Popularly known as Cham, the mask dance is a highly choreographed Buddhist dance performed by Lamas wearing masks, to the accompaniment of mystic music played by the monastic orchestra. The masks represent various divinities from the Buddhist pantheon, some fearful, others benign and pleasing.

The costumes are made of brocade and silk in white, yellow, red, blue or green; with an apron made entirely of human bones. The masks are made of clay mixed with cotton, painted with natural colors and polished with gold and silver. The musical instruments used during the dance are trumpet, cymbal, drum, bell, and shells.

The dancers hold mystic signs such as daggers, spears, bells, vajras, skulls and damaru in their hands. The masks are a personification of the various protective deities that are supposedly secret and so are visible to the devotees only during secret dance festivals organized by various monasteries.

The mask dance symbolizes the victory of truth over evil and culminates in the destruction of the devil.

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Written by: Sandesh Bhandare
Photographs: Sandesh Bhandare
Copy editor: Shama Lahiri

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