The origin of traditional Buddhistic sacred mask dance dates back to the 8th Century.
By the mid 15th Century, Bhutan had developed its own sacred dance traditions associated with Buddhist Saint Pema Lingpa (1450-1521). It is said that he derived inspiration from his visions of dances performed before the celestial palace of Guru Padmasambhawa, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century
In the 17th Century Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal performed the Puna Domche dedicated to derma protector Mahakala in the Punakha Dzong. Later Kuenga Gyaltshen reincarnation of Jamphel Dorji started a pattern for prayers to the protector Mahakali (Shri Devi) in the Thimphu Dzong.
During the festival, dancers don robes of silk and brocade with masks representing saints and sages, protective deities, legendary personages or animals. The dances are accompanied by ritual music of cymbals, drums, trumpet, horn, bells and conches.
These Bhutanese dances are symbolic and represent religious and folk traditions of the past. They are performed with thunderous steps, with the dances moving with great rhythmic and graceful movements.
To the local people, the very act of watching these sacred mask dances is a spiritual journey towards acquiring merit and liberation from worldly attachments. They believe these dances give them opportunities to reaffirm their devotion and commitment to leading virtuous lives.
Some of the most popular dances:
1) Byerkhor(procession dance)
2) Sheji Yab yum (dance of the Lord of death and his consort)
3) Durda( dance of the Lord cremation ground)
4) Zhana (Black hat dance)
5) Dremtshi Na Cham ( Drum dance of Dramtshi)
7) Choshe Shey ( Religious song)
8) Raksha Mar Cham ( Dance of the spirit of hell)
9) Thercham (treasure necked dance)
10) Phole Mole (Dance of the Noble Men and the Lady)
Bhutanese folk songs and dances, pre-dating the mask dance, can be classified into three categories : the classical Zhungdra form, the court Boedra form, and the modern Rigsar form. Many popular folk songs and dances can be attributed to the period of renaissance in the arts during the reign of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel in the 17th Century. Songs and dances are usually accompanied by musical instruments like the dramyen (lute), piwang (fiddle), lingm (flute) and yangchen (dulcimer).