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Performing Arts


Tsam dances


(from left)
- Erlik Khan ( Yama )
- A white old man

Monks in different masks representing the protector-deities of Buddhism perform in accompaniment with ritual music. They usually show how the Buddhist deities deal with the evils before their audience.

Reasons for selection

Tsam, a mask dance of Buddhist ritual began to develop in many monasteries of Mongolia with different schools since 18th century. But during the 70 years beginning from 1930's, it was almost forgotten due to the ideological censorship. Since 1990 this tradition stepped on the way of its revival. Now it is necessary to restore the tradition of the mask dance and to study and present it to the public.

Area where performed

The tradition is preserved by the Gandan, one of the biggest monasteries in Mongolia. The monks of the monastery perform the religious ritual dance for several times a year.

Essential elements of the performing art

Music, Dance

Detailed explanation

The Tsam dances originated in Tibet before the introduction of Buddhism from India, and their leading figures, like white old man, originally protector-deities and the like, were integrated as comic characters into the mystery plays which were performed at lamaistic rituals. The Tsam dances were introduced into Mongolia in the 18th century. Since 1930, almost for 70 years, it was almost forgotten due to some ideological censorship. But from 1990, Tsam dances stepped on the way of its revival.

The Mongolian performances usually centred around the god of death, Yama ( Erlik Khan ), with his followers, fearful masked creatures who danced around a mandala of white concentric circles with a coniform piece of dough standing in the centre.
The personages of Tsam shows were different gods and their entourage. One show demanded more than a hundred masks of gods and beasts, the making of which was rather a long and complicated process.

Once the god of death had appeared a small dough figure of a man was hacked to pieces with swords as a symbolic human sacrifice. The dancers of the Tsam rituals with their costumes and their large, artistically executed masks impersonate not only the friendly and terrifying deities of the lamaistic pantheon, but also skeletons with skulls, grim warriors, hunters, and animals like bulls, stags and ravens, as well as the king of the birds, Garuda, from the Hindu pantheon. At the Tsam dances in Urga and in other Mongolian monasteries up to 108 masked men acted before sizable audiences.

Publication and textual documentation

Forman, W. and Rinctschen B.
1967 Lamaistische Tanzmasken, Der Erlik Tsam in der Mongolia.

L. Hurelbaatar.
1995 Mongolian tsam.

Audio documentation

no information at present

Visual documentation

G. Nyam-Ochir.
1999 Mongold huree tsam dahin sergesen ni (a documentary film).

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

Mongolian National Center for Intangible Cultural Heritage in Ulaanbaatar.

Data provider

Executive Director
Mongolian National Center for Intangible Cultural Heritage
Address: Baga Toiruu 26, Ulaanbaatar 210646, Mongolia