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Tibetan Religious Dances

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Tibetan Religious Dances
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Item Code: IDC379
Author: Christoph Von Furer-Haimendorf
Publisher: Paljor Publications Pvt. Ltd.
Language: Tibetan text and annotated translation of the ‘Chams Yig’
Edition: 2001
ISBN: 8176240060
Pages: 319 (28 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 9.3” X 6.3”
From the Book

This unique work provides invaluable material related to the Tibetan Sacred Dances, which have met their doom with the destruction of monastic life in Tibet.

Nebesky-Wojkowitz, during several periods of his field work in the Himalayas had studied these Buddhist temple dances. He brought to their description his expert knowledge of Tibetan iconography and ritual. Of particular interest is the translation of the Tibetan texts containing detailed instructions for the performances of the dances. The existence of such choreographical manuals explains the uniformity in the performance of temple dances and the persistence of an unchanging tradition over long periods. Realizing that none of the Buddhist rituals referred in this book can be performed in the present day Tibet and with the rapid decline of the art of ‘chams-dances, Dr. de Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s posthumous work becomes all the more valuable.


Among the papers of the late Dr. Rene de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, whose sudden death at the age of thirty-six brought a brilliant academic career to a tragically early end, was found a manuscript on Tibetan sacred dances. Though in an incomplete form, this manuscript contained so much valuable material that its publication seemed to be clearly indicated. During several periods of fieldwork in the Himalayas the author had studied the Buddhist temple dances of Sikkim and other areas, and he brought to their description an expert knowledge f Tibetan iconography and ritual. Had he lived to complete the book, he would undoubtedly have expanded and deepened the analysis of the dances described, and it is likely that he would have added a chapter comparing the temple dances reported from various parts of Tibet and the Himalayan regions. Yet, even in its fragmentary form the book provides data not obtainable elsewhere. Of particular interest is the translation of the Tibetan texts containing detailed instructions for the performance of the dances. The existence of such choreographical manuals explains the uniformity in the performance of temple dances in widely separated areas as well as the persistence of an unchanging tradition over long periods.

With the destruction of monastic life in Tibet through the Chinese intervention, the great performances of religious dances have also met their doom, and at present it is only in some of the Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and in the Indian borderlands that the enacting of ritual dances by monks can still be observed. But as all these monasteries relied for inspiration on higher teaching and the ordination of the monks on the great centers of the respective Buddhist sects in Tibet. It is doubtful whether after the disruption of the traditional links with Tibetan monasteries the old pattern of ritual dances will survive for long even in regions beyond the immediate reach of the new rulers of Tibet. The likelihood of a rapid decline of the art of ‘chams-dances makes Dr. de Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s posthumous work all the more valuable.

In the task of editing the manuscript I was faced by a number of difficulties, not all of which were successfully overcome. The greatest of these was the incompleteness of footnotes and references, and, though some of them could be supplemented, in many cases it was unclear to which particular work the author had intended to refer. There remain also some obscurities in the text which could not be entirely removed in the process of editing. Dr. Nebesky wrote the present book at a time when the Dalai Lama was still residing in Lhasa, and Tibetan religious performances were continuing in their traditional form. Hence descriptions of rituals are cast in the present tense, and this has been retained in the edited text. Readers must realize, however, that none of the Buddhist rituals referred to can be performed in present-day Tibet.

I am grateful for the help of Miss Chie Nakane, who succeeded in tracing some of the doubtful references, and of Dr. David Snellgrove, who was good enough to read the manuscript. The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research had generously assisted some of Dr. Nebesky’s fieldwork, and after his death the Foundation provided a grant in aid of the preparation of his notes for publication. Dr. Walter Graf of the University of Vienna, who had cooperated with Dr. Nebesky during his lifetime, added to the book an appendix on the performance of the Tibetan music notation, which is partly based on the tape recordings and notes of his colleague. Mr. Philip Denwood has assisted with the proof-reading of the Tibetan texts and Mrs. Helen Kanitkar has compiled the bibliography. My colleague Dr. P.H. Pott, director of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde at Leyden - with whom Dr. Rene de Nebesky-Wojkowitz worked for some years when writing his book Oracles and Demons of Tibet (1956) - kindly obliged me by seeing the book through the press, inclusive of the preparation of the indexes and the care for its illustration.

All those who knew Rene de Nebesky-Wojkowitz are deeply conscious of the great loss to scholarship caused by his untimely death, and they will welcome this book as the last instalment of his notable contribution to our knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism.


Preface By Christoph Von Furer-Haimendorf
1Dances of the Bon9
2Dances of the rNying ma pa and rDzogs chen pa Sects11
3Dances of the Sa skya pa32
4Dances of the bKa’ brgyud pa34
5Dances of the dGe lugs pa43
Chapter III:’CHAMS YIG85
1Introduction to ‘chams yig85
A. The authors of the ‘chams yig85
B. Iconographic details87
C. The participants in the dance93
D. The phases of the ‘chams100
2.Tibetan text of the ‘chams yig244
3.Translation of the ‘chams yig245
4.The rhythm of the dance246
On the Performance of Tibetan music and its notation, by Dr. Walter Graf 249
1.Information on the Tibetan notation obtained by Nebesky250
2.Sings and elements of Tibetan chant notation in the light of Nebesky’s selection254
A. Elements used at the beginning of a sign257
B. Elements used in the middle of a sign263
C. Elements used at the end of a sign271
D. Rhythm276
E. The system of the Tibetan notation276
I.Names and classes of deities302
II.General Tibetan expressions, etc305
III.Names of Tibetan Buddhist personalities313
IV.Tibetan geographical terms, names of places etc.314
V.General geographical index315
VI.Index of Sanskrit names and terminology316
VII.List of authors and persons mentioned in the text317
VIII.Index of selected subjects319
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