuenga Gyeltshen who is popularly known as Khedrub Kuenga Wangpo visited her. Kuenga Wangpo is highly revered by spiritual masters for his outstanding philosophical knowledge and realization of the true nature of mind, thus he was given a title of Khedrup, great and realized scholar. He encountered Guru Padmasambhava several times while in meditational states, and had visited Zangdok Pelri, the Copper Colored Mountain, spiritual realm of Guru Padmasambhava. While staying at Drametse, an auspicious event happened in his early morning meditation on the 17th day of the 8th month of Iron Male Tiger year 1530—while the Drametse Lhakhang Monastery was under construction. In this state, three khadroma celestial maidens with white complexion, decorated with colorful silken robes, ornaments and flower garlands, invited Kuenga Wangpo to Zangdok Pelri, saying they had come to take him for a tour of the realm’s palaces. He asked, “What should I take for the long journey?” The maiden responded, “While you are experiencing pure vision without doubts, come along with us.” They took him to the realm, and into a palace called Pema yoe ki Phodrang where Kuenga Wangpo saw King Indra Bhuti. Then the maidens took Kuenga Wangpo to the majestic palace of Zangdok Pelri, where he saw Guru Padmasambhava in a youthful form smiling and telling him “I am happy to see you here.” Instantly, Guru manifested to a Jalue, Rainbow Body, and thereupon Kuenga Wangpo was entertained by a splendid dance performed by many gods and goddesses transforming themselves into Dampa Rigja (Hundred Guardian Deities); forty-two peaceful forms, and others in wrathful appearance or in human form with various animals’ heads. All wore exquisite robes and a melodious sound of Choe-ngai dra, Buddhist teachings, resonated from the beating of their drums. It is also believed that the sound of the drum signifies victory over evils and celebrates joy as Buddha’s teachings flourish. Kuenga Wangpo was then told to introduce this dance in Jigten me-yul, the human realm, and that conducting the Masked Dance would liberate sentient beings. Coming out of this meditation, he jotted down the detailed choreography, masks, and costumes. The first introduction of this Masked Dance was at the sacred place of Drametse, thus giving it the name Drametse Ngacham. Due to the significance embedded in the dance, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651) who unified Bhutan as a country, the successive Je Khenpo spiritual leaders, as well as the Druk Desi temporary leaders—these spiritual masters and farsighted monarchs all propagated the Masked Dance across various monasteries and Dzong fortresses around the country.
Social and cultural significance The sixteen creatures included in the procession represent the guardian deities who appear as wrathful animals that protect and assist in the propagation of Buddhist teachings. The Drametse Ngacham dance portrays the possibility of Thongdrol, enlightenment through bearing witness, for all sentient beings. This visualization helps to arouse faith and aspiration to the Zangdok Pelri realm of Guru Padmasambhava. The dancers symbolize the hundred Dampa rigja Guardian Deities: Zhi-wa zhibchu tsa-nyi forty-two peaceful forms, and Thrak-thung ngab-chu nga-gye fifty-eight in wrathful appearance. These characters and further deities are those who spectators will encounter after their deaths while in the Bardo intermediate state.
Transmission method The dance features sixteen masked dancers wearing colorful costumes: Zik-dom leopard skin patterned shorts, then Tak-sham Tiger skin patterned skirt which is overlapped by Dar-sham colorful silken scarves woven into a skirt, which is secured by a Tha-leb, leather belt, around the abdomen and Toe-gho brocade long-sleeved shirt, Trab diagonal-cross ornament, Dorji-gong a cape-collar with a Vajra motif. Finally, the dancers hold a Nga hand drum and Ne-tog, a drum-stick. Performers represented in the dance represent both worldly and sacred animals in a procession: the snow lion leads, female Garuda, raven, snake, dragon, owl, ox, tiger, leopard, hog, bat, sheep, dog, bear, goat and finally the male Garuda who holds and beats a cymbal as the secondary leader of the dance. The dance originally consisted of twenty-one different stages of choreography: 1. Thoen cham, entrance 2. Nam-ging, sky deities 3. Bar-ging, intermediate deities 4. Sa-ging, earth deities 5. Lam-droe, approach gait 6. Zhal-jor or Tak-troe, embracing 7. Drul-go phang-ril, a solo dance by snake head 8. Pema Lingpai lamdroe, entrance procession of Pema Lingpa tradition 9. Wogpai lamdroe, entrance of Wokpa Lingpa 10. Sangay Lingpai lamdroe, entrance of Sangay Lingpa 11. Tsho-geye tak-gye, eight substances and symbols 12. Lok-chik pa, singular turn 13. Phag-go, solo dance by the hog head 14. Phyi-nang, outer and inner 15. Trek-trek, beating on the either side of the hand instrument 16. Khi-go, solo dance by the dog head 17. Dom-go, solo dance by the bear head 18. Trek-trek, beating the drum on the either side of the hand instrument 19. Phyi-nang, outer and inner 20. Tak-go, solo dance by the tiger head 21. Lok-cham or zul-cham, exit procession Depending upon the region, the dance is often performed with fourteen to eighteen steps in an abridged form. As the Masked Dance is sacred, the dance is received in the courtyard with Chibdrel a grand ceremonial reception, and similar offerings are made during the exit procession. Dancers learn the performance basically through participation, they examine a master’s performance, memorizing the choreography and impersonating those skilled performers. An enthusiast must learn how to hold and twist the drum, to control it separately from the choreography steps.
Community Though the Masked Dance performance is considered a Boe-cham, laymen’s performance, dancers are selected men who are physically and mentally fit to become an artist. Moreover, all the dancers must be trained in tantric visualization methods as they need to invoke the deities of the celestial world while performing. A dancer who performs with proper visualization and in accordance with the prescribed choreography is believed to gain energy, that they transform their physical energy into spiritual energy which overpowers the sins and defilements of the spectators. If such qualified dancers are unavailable, an interested, physically, and mentally fit dancer will be selected for training and performance. Data collected by: Yeshi Lhendup, NLAB
Type of UNESCO List Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Incribed year in UNESCO List 2008
Information source
National Library and Archives of Bhutan

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