Accepted Papers:

Benefits and Blessings: perceptions of Tibetan ritual dances ('cham) in modern Bhutan   


Dawn Collins (Independent Scholar)

Paper Short Abstract:

The paper explores contemporary perceptions of historically attested benefits and blessings accorded Tibetan ritual dances (’cham) as they are currently experienced in Bhutan. It does so in terms of aesthetic choices, intent and appreciation, both in the context of a modern state commissioned ’cham, and of more traditional Bhutanese Tse bcu.

Paper long abstract:

Tibetan ritual dances ('cham) primarily originate in the Indian vajrayana tantric Buddhism received into Tibet in the seventh century. Benefits claimed for these masked ritual dances for communities and their environs are notably the destruction or subjugation of spiritual forces counter to health and wellbeing, the preparation for the intermediary state after death, and the receipt of blessing from the deities represented or embodied by the dancers.

The paper explores contemporary views of these historically attested benefits and questions the value and meanings accorded these 'cham as they are currently experienced in Bhutan. In doing so, it inquires into the perceptions of those who engage either as participants or observers with 'cham in today's Bhutan. In particular, it will look at these local perspectives in the context of a newly-created, State-sponsored ritual 'cham. This took place in December 2011 and was intended to memorialise the 2003 campaign of the Royal Bhutanese Army, which drove out Indian separatist groups encamped in southern Bhutan. The paper will examine where and why this newly created ritual dance performance departs from traditional Bhutanese 'cham, both in terms of the aesthetic choices and intent of its makers and in terms of its aesthetic appreciation by modern audience.

The paper attempts to discern local perceptions concerning this and other ritual dance presently performed in Bhutan, exploring what benefits participants or observers perceive themselves to be deriving from engaging in'cham. In light of this, it will comment on what transformations this may indicate in terms of both national and religious Bhutanese identities.

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