Ladakh is a mystical land with a lot of unique things one of which is their folk dance named “The Cham Dance” which is a vibrant masked and costumed ritual with its roots strongly connected to Buddhism. Associated with Tibetan Buddhism that prospered in the Great Himalayan, it is a religious tradition performed by monks in multiple festivals and religious events. The rituals are performed for the greater good of humanity, destruction of bad spirits, and for moral instruction to viewers.

The dance ritual of Cham is to date practiced in the Himalayas, especially in places where Tibetan Buddhism prospered in India- Ladakh, Dharamshala, Lahaul Valley, Spiti Valley & Sikkim, and Bhutan and Tibet. The dance is the highlight of Buddhist festivals and special events of the monasteries. A spellbinding show for all those who attend, if you are interested to know all about Cham Dance, keep reading.

Origin of Cham Dance


The origination of Cham dance is not clearly known throughout the historic or religious books but it does share its roots with Tantric mystic arts. Cham Dance is said to have originated in the Himalayan range and by far the date and year are kept as a treasured secret to this date. According to a legend, the Cham dance tradition was started by Guru Padmasambhava in the late 8th CE to show the dominance of good over evil.

Adding to the legend, it is also believed that when the king of Tibet, Trishong Detsen called Guru Padmasambhava to get rid of evil spirits from the place where today we can see the Samye monastery. The revered Guru performed the dance ritual to bless the land and make it pious once again. The same ritual over time became the elaborate Cham Dance, a practice specific to the sect of Mahayana Buddhism. And now it is an integral part of Buddhism, festivals of Ladakh, and even in multiple events or rituals.

The Religious significance of Cham Dance

Cham dance is considered to be an act of cleansing evil forces. Cham Dance is an elaborate masked and costumed dance performed on special occasions throughout Ladakh. Before the performance, Gods and deities of Buddhism are evoked. In fact, even the dance is a ceremony inspired by tantric traditions that were performed for the greater good of all sentient beings.

The religious significance of the Cham Dance is in the performance itself. The tradition fits the monastic life as the dance is not focused on movements but on rituals of meditation, hand gestures, chants, invocation of the deities, and the effect it has on the destruction of negativity. Dressed up in vibrant colors with extravagant headgear and masks, the monks take up the roles of deities and demons and put up a mock battle with good prevailing over evil.

Insight about the Cham Dance

Insight about the Cham Dance ladakh

The Cham performance also acts as moral lessons for viewers, narrating tales about their legendary deities and much more. The Cham Dance is more than just a ritual or a folk dance performed by Lamas or monks because it offers an insight into the culture in a different way.

The acts and the form of the masked dancers serve to familiarize devotees with the kind of deities they are to encounter during the 49-day- ‘Bardo’, the transition period between death and rebirth in one of the six forms of existence, depending upon one’s karmic existence.

Where to see Cham Dance in India?

Cham Dance in India is performed to date at the Buddhist monasteries mostly snuggled up in the Himalayas. Found in Ladakh, Sikkim, and Tibetan settlements of Himachal Pradesh, the monasteries are home to monks who practice the Cham Dance ritual at their religious festivals.

When you think of the best places to see Cham Dance in India, Ladakh tops the list. The region known as ‘Mini Tibet’ has ancient roots in Buddhism. The remote “Land of Passes’ in Jammu and Kashmir has some of the most popular places to attend the masked dance ritual.

On the list of monasteries that still practice the ritual of Cham Dance in India, we just cannot miss mentioning the North-East part of India. The Sawak Dawa Festival is held at Tsuk-La-Khang Monastery, Gangtok, and the Kayged Festival, Old Ralang Monastery is one of the best events to watch Cham Dance in India. The celebrations of the Losar Festival, which is celebrated in all of the Buddhist Monasteries has a special event dedicated to Cham Dance.

The Tibetan settlements in Himachal Pradesh- especially in Dharamshala, Lahaul & Spiti Valleys also perform the Cham Dance in the monasteries at their annual festivals.

When to see Cham Dance?

Now the next question that arises in your mind might be; “When to see Cham Dance in Ladakh?” For that, there is no particular season or event because being an important and religious dance, it is performed at multiple events or festivals.

The ritual dance is performed at almost all the monastic festivals. Each one of the monasteries celebrates its own festival; held in summer, some in winters and many celebrate festivals according to the Tibetan Lunar calendar.  There are a number of popular festivals in Ladakh that provides the ideal opportunity to watch the Cham Dance.

Details of a Cham Performance

The ritual dance-drama of ‘Cham’ is a highly choreographed event. A select group of resident lamas dressed in brightly patterned attire and masked gears performs as directed by the ‘Chham-spon’, the mystic dance master. All the lamas of the monastery dress up in their full ceremonial attire, recite the mantras associated with the ‘Chhams’ led by the Rimpoche, the highest in the order of monks of the monastery. The recitation creates the appropriate ambiance. The performance is not just a dramatization of the philosophy of ‘good over evil’ but also rituals offered to the deities of the monastery and the guardians of the faith.

The masks worn in Cham represent various characters, which are mostly preserved all through the year in the form of statues in the “Gon Khang”, the room dedicated to the guardian divinities in each of the monasteries. The masks range from benign to fearsome forms that represent famous characters from historical episodes or Tibetan fables, powerful divinities in their various manifestations, mostly representing the Dharmapalas or protectors of the faith.

Performed at the monastic courtyard around the central flagpole, the performers hold ritual instruments in their hands and dance to the tunes of the monastic orchestra. The hand gestures of the dancers symbolize different aspects of the dance drama. For comic relief in the somber sequences, performers jump into the scene in the guise of skeletons and other characters, performing comic and acrobatic feats.

What are the different figures of Cham Dance?

There are a lot of things that people can notice in the amazing and popular Cham Dance, but there are different things in this dance. So while you visit here, you will see the difference in masks, attire, and role of these people. Here is a quick overview of these elements:

Wrathful Protectors

The center position is given to the most effective and impressive figures of the dance named wrathful protectors. These people represent the protectors of Dharma like Mahadev, Hayagriva. Yama, Lhamo, and others like these. These figures can be recognized from a distance as they wear the brightest and most colorful dresses. Their masks are elaborated and have a fierce look. According to mythology; the wrathful protectors are the ones who have to take care of others from evil. Their presence in Cham Dance is essential and important.

Skull Dancer

The next figure that you will spot at the Cham Dance is the Skull Dancers. One can easily recognize this figure because it wears a skull mask and a costume that is skull-decorated. This dancer holds a significant role in Cham Dance as it is a symbol of enlightenment and necessity. This figure depicts death and according to Buddhism followed by the people of Ladakh, they find death as a necessity for getting into a new life.

Guru Dancer

Another amazing thing about the Cham Dance is the Guru Dance that is an imitation of Guru Padmasambhava’s dance in the 8th Century. According to the people of Ladakh and even Tibet as a matter of fact, believes that the Guru Dance is important in the event. Also, Guru Dance is performed on 10th June according to the Tibetan Calendar. This is done to commemorate the enlightenment day. The dancers performing this dance, wear a different dress than the others additionally, they also have to hold many special instruments that were once used by Guru Rinpoche.

Deity Dancer

The prayers and offering of fruits, food, and drinks are done to the deities which are the center of attraction and attention in the Cham Dance.

Different categories of Cham Dance

cham dance Ladakh

Ladakh is a huge settlement with villages spread across a huge area. Cham dance is the folk dance of Ladakh and there are multiple ways to perform it. Based on the region you visit or stay in, there can be a slight tweaking. Listed below are some popular Cham Dance forms:

Boe Cham

It is a special kind of performance that is done by monks if the situation demands it. This is not the usual type of Cham Dance.

Tsun cham

This is the masked dance performance performed by monks and only by monks.

Regional Mask Dance

This is also a type of Cham Dance of Ladakh that is performed by Lamas and other masters of different monasteries across the union territory. This dance form is displayed in front of the public and is usually seen in multiple places.

Truelpai Dzuthruel Gyi cham

This is the magical manifestation dance performed by Lamas. A lot of visitors enjoy seeking this Cham Dance at multiple places.

Kater Dagnang Gi Cham

This is a category of dance that is performed in various places in different ways. The best known of this type is Peling Tercham. You can check for the places in Ladakh where you can find this dance to enjoy.


The Cham Dance often lasts from 2 days to over 15 days, right from the invocation of deities to the commencement. As the ‘Chhams’ approaches its end, the climactic scene is enacted. A sacrificial offering, a human figure made from dough, is ritually cut into pieces and scattered in the four cardinal directions. Accordingly, its destruction represents the killing of the enemy of Buddhism and the purification of the human soul from the three evils of ignorance, jealousy, and hatred.

Cham Dance is an insight into the rich culture and heritage of Buddhism, get ready to attend a performance that you cherish forever. So, while you plan your next Ladakh bike trip or any kind of journey to this mystical land, then make sure that you have noted all the festivals that fall along your trip. It gives you a chance to visit the venue and enjoy the positive environment across the place.