Photo: July 7, 2014. Hemis Monastery, Ladakh, India. A Black Hat dancer
Nowadays, thirteen Janaka dancers perform Black Hat dance around religious objects in the Hemis Monastery during annual festival. However, in the olden times, it was a one-dancer performance.
The dance, also known as tsamchot dance, commemorates Buddhism’s triumph over its enemies. This tantric dance dispels bad spirits and defends the dharma. The number 13 represents (1) 13 rings of a chorten and (2) 13 yugas of the Cosmos.
The big round black hats worn by the dancers are not fancy hats. Each component of the hat and the hat as a whole are interpreted differently in different regions. According to one of these interpretations, each hat represents our world and its characteristic emptiness. The dome of the hat symbolizes sacred Mount Meru, the pivot of the world. The hat fabric is woven with five color threads that are arranged into an 8-point wheel. These points represent big and small continents. The colorful ribbons flow from the rear of the hats.
The dancers wear heavy costumes made of brocaded Chinese silk. The layered costumes include aprons, capes, and necklaces with pendants of skull emblems. The skull emblems remind the performers and audience about short and temporary nature of life. A mirror with peacock feathers symbolizes clear mind in the world of tantra. A hand bell represents compassion and wisdom. The thunderbolt means compassion and resourcefulness. The dancers do not wear masks. The dancers move slowly clockwise. Before they leave the stage a lama gives scared herb sprigs to all the dancers.
Black Hat dance is performed according to two different traditions. One tradition includes seven offerings, whereas the other one uses a mirror and eight offerings.