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Mask Dance Festival

December 5, 2010

in Bhutan

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In the 8th century, Guru Padmasambhava (also known as the Second Buddha) traveled throughout the Himalayas. The land is rich with stories of how he subdued demons, hid treasures, and spread Buddhism. It is his coming which really marks the start of Himalayan Buddhism as we know it, fiery Tantric deities and all.

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Buddhist monasteries still perform the dances he taught. They are entertaining parables with esoteric content, designed to help you progress on your spiritual path simply by watching. Monks dance the stories of death and judgement to teach you morality and Buddhist philosophy. A line up of characters, from burial ground skeletons to animal spirits to the lord of the dead all spin and jump across the paved courtyard throughout the day.

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In between, women sing and perform traditional folk dances in their finest clothes. Jesters run around poking fun at monks, women, and the audience to keep everyone entertained.

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A huge juniper archway is engulfed in flames, and we all run beneath the precarious boughs to cleanse ourselves of any sin at the end of the opening purification ceremony. After days of dancing, the ceremony will close with a blessing from the lamas.

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