Tibetan Monks at London’s Kings Place – Say what?

Buddhist monks from Tashi Lhunpo Monastery are going to perform in one of the most well-known venues in London. Why is it a big deal? London venues regularly host unusal or radically different events after all. This event exceeds them all in bringing a ceremony to Europe, that, in its fullness, is reserved mainly for Buddhist practitioners.

Historically, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama, was the seat of the Panchen Lamas, the second highest-ranking lineage in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. In its heyday, around 4000 monks lived and studied here, situated in the Central Tibetan city of Shigatse. Because of the ongoing repression of traditions within their mother country, the exiled Tibetan community re-established Tashi Lhunpo in India in 1972. Although the venue doesn’t say much in this regard, the monks who will perform during the event will likely arrive from this newly established monastery. Its Tibetan original is still functioning but with a very limited capacity, serving mainly as a tourist attraction under the control of the Chinese regime.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be a Buddhist practitioner to truly appreciate the performance. Tsam (Tibetan: འཆམ), which means masked dance, is a colourful, entertaining matter that is guaranteed to put you into a trance-like state and pull you into the present moment. The dance stages various characters of Buddhist legends, as well as animals, that symbolise the good and the bad. A Tsam ceremony is traditionally held at the beginning of the year to expel evil forces and get a chance to start anew.

Because of the heavy costumes and masks that the dancers wear, the ceremony is performed by the younger and fitter monks, given musical accompaniment on traditional instruments like bells, singing bowls, damaru (a small two-headed drum), kangling (a smaller trumpet traditionally made of human tibia or femur), dungchen (the long horn) and others. Whether the masks look grotesque, scary or funny, they all have a meaning and fill a role in the ceremony. They symbolise the actual presence of a deity, therefore, as the temporary residence of gods and demons, the masks are considered and treated as sacred.

Until now I could only witness this ceremony where it traditionally belongs, either within the walls of a monastery or on the vast steppe where there is space enough for the performers to share their message and entertain the crowd at the same time. Whether it will work at Kings Place, within the confines of a relatively small stage, remains to be seen.

If you are lucky enough to hold a ticket to the performance, then I wish you a wonderful experience, if not, then join the waiting list, for the event sold out weeks ago.

Venue: Kings Place

Event: Tashi Lhunpo Monks of Tibet

Date: Wed 24 May, 8pm


Below are my photos from various Tsam performances in Mongolia.

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