May Tranquility Reside Here!

Turns out today there was a Buddhist Tsam ceremony at the Doscoilin Monastery, which is just a stones throw from the ACMS.

Tsam is an extremely elaborate masked dance to exorcise evil spirits. The monks at the monastery handed me a sheet that called it a "ceremonial secret tantric meditation, which is called the science of 'circle dance' or 'cam', belonging to the category of the ten great and small sciences."

Tsam almost totally disappeared from Mongolia because of communist suppression, and so it is very rare even today. This is the only one held in Ulaanbaatar that is a 'real' for Buddhist not a show one for tourists.

There are a lot of tourist Tsam around, I have seen a bunch. The museums here are also filled with some really beautiful old masks. The show tsams are usally presented along with the array of Mongolian traditional arts: long song, khoomei (throat singing), morin khuur, contortionists, and other traditional dances and some of them are good, though short and of course extremely limited. (I won't even mention the excreble tsam at the Choijin Lama temple because it was excruciating--weak costumes, bad dancing, no horns, one cymbal, and one drum played by a bored woman who was reading her text messages while playing the drum!)

This tsam took place is this pretty ragged monastery that is several large metal buildings built to look like gers, and while there were a smattering of gringos there it was overwhelmingly Mongolians. They might not all have been Buddhists, many were clasping hands but many were not. One guy named Puje who talked to me a great length only came to see what was going on because he could see it from his apartment.

There is a lot of information on Mongolia Tsam here so I don't feel the need to summarize it. The dance is extremely structured both in technique, order, and especially in meaning, and it is worth understanding what each part means. So go read that link.

I was interested in seeing for a couple of reasons, including of course the visual excitement of it but also especially the soundscape of it. Tsam involves a great deal of noise, the long Tibetan style horns called ikh buree, high pitched reeded horns called bishgur, big drums called hengereg, cymbals, and chanting.

What was most interesting to me is how differently the music is presented in this tsam, which was definitely put on believers, and the music of the show tsam. The Palace Theatre tsam, for example, actually has trumpets attached to the horns so they are louder and more appealing, the cymbals are oplayed well, and the whole was really appealing sounding. This live one was interesting but the musicianship was of a whole different order. It is not the point, of course, but it just further compicates the whole presentation of the tsam in the official shows.

I'll post a couple of pics of the tsam in order, some video later once I have time to sort it out, and hopefully more images at a later time since I am sitting in the ACMS office and it is afternoon and I have other things to do:

Here they are burning the sorin balin, which the monks said causes "the end of inner sins, the roots of every bad thing."

Then the whole thing became a parade down the street, which was a narrow street with a newly dug trench in the middle. Mongolians are not big on personal space. I was getting crushed and pressed enough that it was time go (and it had been three and a half hours too).


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