Tantric Buddhist Dances of Nepal


January 2019

The Nepal Valley full to the brim with Buddhist culture established by Adi Buddhas like Dipankara is a land of glory graced by Swayambhu Mahachaitya, the self-emanating light, a vast array of Chaityas, temples, Jinalaya (monasteries), home of saints and sages. Nepal is a country with a long tradition of Sravakayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism since the ancient times to the present day accompanied by a continuous flow of rituals, cultural activities in the form of fairs, pilgrimages observed with piety and devotion. The august presence of Swayambhu Mahachaitya and a magnificent chain of monasteries have rendered the cultural tradition a meaning and a purpose.

It is this Swayambhu Mahachaitya which was the pivot of meditation, yogic practice and Buddhist rituals in the past. There is Sangha in each Vihar. Worship is done in each Agama. People carry on Buddhist ritual activities through meditation, yoga, and worship, praying for the attainment of Nirvana and Bodhisattvahood. People dedicate their lives to public welfare in every possible way in order to attain Nirvana. There is a tradition of doing welfare of the people by becoming siddhas and Bodhisattvas. Besides this, Vajrayana is practiced and Chachas are sung and chacha dances are performed to explain the meanings of various concepts of Vajrayana philosophy in a simple and delicate manner. By keeping each tradition alive, our ancestors living in bahas and bahis had living. The cultural history of Nepal bears witness to this fact. This very chacha tradition is still alive among the Vajracharyas and Shakya. This is the main reason why Manjushri and Swayambhu Mahachaitya, the Builders of Nepal's glorious past, can never be forgotten. Both will continue to be objects of veneration and piety in the distant future.

Introduction of Chacha

In order to perpetuate and preserve Vajrayana Buddhism bestowed by  the Buddha, and Bodhisattvas through external and internal Pujas in their respective bahas and bahis, the former Acharyas had continued the practice in tune with the spirit of time. In this context, Charyagiti (Chacha song), Charya Nrtya (Chacha dance) constitute a potential treasure of the philosphy of Vajrayana Buddhism. This chacha does not exist simply in the form of a musical and poetic devotional song, but is also a medium of instilling the enthusiasts and devotees into the philosophy of Prajna, (Knowledge), Karuna (compassion) and Prajnaupaya (ways of Knowledge) through the knowledge like that of Pragaparamita being fully immersed in spiritual thinking and enternal truth. In this context, charya is one  of the elements which is very much important in this external and internal tradition. There is the practice of chanting Chacha, Charya and cha: cha: the tradition of chachas like Vajragiti, Charyapada, etc within the Tantra tradition continues properly in the Nepal Valley, since the past.

The manifestation of the female deities of this  tradition such as Heruka, Khaganana, Hevajra, Nairatna, Vajrayogini, etc. has taken place at the time of manifestation of Swayambhu Jyotirupa. In line with this tradition, after the Nepal Valley was made worthy of settlement by cutting of the ridge of Nagadaha with his Chandrahasa Khadga (sword named Chandrahasa) by Guru Mahamanjushri, a party of men who had seen Jyotirupa made a search of the spread of root of the lotus and eventually had the Darshan of Khagana Devi (Guhyes tiwari) After the Darshan of Khaganana Devi, Chacha of Hevajra Nairatnma (also called shodasabhuja chacha) was chanted and Puja was offered in full praise of Khaganana Devi. Similarly, he (Manjushri) had darshan of chakrasmvara and Vajravarahi and also chanted chacha. This is still a popular belief among the Buddhist of Nepal.

Considering the sad condition of the Chacha in the  Kathmandu Valley, a group of enthusiastic Varacharayas and Shakyas established a Dance Mandala. This Mandala  was established in Nepal Samvat 1116 (1996) with the objective of introducing the chacha in its original spirit truly representative of the essence of  Vajrayana Buddhism.

In fact, in this fast changing work 40 years is a long period. Even then, chacha has not become popular among the people to the desired extent. It would not be too far to say that the Vajracharyas and Shakyas have remained away from taking initiative in this direction due to social criticism. The political and economic disparities and incongruities in Nepal are not less responsible for the decline of popularity of Chacha.

In order to preserve and protect the historic tradition of chacha in the Kathmandu Valley, Vajracharyas and Shakyas have kept alive the chacha, the worship of bahas and bahis and the ritual activities connected with the chacha. They have to  guard against further deterioration of this tradition. It is time that chacha must not be confined to Agama ritual but it must be improved and preserved employing its various positive aspects as far as possible. The bahas and bahis which have a pride of place in Nepal must be developed as seats of Buddhist learning and culture as in the past.  For this, Vajracharyas and Shakyas have to move ahead thinking the ways and means of developing their rich cultural heritage in tune with the challenges of time. It is only through this outlook that the Buddhist cultural heritage of the Kathmandu Valley can be preserved for years to come.

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