The ancient religious mask dance
"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.
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 Erleg Nomun
Khan" showing the taming of the aggressive Erlegs by the apostle Yamandag
destroying their metallic citadels (in the monastery of Bogdo Gegen
"Living Buddha"). In the "Khuree Tsam" or the "Tsam of
the Erleg Nomun Khan", a total of 108 fancy dresses of 21 apostles
including Gongor, Namsrai, Gombo, Ochirvani, Jamsran, Lkham, Damdinchoijoo was
worn. This Tsam was staged as a big religious ceremony on the 9th day of the
last summer month every year.
The word “Tsam “is with Tibetan origin
and means “to overcome the enemy completely".
The scenery, opening, inaction, 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 have
had their own local variations of the ceremony.
This kind of Tsam is called the
"Geser" or "Jahar Tsam" or "Erleg Nomun Khan
Tsam". The "Geser Tsam" was famous for its elaborately rich
decorations, famed in this above all the monasteries, such as the Dalai
Choinhor and Lord Sansraidorj. The "Tsam of Erleg Nomun Khan" or
"Jahar Tsam" was the most popular Tsam in Mongolia. The person who
choreographed the first Tsam dance after the establishment of the Erdene-Zuu
monastery was a Mongolian monk. Folk art and native wisdom played an important
role in the production of the one-off specific religious 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
popularized in Tibet, it was highly developed in Mongolia. The dance performance
with masks is a pantomime mystery play, and for this reason these performances
are part of ceremonious services held by Buddhists.