The Tsholing and Ging dance (དཔའ་འཆམ་) is commonly performed in Bhutan’s festivals as one of the sacred cham dances. There are two categories of spiritual beings represented in the dance. The tshogling characters represent the spiritual beings in wrathful form, who take the ferocious forms and carry out terrifying activities in order to subdue unruly evil forces which cannot be subdued using peaceful and non-violent methods. The wrathful masks, thus, represent spiritual forces in the Vajrayāna tradition of Buddhism, which manifest in fierce forms to liberate sentient beings through terrifying methods. The ging characters represent another group of spiritual beings. The word ging (གིང་), derived from Sanskrit kingkara, refers to a specific category of spiritual beings who are messengers of the wrathful heruka Buddha.
The Tshogling and Ging dances are performed by men and there are no female dancers included although it is theoretically a dance of both the male and female spiritual beings. In most monasteries and dzongs, it is performed by monks although when it was introduced in big dzongs, the dance was performed by the lay courtiers. In the villages, it is the lay priests or village men who perform the dance after learning it for a few weeks before the festival. During official festivals in government headquarters today, the members of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts perform the dances.
The dancers wear wrathful masks. The tshogling masks are of wrathful deities but unlike most other masks representing wrathful Buddhas, they do not have the tiara of skulls. The dancers wear silk robes which are tied at the waist. The lead character also wears the choegoe (ཆོས་གོས་) or the maroon monastic robe which are normally used by fully ordained monks. This character may also wear a chain of skulls across his shoulder. The dancers hold a yabdar (གཡབ་དར་) or the piece of cloth known as the banner for summoning in their right hands. This piece of cloth is used in rituals to summon the evil forces.
The ging dancers are dressed with leopard-pattern trousers and tiger stripe garments, and dorji gong shoulder cover for their upper garment. They wear masks of angry figures with fangs and a tiny flag is stuck to the crown of the mask. They hold a little drum in their left hand and beats it with stick held in the right hand.
In this dance, the tshogling dancers appear to perform the dance long before the gings appear. A musical group composed of a person playing the boroel cymbals and drums play the music for the dance. In midst of the tshongling dance, four skeletal figures representig the lords of the cemetary also appear carrying the linga triangular container containing the effigy of ego. The tshogling dancers break up into two groups, each group led by the champon (འཆམ་དཔོན་) and chamjug (འཆམ་མཇུག་) dancers and perform dances separately. In the final act they reappear together and the ging dancers appear beating their drums from various side, some of them even perilously hanging out of high windows.
In a violent but playful contest, the ging dancers surround the tshogling dancers who one by one perform their exiting movement. This movement filled with playful confrontation renders the Tshogling and Ging dance as one of the most turbulent and thrilling sacred dances among Bhutan’s cham dances. The tshogling characters are performed by older men while younger ones take up the ging dances. Once the tshogling dancers have all exited the ground, the ging dancers perform their dance and bless the crowd by hitting the people with the drum sticks.
Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of numerous books and articles including The History of Bhutan.