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Peling Gingsum: The Three Ging Dances of

Pema Lingpa
The Peling Gingsum () is popular sacred cham, or dance,
performed during numerous Bhutanese festivals. The Gingsum is
constituted of four distinct dances: three main dances and a
preliminary part. Together, the dances are an enactment of evil,
embodied by the damsri spirit, being subdued by divine forces that
appear in the forms of wrathful deities and animal-headed deities. The
four phases of the dance last about three hours and is normally
performed together as a full set, although sometimes the last part is
performed separately.

The Peling Gingsum dances represent a tantric practice of ritual slaying
or drolwa (). In Vajrayna Buddhism, evil forces that cannot be
pacified through peaceful methods are forcibly subjugated using
externally wrathful and fierce methods, all of which are ultimately
motivated by inner compassion. Ritual slaying of an evil force is only
employed with the force cannot be redeemed through other measures
and is considered an enemy with ten heinous factors (). By
stopping the evil force, it is prevented from generating additional
negative karma, and the consciousness of the evil being is transferred
to a higher realm of existence through the power of the tantric priest.
Thus, any tantric priest who carries out such a ritual killing must
possess advanced spiritual powers and undertake the practice with full
awareness of the empty nature of phenomena.

The Peling Gingsum dances are said to have been created by Bhutans
famous Buddhist master and treasure discoverer, Pema Lingpa (1450-
1521), who encountered the dances during a series of visionary
experiences. Through this connection the dances are known as the
Three Ging Dances of the Pema Lingpa Tradition. The word ging (),
derived from Sanskrit kingkara, refers to a specific category of spiritual
beings who are messengers of the wrathful heruka Buddha. They are
generally portrayed as skeletal and agile beings. The Peling Gingsum is
composed of a preliminary dance performed by a damsri spirit,
followed by a trilogy of dances performed by figures representing the
Damsri Nyulema Dance
The Damsri Nyulema () Dance represents the ultimate evil, and
epitomizes the problems of existential ego and ignorance. Damsri ()
refers to malicious spirits who are particularly associated with the violation of
righteous precepts and Nyule () references roaming negative spirits. Thus, the dance
of Damsri Nyule symbolizes negative forces, the primary of which is ones ignorance and
mistaken notion of self. That evil is portrayed by a skinny, erratic figure
wearing a skull mask, a tiger patterned skirt and a sheep skin, and
wielding a stick. The character performs acts of stupidity and torpor to
indicate his ignorance, lascivious and pornographic acts to indicate his
attachments and lust, and acts of aggression to indicate his hatred and
anger. The dance is generally performed by a young man whose
movements are regulated by a small cymbal played by the umdze

The Juging Dance

The first of the three ging dances is the Juging (), in which dancers
hold jugpa () or sticks. The dancers wear animal-headed masks and
are dressed in leopard-patterned trousers and multi-coloured silk cloths
for their lower garments and a dorji gong () shoulder cover; they
are otherwise bare-chested, and perform barefoot. They hold a jugpa
to symbolically pointing out the nyulema force. A triangular container
called homkhung () is placed in the center of the courtyard, and is
used to trap the evil force. The dances timing is regulated by the
umdzes playing of a large pair of cymbals. There are three main parts
to the Juging: first, analyzing where the evil nyulema force is located;
secondly, pursuing the nyulema; and lastly, realizing that the true evil
force resides within in the minds of sentient beings. This realization is
demonstrated when eventually one of the lead dancers point the stick
inward towards his own body.

The Driging Dance

The Driging, or Sword Dance, is the second of the three ging dances. In
it, dancers wear wrathful masks and hold a dri () sword and skull cup
() in their hands. As in the Juging, dancers wear leopard-pattern
trousers under multi-coloured silk cloths as their lower garments and
the dorji gong shoulder cover. The Driging dance is also constituted of
three main movements: firstly, slaying evil forces; secondly, chopping
their carcasses; and finally, subduing and liberating the consciousness
of those evil forces so that they are no longer gripped by negative
emotions and impulses. They begin the symbolic slaying process by
assembling at the centre over the humkhung container, which is
believed to have trapped the nyulemas essential force. Like the
Juging, the pace of the Driging dance is regulated through the cadence
of the umdzes cymbal playing.

The Ngaging Dance

The last of the three ging dances is the Ngaging, or Drum Dance. In it,
the dancers perhaps unsurprisingly hold a cham drum, which signifies
the sound of wisdom, and a drumstick, representing compassion. The
sound that reverberates from the drum is the sound of dharma, which
can dispel the ignorance and suffering of sentient beings. Ideally, the
dancers perform this dance with a spirit of joy, loving kindness, and

The Ngaging embodies the joy felt by the righteous forces after their
successful defeat of the nyulema spirit. Thus, the dance movements
reflect the celebratory mood. The costuming is the same as in the
Juging and Driging. During festivals, Ngaging can be performed by
monks, lay priests, or by ordinary young men. This particular dance is
also performed separate from the other two in schools or at other
gatherings to provide a sample of Bhutanese mask dance.

Said to have been originally created by Pema Lingpa in Bumthang as a

sacred tantric dance to liberate evil forces, the dance is today
performed at most major festivals and also taught at the Royal
Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) as a common performance. To the
faithful spectators, it continues to have the sacred and liberative value
beside being fine examples of Bhutanese performing arts.

Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden
Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History
of Bhutan.