As a young boy grew up in village in eastern Bhutan, I was inextricably linked to diverse culture exclusive to the village as well as otherTibetan-Bhutanese culture brought to the village. As far as I could remember, there were no modern entertainment amenities in my village. My village was also isolated one. Except to get salt for which villagers travelled to Indian border or a shop in a town once a year, my village which was three-day walk away from road point was self-sustaining. I first saw radio when I was around eight in the house of a neighbor who returned recently after contributing Zhabto Lemi at Punakha Dzong. He was given a radio (brand I don’t remember) which he spoilt in a week while showing off to other villagers. Only source of entertainment I remembered was local tsechu and annual household Lhasel. Local Tshechu were a great source of entertainment and time of get-together. Village elders would reverently sit in courtyard of temple and watched mask dances often with tears in their eyes. I have never understood why they were crying. I made no attempt to ask either. I just loved to watch dancers beating drums and spurning round and round.
Later, when I was enrolled in the school, I got to learn few things about various facets of our culture in tits and bits from history textbooks. For a schoolboy whose attention was playing marbles and balls, I found those textbooks very boring. Somehow, I passed the subjects over the years. Since then, I have lost myself into modern entertainment like movies, serials or gambling shows. I don’t like to watch mask dances sitting on the cold courtyard anymore. Even mask dances showing in national television made to sleep. However, last week, while I was goggling for some articles on Bhutan, I chanced to see an article on Peling Gingsum. I realized then that mask dances were not merely to entertain but to enlighten us with Buddhist teachings and values. It also tells stories of Buddhism’s protagonists and antagonists. Peling Gingsum was one of the narrative dances.
Pema Lingpa was of the five great Terton king (Major Treasure Discoverer) in vajrayana Buddhism who discovered religious treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche, a saint from Kashmir. Peling Gingsum was one such treasure instruction revealed to him. Peling Gingsum as name suggested is three stages of dances originated from Pema Lingpa. In Buddhism, it is believed that a metaphorical malevolent spirit named Damsi Nyulema is said to cause bad thoughts in us. It is understood as negative side of our feelings in actuality which one must subdue so that positive feelings became victorious in us. Peling Gingsum is a dance to subdue evil spirit mentioned above.
As stated it consist of three dances namely Juging(Stick dances), Driging ( sword dance) and Ngaging( Drum Dance). Stick dance is performed to identify place where Damsi Nyulema is residing. The dancers point stick to various directions and finally settled on earth. However, assistant dance leader pointed to heart symbolizing that evil spirit resided in each of our heart.
In next episode came the Sword Dance with dancers wearing terrifying masks carrying wooden sword to subdue the evil spirits and purify it. In a way, it is way of cutting our evil-self off us. In final episode, Drum Dance is performed to celebrate victory over evil spirits. It is dance of celebration that our evil self is defeated by our good self.
In the past this dance was witnessed so those audiences were cleansed of negative thoughts. I believe that such dance is performed to motivate or remind people of innate good quality in us at least for a year. May be it was because of such dances that people in villages like to help each other as opposed to us who who are working and living in towns. Today, we are full of egos and negative emotions. Today, we are competing and working selfishly like robots. Even when we go to watch Tshechu, we end up most of the time in games and food stalls rather than watching mask dances rather than watching various valued display in form of mask dances.
Therefore, I would urge to watch mask dances and be reminded that you have still good parts sleeping inside you. As for me, I have started watching mask dances in home through box called TV. And story told to me by a relative of how an old man at his neighborhood wake up early in the morning, got dressed formally with kabney and respectfully sat in front of TV to watch mask dances further stirred deep sense of respect both for him and in our culture.