Cham, the Tibetan holy and masked dances

When we arrived in Villeneuve-Loubet (between Cannes and Nice, south of France), our attention was immediately captured by a sign indicating that the city “sponsors the Dzong* of Lhuntsé in Tibet”. Wow, this is the first time we see a sign clearly displaying the support of a French city in Tibet! 🤩

* Tibetan fortress.

As we pedal to the centre of the seaside town, we see posters announcing the 8th Free Tibet Days. On the program: projection of a film and exhibition on Cham, the Tibetan holy dances! It’s really incredible that we pass by this place, at this moment by chance. So we absolutely have to go and see this exhibition!

France-Tibet Côte d’Azur and Bernard Balleret (collector and traveller) have put together a rich collection of costumes, masks, musical instruments and ritual objects to allow visitors to immerse themselves in the heart of the tradition of Tibetan holy dances, which are often unknown. A very interesting exhibition! We had a great time with Jean-Luc (volunteer of the association) who welcomed us warmly and presented the exhibition!

Cham exhibition, Tibetan holy and masked dances !

Cham: the holy and masked dances of Tibet

The “CHAM” dances are holy and masked dances accompanied by traditional music. They originate from Tantric Buddhism and are performed during monastic ceremonies that last several days! These dances lead to the liberation of the ego, protection and the triumph of good over evil for those who watch them. In short, lots of good vibes!

Illustration by Anais

In Tibet, the first signs of these dances were observed in the 9th century. They are linked to the manifestations of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche). Indeed, in the 8th century, the king of Tibet Trisong Detsen called Padmasambhava for help during the construction of a monastery when a series of catastrophes were triggered by the spirits (illness, flood, hail and other celebrations!) As soon as he arrived, the Guru carried out a Vajrakilaya purification practice and blessed the floor of the building. Then he is seen to rise into the air and perform a majestic dance. Through this dance, he eradicates the negative forces so that the monastery can be built under the best of auspices!

Over the centuries, these dances have evolved into an integral part of monasteries and celebrations. Since the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the repression, these dances are mostly practiced in exile in Northern India, Nepal and Bhutan.

Learning the holy dance, Cham

These dances are taught to monks in monasteries at the age of 13-14. Training is done in monk’s robes for several years. They wear the costumes and masks only during the performances (during the monastic festivals)!

The symbolism of Cham dances

These dances have a very strong symbolism. Costumes, choreography and colours, nothing is left to coincidence: everything is a symbol! Only an in-depth study of the divinities can enable one to understand their profound meaning. However, everyone can find his or her own interpretation and benefit from it! All you have to do is immerse yourself in the traditional music and rhythmic dances of the monks. Even without knowing all the symbolism, the spectator receives the good energies diffused and comes out of it grown!

The main objective of the Cham is to make people grow in their consciousness and thus free themselves from the suffering caused by emotions and attachment.

Sources: Cham exhibition, Tibetan holy and masked dances !

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