RICH AND RUSTIC: BHUTAN

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Far away from the urban sprawl is the small and mystic country of Bhutan which lies enveloped in the captivating beauty of the Himalayas. One has to be there to experience the spiritual aura created by the cliff-hanging monasteries and temples, the fluttering prayer flags and the red robed monks. The Wind Gods carry the messages of love, luck and happiness encrypted on colourful prayer flags. With the sun that rises from the cradle of the snow-capped mountains, the chants of the monks echo throughout the kingdom. And the spirits of the ancestors tie Bhutan in the thread of a rich Buddhist heritage. In the true sense of the word, Bhutan is paradise on earth.

 

The rich and rustic culture of the kingdom remains largely unchanged and untouched by the outside influences. Held in the monasteries of Bhutan are the cultural and sacred folk dances that have been passed down the generations since time immemorial.

 

Preserving and continuing the Buddhist religion and culture is the Cham dance or the Buddhist masked dance which brings the Buddhist mythology to life. Performed in the famous Tiger Monastery or Paro Taktsang, the Cham dance takes place in the month of November during the Tsechu festival. Legend has it that the Indian saint, Guru Padmasambhava flew from Tibet to this cave on a tigress’s back. Named accordingly, Paro the Tiger Monastery is where he is said to have meditated for a period of three months in the 8th century. Padmasambhava is also credited with introducing the Cham as a union of meditation and dance in monastic style of life.

 

Cham is an energetic and passionate expression of art. The dancers wear decorated masks with intricate designs and dance vigorously to the beats of traditional Buddhist instruments. The richly coloured skirts decorated with a thick black belt and gold threaded garlands around their necks create more of a shamanistic effect. Carrying drums in their hands they symbolise their connection with the spiritual world after death. As the drumming continues, the dancers make beautiful swirls and simple gestures sometimes moving in circles, sometimes in straight lines. Chime of the ritual bells and the beats of the drums reverberate in the entire monastery elevating the senses ultimately leading to enlightenment. An eclectic mix of calm expressions symbolizing the peaceful deities and the agile expressions embodying the wrathful deities, Cham represents the mystics of the Buddhist tradition. Filled with faith and positive energy this ancient dance form is aimed at driving away the evil spirits only to bring good luck and happiness in abundance. Delicately unfolding a story of the victory of good over evil, the entire act is beyond doubt spellbinding. Although masked dances are practiced all over southeast and Himalayan countries, Bhutan is the ideal location, where you can see these masked dances in their full form.

 

Giving the message of peace over war, freedom over tyranny, the Cham depicts that the forces of good and evil dwell in us. And within us lies the choice. The pure essence of Bhutanese culture leaves you with nothing more to be desired.  As the moon overtakes the Himalayan crest, the mysticism continues to linger as the country rests in the silhouette of Buddhism. So come experience and discover the mysteries and myths of Bhutan!

 

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