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Religious mask dancing.

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RELIGIOUS MASK DANCING "TSAM" IN MONGOLIA

T
he ancient religious mask dancing "Tsam" is one of the significant religious rituals reflecting buddhist teaching through correct apostolic images and essence. "Tsam" mask dancing is included in the art form called "Doigar" depicting independent imagination as one of the 10 kinds of wisdom according to ancient Indian philosophy. It is a theatrical art performed by skilled dancers bearing the external appearance and characters of different apostles and devils, animals or real people. This ceremony requires magnificently ornamented costumes. The "Tsam" dance ceremony was first introduced into Mongolia in the 8th century when the famous Indian Saint Lovon Badamjunai was invited to Mongolia to sanctify the construction of the first Tibetan temple Samya. From that time the "Tsam" ceremonious dance following the traditional teaching of Nyambdeyan was performed and from 16th century it became popular in Dash-lhumb temple, Uigien Namjra and other places.
 

At the beginning of the 19th century a "Tsam" ceremony reflecting the history of Milbogd's Geser took place, and in 1811 the "Jahar Tsam" or "Tsam of the Erieg Nomon Khan" showing the taming of the aggressive Eriegs by the apostle Yamandag destroying their metallic citadels. In "Khuree Tsam" or the "Tsam of the Erieg Nomon Khan" a total of 108 fancy-dresses of 21 apostles including Gongor, Namsrai, Gombo, Ochirvaany, Jamsran, Lham, Damdinchoijoo were worn. This tsam was staged as a big religious ceremony on the 9th day of the last summer month every year.
 

The scenery, opening, enaction, musical climax and outcome of the tsam dance reflect the character of the participants in different ways: cruel, calm or humorous.
 

There are numerous personages from a variety of popular stories as well as different animals showing positive and negative influences. Additionally more than 500 monasteries of the 700 Mongolian monasteries had their own local variations of the ceremony. To depict positive and negative influences animals such as Khangarid - the lord of fliers, lion - the king of wild animals, stag - the beauty amongst animals, crow - the soothsayer and different kind of domestic animals were involved. Furthermore the colour and decorations of costumes and other means were used during this ceremony as clues to the personality of the characters depicted.
 

There were two kinds of tsam dances. The first, "Mil Bogdo" died out, but the fancy-dress tsam remained to those days. This kind of tsam is called the Geser or "Jahar Tsam" or "Erieg Nomon Khan Tsam". "Geser Tsam" was famous for it's elaborately rich decorations, famed in this above all the monasteries, such as the Dalai Choinhor and Lord Sansraidorj. The "Tsam of Erieg Nomon Khan" or "Jahar Tsam" was the most popular tsam in Mongolia.
 

The person who choreographed the first tsam dance after the establishment of Erdene-Zuu monastery was a Mongolian.
 

Folk art and native wisdom played an important role in the production of the one-off specific dance "Tsam".
 

Song and dance, music, decorative arts and other kinds of folk art are included in the Tsam ceremony.
 

In spite of the fact that the Mongolian tsam dance was based on Indian folk art and was popularised in Tibet it was highly developed in Mongolia. For this reason the Mongolian-Tibetan tsam dance, the Geser and Nomon Khan fancy-dress tsam and Mil Bogdo's Talking Tsam will preserve their position in the history of world theatre arts.

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