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The deity Dzonga dancing

'Dzonga' - the principal deity of the Pang Lhabsol in his dance

 

Worshipping Khangchendzonga . . . page 2

Worship of the Snowy Ranges
I was in Rabongla in mid-September at the time when the Pang Lhabsol celebration were being held at the grounds of the monastery. Also known as ‘the worship of the snowy ranges’ in earlier days, this chaam (Buddhist religious dance) is performed as an act of veneration to Sikkim’s protecting deity, Mount Khangchendzonga. Unique to Sikkim, it was introduced by the eighteenth century monarch Chakdor Namgyal, the third in line to rule this former Himalayan kingdom. A brilliant king, he is said to have choreographed several of the mask dances performed today. It was his unusual interests for monastic dances and tradition that this extraordinary performance portrays not only the supernatural deities but a retinue of soldiers as well since this pageant then had a temporal significance of equal importance.

Pangtok Dancers Prance
Therole of swordsmen dancers require much energy and fitness

The swordsmen, today represented by performers, had been real soldiers at the time this dance was created. King Chakdor’s clever notion of incorporating his troops into this symbolic worship was a way of keeping them fit for battle. Hence the reason why seasoned viewers will often express the fact that the hardest role in this drama belong to the soldiers as the drills they perform should compare well with a swordsman’s combat skills. Unfortunately, this innovative king fell prey to the envy of his half sister Pede Ongmu who had him murdered at the Ralong Hot Springs. Nevertheless, he is well remembered through his admirable dances.

Dzonga Up close
Dzonga, up close

Pang Lhabsol is also about unification which is so very important today at times of racial, religious and international strife. This ancient rite of human integration is now an act of worship. It makes one wonder if there was discord among the communities when this dance was conceived? Or was it purely the will to persevere living in harmony. The noble king ultimately fell prey to the sword he had tried to sheath - another human vice. But this dance has been relevant over the ages and even more today.

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