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Drametse Ngachham: Bringing uniformity to NgaChham
Tshechu: Mask dance
For six hours every day, 20 men take to the Drametse monastery's courtyard, learning the precise steps and movements of the Ngachham or 'Dance of the Drums', one of many sacred dances performed during tshechus (religious festivals).

These men are all mask dance schoolteachers (chhampoens), who have performed the Ngachham many times over but in varied versions as prevalent in different parts of the country.

Now, the idea is to standardize the dance, in both movements and duration, as originally performed in Drametse, Mongar, the place from where it started, so that by the end of 2008 the performance is the same, no matter where in the country it is performed.

But bringing uniformity to the Ngachham, which has 21 stanzas, in two months may be difficult, say the chhampoens. They began a two-month training under two veteran Ngachham performers from December 25.

The more difficult part is changing the dance steps and movements to which they have become accustomed, said Tenzin Jamtsho, a dance teacher for the Institute of Language and Culture Studies in Semtokha.

"What we'd learnt before and what we're learning now is totally different," said Dorji Lethro, a dance teacher from Punakha. "It's confusing."

The veteran instructors teach a stanza or phase daily from 9 am to 4 pm. Instructor Gomchen Phuntsho, who has performed Drametse Ngachham for the past 13 years, agreed that it might be difficult for teachers used to their own steps and movements.

For centuries, the Drametse Ngachham was performed only in the place of its origin. Some time in the mid-20th century, the dance flourished and spread to other parts of the country. Two years ago, UNESCO proclaimed the dance as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

The Drametse Ngachham was initiated by Lam Kunga Gyeltshen, also known as Khedup Kinga Wangpo, who is believed to have visualized in a dream the dance being performed in front of Guru Rinpoche at Zangdopelri.

Lam Kunga Gyeltshen was a brother of Ani Choeten Zangmo, the great-grand-daughter of Terton Pema Lingpa, who founded Drametse monastery in 1511. The two-month training of the chhampoens is being funded by UNESCO.

This article was contributed by Rinzin Wangchuck, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, January 2008


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The Drametse Ngacham (Mask Dance)
UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage
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