Tibetan cham exorcism ceremony – quasi fantasia

This clip is an a NON-literal reenactment or perhaps “dream” of a Tibetan Vajrakila exorcism ceremony, generically a member of the larger nexus of shamanic (animal-masked) jump-dance choreographies called ‘cham འཆམ་ (Chinese transl.) 查玛). The sequence appears in the 1988
Film “Horse Thief” (daoma zei), dir. Tian Zhuangzhuang.

Though the ‘cham dancers are lamaist monks affiliated with “Yellow Hat” tantric Buddhism, the ceremony descends from pre-Buddhist folk ritual originally carrying out human sacrifice to placate or to demonstrate demonic cruelty. The specific dance shown is called Vajrakila, after the Hindic deity Vajrakīlaya, one of a class of celestial terrorists called yidam. The frightening masks and murderous daggers are meant to terrify and exile dangerous spirits that have taken possession of a soul, though they also still terrify us non-Tibetans.

It is to be noted that the many variants of cham dance now enacted for tourists are corruptions, in that Vajrayana (“tantric”) rites were esoteric, and NEVER shown to non-initiates. Too dangerous. That is why film director Tian Zhuangzhuang extrapolates what they might have looked like, including the symbolic murder of children for spiritual transplant. The background synthesizer sound is the work of the extremely avant-garde (John Cage influenced) composer Qu Xiaosong, now a Professor of composition at the Shanghai Conservatory.

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