Mask Dance Revival

Sumtrhang Lhakhang’s annual Kangsöl used to exhibit many sacred and unique dances, which are exclusive to Sumtrhang predating most of the Buddhist mask dances in Bhutan. Available written sources suggest the mask dances where already in performance in the 15th century when Pema Lingpa was visiting the monastery.

This is one of the reasons why Sumtrhang monastery, is an important establishment not only for the Sumtrhang Community and its vicinity as a center for culture and tradition but also for Bhutan as it remains to be a cultural asset of the country. But the unique and rich cultural practices of Sumtrhang known as the Kangsöl, where these unique centuries-old mask dances are performed has been passing through a bad times having left without a proper practice since 1999.

If these cultural and traditional practices of Kangsöl are not revived at this juncture, the exclusive dances of Sumtrhang and cultural practices of Kangsöl faces the risk of loss from the cultural world. The only living person who could leave the knowledge and practices of the Kangsöl and its mask dances is the current incumbent of Sumtrhang monastery who is in his 70s. It is this pressing uncertainty that demands an urgent call for the restoration of Sumtrhang’s culture and tradition of its annual practices and the monastic school at the earliest.

The Kangsöl was last performed in its old glory in 1999 and since then, it has never been able to bring back the mask dances to its former glory. The current incumbent overburdened with his efforts in renovating the old monastic temple, which was falling apart, could give little time in the revival of the tradition and culture as the structural renovation is the first thing he needed to restore.

In 2015 with help of generous financial help from the MHPA and the Core of Culture USA, the choreographic steps of some of the mask dances were taught to some local men, but yet again the need for monastic students to upkeep the documentation and the knowledge transmission of this cultural tradition is found to be crucial so these unique heritage continues to live.