Ache Lhamo

Sonam Dorji, 12 years, Class 5
Rinzin Norbu, 12 years, Class 4
Sangay Dorji, 12 years, Class 4
Namgay Chojay, 13 years, Class 4
Thinley Norbu, 11 years, Class 4

These five students go to Monmola community primary school, in distant Serti gewog, in the Shingkhar Lauri region. And boy, they can dance. I met them during my recent tour to Jumotshangkha, in the eastern-most part of our country. And they honoured me with an active performance of the very lively Ache Lhamo chham. 

The students say they took over a month to learn the historic Ache Lhamoi chham. They were taught by two farmers, Lobsang and Yeshey, both renowned dancers themselves, before and after school every day. The farmer-teachers proudly explained that they volunteered their services to promote their culture and heritage, and to add value to their children’s education.

The Ache Lhamoi chham, one of the teachers told me, has over 100 separate movements which would take several days to perform. What the students showcased was just one movement, and an abbreviated one at that. Enjoy…

I’ve lifted the following description of the Ache Lhomoi dance  from the Asia-Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage. It was written by Lopen Phuntsho Gyeltshen of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts.

Ache Lhamo or Ashe Lhamo is regarded more as drama rather than dance, but many scholars accept it as dance-drama flourished in Bhutan since a long time back.

The characteristics
Ache Lhamo literally means Sister Goddess or Lady Goddess. This is performed by herdsmen once a year in keeping with the local customs. It tells or relates stories of people famed for their piety and miraculous achievements be it spiritual or temporal. The repertoire of this art was not very broad and the style of presentation cultivated by each group varies, although the overall performance of the general framework is the same. The dance by one man and a woman is accompanied by the rhythm of the cymbal and beating of the large-sided drum, while the story unfolds in operatic recitative and chorus. Aside from the main performance comic scenes are acted with great brilliance.

The Merak Saktenpa people perform this dance-drama once a year, for five days at a time. Apart from the yearly festival, Ache Lhamo is performed, at some great monastery or wealthy noble’s house and other special events of national importance.

History
The Tibetan saint and the bridge-builder Thangtong Gyalpo, in the 14th century, began his project of building iron bridges over many big rivers in Tibet. To provide adequate provisions for the laborers he developed an interesting means for collecting donations. The Chhongje Bena family with seven daughters was called upon and to each daughter he assigned different roles, while he himself beat the drum. A large audience was gathered and everyone who watched the play enjoyed it very much. This was the first time that drama was introduced in Tibet.

During the late 14th century, the saint expanded his activity of bridge construction over Bhutan, and it is believed that along with him this art traveled to Bhutan.

The saint regarded his building of iron-suspension bridges and related engineering feat as a practical application of thebodhisattva ideal, and his introduction of this dance-drama Ache Lhamo is in no way different from any Buddhist activity. He is also credited for the introduction of other classical dances and folk performing arts.

 

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  1. Hon’ble Lyonpo,

    Thank you so much for sharing. I am speechless and tears welled up in my eyes as I watched this wonderful performance by these young dancers. It reminded of my day back in seventies as a kid when my parents invited about seven Ache Lhamo dancers from Merak Sakteng to perform special dance on a site where we built our new house few months later. It truly was a great moment to have witnessed such a sacred dance and I still cherish it in my memory. Someday I wish to visit these places with my family and watch them perform.

    Thank you once again, Your Excellency for sharing this wonderful video.

    Karma
    NYC

  2. Tshewang Dorji says:

    Your excellency,

    Thank you for sharing and this dance is very much popular in our locality ” Shingkhar Lauri” and now not many people are willing to go back to our village preserve our culture. For instance, this dance used to perform every year for two days but now this is not happening unless if there is especial guest. So, I am very much concern that it may lose with the passage of time. Therefore, this article will definitely help to understand the history behind the dance la.
    Thank you your excellency for sharing

  3. Yes,Ache Lhamo Chham truly is an amazing and lively dance which infact can take a whole day to perform, the details one. The above is an “abridged” version, ofcourse.I feel that such dances should be integrated into mainstream public dances(tshechu) that deserve public holiday for viewing and worshiping for reaping merits.
    For now what performers and/or organizers do is they go after the patrons who will host to perform this chham, which in a way seems it has not received official recognition as one of the sacred dances in the country.
    Just my thought La…..Great Chham!

  4. Achi lham cahm is a unique one and each village have their own cham. It is a treasure of s/lauripas. We are proud of it and we must promote, nurture and preserve it.
    It is encouraging to see the young students taking up the roles of adult to maintain it.
    Thank you, your excellency for sharing it. I am sure more people will see/watch and it will help promote it.

  5. That was great, really, but such unique traditions have to be shown to us elders by minors and we marvel for a very brief while and then it’s heard no more! Today there was a panel discussion/debate of a flimsy kind on BBS TV about Bhutanese values and cultural degradation. As always, they did not do justice to the subject. Quite sad. Dawa should be selective of the people being called for such a show and more youth should be made to participate as they are going to be in the drivers’ seat. In all our efforts in anything we, we must make conscious effort to involve the youth employed or otherwise and college students. I can only wish and hope for the culture department honchos realize the need to include the strong force of youth.

  6. Thanks OL for this article…i love this kind coz it doesnt contain rift, heated exchanges, personal attacks unlike past posts…Lets all support all causes and only criticize constructively with respects…this will lead us live in harmony and our way of democracy unique than others…harmony is culturally with Bhutanese since time immemorial and thus lets preserve it. Helps us the citizens not to divide but to live united and prosperous… thanks once again for sharing ur story of the dance in ur one of the remote visits…

  7. Ache Lhamo is good. But why did you go there?

  8. pema wangchuk says:

    Your Excellency, thank you for sharing Achi lhamo dance video. this is the unique dance exist in remote shigkhar louri,Galing, chaling shongphu but people mistake it saying that Merak Saktengpai Achi Lhamo dance. Merak Sakteng never has this dance but they have a Yakcham dance only. the Achi Lhamo dance varies from village to village in shingkhar louri. serthi gewog and louri gewog achi lhamo dance is different in everything but the meaning and the history is same.

  9. Achi Lhamo Cham performed by people of Merak and Sakten .. I like it

    It’s energetic and good one…

    But in here, the students have done a great job!

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