Why naked dance if not naked?

In the bygone years, I have seen men performing naked dance in the hours of darkness during the annual festival of Korphu. To bury their identity, the face of naked dancers may possibly be masqueraded with concealing face outfits. The dancers would circumambulate around the bonfire in the rhythm of cymbals and drums. The dance may possibly be an entertainment for youths but a lady with no infant would witness in hope to have loaded with child by its blessing or expectant mother would see the dance for safeguard of her baby to be born, and others by way of trust that their sin of wrongdoings would get cleansed with the glimpse of the dance.

The naked dance was born in 8th century during the era of Guru Padmasambhava. It was first instigated by Lhachig Bumden Tshomo, one of the five major female tantric companions of Guru Padmasambhava to sidetrack the devil’s attention from causing chaos while constructing temples. Later, the folklore of nude dancing continued after having seen it in the crystal vision by the 15th century legendary spiritual treasurer revealer, Terton Padma Lingpa. Thus the term ‘Tercham’ is used for naked dance which means the treasure dances.

The dance though first documented to have been showcased in Nabji and Korphu in the history of man kind; it is at this time found to be well celebrated only in Jambay Lhakhang and Tamzhing festivals of Bumthang valley. In the year 2010, I visited my village (Korphu) only to discover the entire naked dancers modishly dancing with undergarments and the masquerading face outfits which is a shaggy dog story to the tradition of 8th century dakini who initiated the dance. 

Fig: Korphu, a village from where Naked dancing started 
When interviewed one of the dancers, he told that despite the fact they wear concealing face outfits, they are identified by onlookers through their body languages and physique. If under the moonlight the art of naked dancing cannot be performed in naked then what shall Bhutan do if it were to be performed naked under the sunlight like Naga Sadhus during Kumbh Mela in India. I watched the documentary film of the Kumbh Mela where naked Naga Sadhus with pride permit others to take their photography and they don’t even conceal their identity. Today, the Kumbh Mela is celebrated as biggest religious gathering of man kind with not less than seventy millions of devotees recorded this year in Allahabad, India.

When I cautiously studied the case of naked dancing, it is not really about the identity of dancers being known by spectators but festival being neglected at national level. The community of Korphu is helpless since most of the veteran dancers of the festival are retired and substituted by students who come for vacations. The juvenile students believe only to perform the nude dance as a mandatory norm of festival but do not care the quality of delivery. Once on having completed the studies, those students like me join the civil service and it is not easy to go back to village every occasion for dancing. Under such circumstances, every Tom, Dick and Harry joins the naked dancing without being really into naked state. At this verge, Bhutan rather than showcasing already well preserved common mask dances overseas like in Honolulu Museum of Arts or near the statue of Liberty in New York Harbor; it should focus into the corners of its nation to uplift the rare dances which are at the verge of fading or otherwise why naked dance if not naked?

Fig: Naga Sadhus Celebrating Kumbh Mela (Sharell Cook, 2013)


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