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Tibetan Sacred Dance
A Journey Into the Religious and Folk Traditions
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Author(s) :
Ellen Pearlman
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Edition(s) at Erowid :
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Inner Traditions
Tibetan Sacred Dance explores the significance and symbolism of the sacred and ritual dances of Tibetan Buddhism. Since Buddhism entered the mythical land of the snows, Tibetans have expressed their spiritual devotion and celebrated their culture through dance. Only since the tragic diaspora of the Tibetan people have outsiders been privileged to witness these performances. To many, they still remain mysterious and enigmatic. Ellen Pearlman, who studied with Lobsang Samten, the ritual dance master of the Dalai Lama's Namgyal Monastery in India, set out to discover the meaning behind these mysterious dances. She found the story of the indigenous shamanistic Bön religion being superseded by and woven into Buddhism--a story full of complex liasons, secret teachings, brilliant visions, and unrevealed yogic practices.

Pearlman explores the mystical beginnings and complex practices of sacred Cham--the secret ritual dances of Tibet's Buddhist monks--and Achi Lhamo, the storytelling folk dances and operas. She describes the mental and physical process of preparing for these dances, the meaning of the iconography of the costumes and masks, the spectrum of accompanying music, and the actual dance steps as recorded in a book of choreography dating back to the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1647. Beautiful color photographs from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and Pearlman's own images of touring monastic troupes complement the rare historic black-and-white photos from the collections of Sir Charles Bell, chief of the British Mission in Tibet during the life of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. From the week-long sacred Kalachakra initiation to the folk opera performances, Pearlman reveals the beauty, drama, and compelling nature of these dances and rituals and shows how Tibetan dance is an essential part of the rich history of Tibet and the survival of that culture.

"The Buddhist search for inner peace pervades almost every aspect of Tibetan life. One facet of that heritage that has received comparatively less attention is Tibet's sacred dance with its vivid depiction of such fundamental themes as the triumph of virtue and the supremacy of truth. This colorful book serves to redress that lapse."
-- His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

"Tibetan Sacred Dance is the first book evere written for a general audience on this fascinating subject. With beautiful photographs and accessible text, Ellen Pearlman takes us through the myriad forms and rich traditions of Tibetan dance and music."
-- Valrae Reynolds, curator of the Asian Collections, the Newark Museum

"Extraordinarily well researched and in depth."
-- Nugodup Tsering, former director of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts

Ellen Pearlman has been a Buddhist practitioner for thirty years under Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and has studied with Buddhist teachers in the Far East and the Americas. She traveled to England, Germany, India, and Russia in preparation for this book. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.