The Mask Dance of the Drums
from Drametse
 

The Drametse Ngacham (Mask Dance) of the Drametse community is a sacred cultural and religious mask dance performed during the Drametse Festival in honour of Padmasambhava, a Buddhist guru. It takes place twice a year, during the fifth month and the tenth month of the Bhutanese calendar. The festival is held by the Ogyen Tegchok Namdroel Choeling Monastery, situated in the Mongar district of eastern Bhutan. The dance features sixteen masked male dancers wearing colorful costumes and ten other men comprising the orchestra lead by a cymbal player. The dance has a calm and contemplative part that represents the peaceful deities and a rapid and athletic part, where the dancers represent wrathful deities.

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Dancers dressed in monastic robes and wearing wooden masks with features of real and mythical animals perform a prayer dance in the soeldep cham, the main shrine, before appearing one by one on the main courtyard. The dance performance is accompanied by traditional instruments, which are played by an orchestra and by the dancers themselves. The orchestra consists of cymbals, trumpets and drums, including the bang nga, a large cylindrical drum, the lag nga, a small hand-held circular, flat drum and the nga chen, a drum beaten with a bended drumstick.

The Drametse Ngacham has been performed in this location for centuries. The form has both religious and cultural significance, because it is believed to have originally been performed by the heroes and heroines of the celestial world. In the 19th century, versions of the Drametse Ngacham were introduced in other parts of Bhutan. For the audience, the dance is a source of spiritual empowerment and is attended by people from Drametse as well as neighbouring villages and districts to obtain blessings.  Today, the dance has evolved from a local event centered around a particular community into something approaching a national art form, representing the identity of the Bhutanese nation as a whole.

Although the dance is highly appreciated among all generations, the number of practitioners is dwindling due to the lack of rehearsal time, the absence of a systematic mechanism to train and honour the dancers and musicians and the gradual decrease in interest among young people. At present, there are only a handful of expert practitioners with comprehensive knowledge about the traditional features of the dance. Moreover, the spreading of the dance to other parts of the country inevitably leads to its distortion.