4. CULTURAL & HISTORICAL HERITAGES

MONGOLIAN CULTURE: RELIGIOUS MASK DANCE – TSAM

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.