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Bhutan’s Famous Chham Festival
Bhutan’s Chham Festival
Dance and music play a very important role in the cultural life of the people of Bhutan. Every village and community has a rich dance tradition that marks the passing of the seasons, community occasions and shared experiences. We will look at its significance and location Chhams(Mask dances) during festivals through the history of the Bhutanese people.
Just like the building a Dzongs and setting it up Chhoesi system, dances also played a similar role in bringing people together. Through these dances, ordinary people learn about their place in the country’s history. Chhams usually performed during the Tshechu festival.
The chhams they were mainly made to convey religious messages to people. Some were created by Guru Rinpoche, while others were created by Tertoen Pema Lingapa, Zhabdrung Rinpoche and other great saints. During the masked dances, the deities of tantric teachings are invoked and misfortunes are warded off with their power and blessings. All evil spirits and demons that prevent its spread Chhoe (the doctrine) is suppressed so that the doctrine of the Lord Buddha may flourish and bring joy and happiness to all beings.
Masked dances are performed by both monks and laymen. Below are some of the dances performed at the Tshechu festival.
Zhana Chham dancers wear broad tall black hats and traditional boots. The dancers take on the appearance of Neljorpas (yogis) and thus subdue the enemies of the doctrine. This is done to lead beings or spirits to the teachings of the Buddha. This dance is also performed as a land cleansing rite during construction Dzongs, Lhakhangs and Chortens. The goal is to appease the evil spirits of the land and take possession of the site from them.
The exercises performed during the dance are so special that just by looking at them, you are cleansed. All obstacles to faith and understanding are removed. Because of its importance, Zhabdrung Rinpoche himself performed this ritual.
The Tungam Chham
The Tungam Chham dancers wear beautiful brocade dresses, traditional boots and fearsome masks. The dance has a very deep symbolic meaning. A ritual sacrifice is performed. The dances represent the gods. They involve and enclose the evil spirits and confine them in a box. The main dancer then destroys them by stabbing them with the Phur (Ritual Dagger). So the dancers not only save the world from evil spirits, but also free them from evil deeds.
Tungam Chham shows its formidable form Dorji Dragpo (Fierce Lightning), Guru Rinpoche assumed to subdue the enemies of the doctrine.
Ging Tsholing Chham
It is a dance that unites two groups of characters namely Ging and Tsholing. Tsholing dancers have long, colorful brocade dresses and fearsome masks. Ging is worn by dancers Tagshams(Tiger Skin Skirts) and fearsome dark blue (male) and red (female) masks with a flag on top. Every Ging dancer is one Nga (Drum) in his left hand and a drum beater in his right.
Ging Tsholing Chham was first performed by Guru Rinpoche to subdue the demons that prevented the construction of Samye Monastery in Tibet. Through his magical powers, Guru Rinpoche transformed himself into various fierce forms of defenders of the doctrine. In this way, he was not only able to subdue the demons, but also secured their help in building the monastery. These transformations of the Guru are manifested in the Ging and Tsholing chham.
Meanwhile Czech festival, Ging Tsholing also performs the purification of the area right in front of Guru Tshengye and his entourage. Sharp whistles are blown to ward off evil spirits. Ging dancers beat the heads of the spectators with their drumsticks to expel the dirt from them. The Tsholing dancers, after destroying the evil spirits represented by the image in the black box, are driven away by the Ging. The Ging dancers stay behind and perform a victory dance with drum beats.
Guru Tshengye Chham
Guru Rinpoche assumed various forms in order to help all sentient beings. Guru Tshengye’s dance depicts the manifestation of eight persons. The display of the glorious deeds of the great Guru during the dance strengthens the faith of the spectators.
Guru Tshengye Chham begins with the appearance of Guru Dorji Drolo. Other manifestations follow him at regular intervals. All eight manifestations wear long brocade dresses and unique masks. Guru Rinpoche finally enters the scene, joined by the rest of the entourage. He is accompanied by his two main consorts, Khando Mandarava from the right and Khando Yeshey Tshogyel from the left. Fairies or attendants are represented by children wearing white masks.
Guru Rinpoche takes his place on the throne as his manifestations take turns performing individual dances, then sit in a row near the Guru after they finish. Spectators turn to Guru Rinpoche during the dance and receive blessings. This is also a sacred occasion for some of the viewers. They get new names for their babies from the Guru.
The accompaniment also consists of Ringa Chudrug (sixteen fairies). They wear beautiful brocade dresses and aprons with carved bone decorations. They sing and dance before Guru Rinpoche and his manifestations. The annual Tshechu usually ends with a Guru Tshegye dance.
Paccham dancers wear knee-length yellow skirts and Ringa (golden crowns) and do not wear masks. In each hand they hold a Drilbu (a small bell) and a Tangte (a small drum). This dance tells how Tertoen Pema Lingpa, in a vision, in the paradise of Zangdopelri. He saw this dance performed by Pawos and Pamos, who led dead devotees into the presence of Guru Rinpoche. Pema Lingpa introduced the same dance on earth to lead devotees and followers to Guru Rinpoche’s paradise after death.
Drametse Nga chham
Drametse Nga chham is performed by sixteen dancers, each wearing an animal or bird mask. They have a Nga in their left hand and a drum beater in their right hand. They wear knee-length yellow silk skirts.
Around the end of the fifteenth century, Lam Kuenga Gyeltshen, a descendant of Pema Lingpa, left Bumthang accompanied by his sister Ani(anim) Choten Zangmo. They arrived and settled in Drametse in eastern Bhutan.
In a vision during meditation, Kuenga Gyeltshen came to Zangdopelri and met Guru Rinpoche. In his vision there, Guru Rinpoche’s attendants transformed into deities resembling the faces of various animals and birds and performed a dance.
Kuenga Gyeltshen watched the dance and created the tradition of this dance in Drametse. The dance is therefore popularly known as Drametse Nga Chham.
This dance is performed by four dancers wearing knee-length silk skirts and deer masks. Guru Rinpoche subdued the Lung Lha (God of Wind) who caused suffering to the people of the world. He rode the Lung Lha deer and restored peace and happiness to the world.
Shazam Chham is therefore due to Guru Rinpoche.
Durdag Chham is the dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds, performed by four dancers. They all wear white costumes and white skull masks.
According to Buddhist belief, there are eight cremation grounds where Chhochongs (religious defenders) live. Between Chhochongs there are the Duthrod Dagmos(Lords of the Cremation Grounds) who are sworn to protect the doctrine from demonic enemies.
Raksha Marchham or the Dance of Judgment of the Dead a Bardo Thoedroel(Book of the Dead), a text hidden by Guru Rinpoche and later rediscovered by Tertoen Karma Lingpa in the fourteenth century. According to the Bardo Thodroelwhen living things die they migrate a Bardo (the state between one’s death and rebirth). During this period, Buddhas manifest in various forms and gather to administer justice to dead beings according to their deeds in their previous lives. While appearing before him Shinje Chokigap (Lord of Death) those beings who lived their lives according to the doctrine are rewarded. On the other hand, sinners and non-believers in the teaching must go through the scary. Bardo. They face different rebirths for their sins His language (hell) where they are tormented by terrifying deities. These sinners must endure their punishment until they are cleansed of all their sins and finally receive a proper rebirth. Depending on the type of crime, the sentence can be spread over hundreds of years.
The judgment made depends on the different lifestyles of their previous lives. The judgment of the assembly of Buddhas is dramatized through the Raksha Marchham dance. The Buddhas manifest in it Shinje Chhoekigap, Lhakaap(white god), Dre Nagchung(black demon), Raksha Lango (the ox-headed minister of justice) and other deities wearing the masks of various birds and animals.
Raksha Marchham is considered very special and it is believed that one is partially cleansed of one’s sins whenever one witnesses the dance. The main purpose of the dance is to remind people of the good life, to get rid of the fearful Bardo and they can experience happier times in their next life.
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