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Yak Chham

The Dance of Yak


Yak Chham being performed at the district headquarters by the local artists.

Yak Chham comes from Bumthang district located in the central part of Bhutan. Yak Chham is seldom performed in other parts of Bhutan, as its performance is strictly limited within the Tang valley, one of the four valleys of Bumthang district.

Reasons for selection

The Yak is a domesticated hairy Himalayan ox with long horns, and chham means mask dance. Many of the mask dances are in honour of protective deities whereas this particular dance is performed to commemorate Lama Namkha Samdrup's exorcism of the hostile mermaid. It is unique to Bumthang valley only and since the performers of Yak Chham are only the local priest apprentices, it needs to be preserved and promoted so that the intangible message it carries will be known to other parts of Bhutan and the wider audience.

Area where performed

This is a religious dance of the yak performed during the local festival.

Essential elements of the performing art

Dance, Music, Theatre

Detailed explanation

The performers of Yak Chham are all local artists trained by the priests of the local monastery called Namkha Lhakhang, the sky temple.

The Characteristics
The Namkha Lhakhang or sky temple was founded by a mendicant known as Lama Namkha Samdrup. The local festival of Namkha Lhakhang is held for five days during which the Yak Chham is performed.

The performers put on the mask of a yak which is displayed to the public only during the festival. Traditionally, the mask which is believed to be the replica of the head of a yak was conjured up by the Lama and he himself rode the yak to subjugate the spirit that posed harm to the success of the establishment of the temple. The yak is costumed in black, like the yak raised by the people of the valley.

As Lama Namkha Samdrup was constructing the temple, the mermaid of the lake Karbang Tshonag, located above the construction spot, did not favour the intention of the Lama and began to create unfavourable conditions. This caused the displeasure of the Lama and in order to expel the mermaid from the vicinity of the village, he took the form of a yak, the fierce dancing gesture of which threatened the very existence of the mermaid. It is believed that, in the process, the mermaid dared not stay there and moved to a different location in the Zhemgang district. So the lake in the Tali Buli village under Zhemgang district which presently exists is said to be the one expelled from Tang valley. It is in commemoration of this act of Lama Namkha Samdrup that brought about the Yak Chham and as instructed by the Lama, on the 15th day of the 10th Bhutanese month which falls sometimes in November, this dance is performed.

Publication and textual documentation

not yet available

Audio documentation

not yet available

Visual documentation

not yet available

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

no information at present

Data provider

Phuntsho Gyeltshen
Royal Academy of Performing Arts
Address: (Special Commission of Performing Arts)Post Box #493 Chubachu, Thimphu, Bhutan