BAHAR Seminar, Wednesday March 28, 2012: Prof. Geoffrey Samuel

Geoffrey Samuel will present a seminar, “Tibetan ritual dance as public performance and state ceremony: the evolution of the Tsechu in Bhutan and the 2011 Dochu La festival,” deriving from a recent BAHAR research visit to Bhutan. The seminar will be held in the Humanities Building, Cardiff University, Room 3.48, from 5 to 7.30 p.m. Wine and nibbles provided. All welcome.

Geoffrey introduces the topics as follows: The core elements of Tibetan ritual dance derive from Indian Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism. They involve the dancers acting out and materialising a mandala of Tantric deities which is created imaginatively by the lama and other Tantric adepts, and focussing its power on the destruction of internal and external obstacles to welfare and spiritual progress. In Tibetan cultures, these dances, which have parallels in other parts of Buddhist and Hindu Asia, developed into large-scale public events. They were performed on an annual basis or more frequently by most major monasteries, acquiring additional layers of meaning and symbolism, as well as further dance-sequences with a primarily narrative rather than ritual orientation.

The rulers of the Bhutanese state, which was founded by a refugee Tibetan lama in the early 17th century,  mobilised this performative complex further to serve as a key representation of the state’s political and religious authority. These annual tsechu (tenth-day) rituals are now performed annually by most major centres of political authority in Bhutan, despite the marginalisation of the monastic establishment within an increasingly secularised Bhutanese state. The paper examines the transformations of Tibetan ritual dance and attempts to assess its meaning in contemporary Bhutan. It also discusses a recent attempt to update and further transform the ritual dance tradition in the context of the commemoration of a complex and problematic episode in modern Bhutanese history, the 2003 campaign of the Royal Bhutanese Army to drive out several Indian separatist groups which had set up encampments in southern Bhutan.

The seminar will include video material showing excerpts from Tibetan ritual dance performances in Bhutan.

Enquiries to Geoffrey Samuel.


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