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Devil dancers - Tongsa Jong [Bhutan]

Devil dancers - Tongsa Jong [Bhutan]

Photographer: White, John Claude

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1905

Shelfmark: Photo 20/(28)

Item number: 28

Length: 17.9

Width: 30

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of dancers and musicians gathered in a courtyard in the dzong (fort) at Tongsa (Trongsa) in central Bhutan, taken by John Claude White in 1905. This is one of a set of photographs documenting White's mission to Bhutan to invest Ugyen Wangchuk, the Penlop (Governor) of Tongsa, with the order of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire. The photograph was also used in The National Geographic Magazine (Apr 1914, p.439), with the following caption: 'A group of masked dancers - Tongsa-Jong. The Bhutanese are, like the Tibetans, Buddhists, and this picture shows a group of lamas, or monks, engaged in one of the religious dances often incorrectly called devil dances. The masked dancers do not represent devils, but virtues and vices and various mythological characters, as in the Miracle Plays of Europe in the Middle Ages'. In Bhutan masked dances are the common forms of entertainment during festivals known as Tshechu. These dances involve complex moves and carefully choreographed steps and different masks and costumes for each. The masks depict a panoply of heroes, demons, death heads, animals, gods, and caricatures of common people. The dances are performed in monasteries and have special religious significance. Most of the dances date from medieval times and are only performed once or twice each year. Each dance has its own spiritual importance and can be performed by monks or lay village elders dressed in bright costumes.

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