Once practiced in secret, the Charya Nritya (dance as a spiritual discipline) is a Buddhist ritual dance. In ancient times, it was believed that the gods would be so pleased at the skill of the performers that they would make an appearance in front of the dancers. Accompanied by Charya Giti (devotional songs), Newar Buddhist priests (Bajracharyas and Shakyas) perform this dance. Small cymbals (ta) and a two-faced drum (damaru) provide the music to accompany the dance. Wearing glitzy costumes and six types of ornaments, the dancers move gracefully, holding certain poses for some time (one can observe many such poses in deity figurines). This dance includes a variety of styles depicting different Buddhist deities such as Manjushree, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrayogini and Vajrapani. Performed as part of the Vajrayana practice of deity yoga (visualizing oneself as a deity figure), the dancer reflects the appearance, ornaments, inner qualities, and awareness of the portrayed deity.
According to myth, Kathmandu Valley was once a giant lake full of snakes, and that was naturally uninhabitable. The dance tells the story of how the Buddhist sage Manjushree and his consorts Brada and Mokshada, when on a visit to Swayambhunath Stupa, drained out the water and so made the valley inhabitable for people to live in.
Bajrayogini is one of the four tantric goddesses of the Kathmandu valley who is revered as the goddess of yogic practices. Her temple is located in the village of Sankhu some one hour from Kathmandu. Replete with symbolic hand movements and animated facial expressions, red-costumed dancers sometimes move languidly to depict tranquility and sometimes vigorously to convey anger. It is a very interesting dance that is captivating to watch.
Considered to be their main ritual dance by the Shakyas, the Pancha Buddha dance is performed during the more important festivals in the valley. This dance is performed in honour of the Pancha (Five) Buddhas, i.e. Vairochana (the brilliant one), Aksobhaya (the unshakeable), Ratnasambhava (the matrix of the jewel), Amitabha (the infinite light) and Amoghasiddhi (the infallible realization). Dancers don the distinctive colours of the five Buddhas and depict their specific postures.
The other two Charya dances are the Rakta Ganesh dance (dedicated to the elephant-headed god Ganesh, and the Arya Tara dance (in honour of the consort of Amoghasiddhi, the green complexioned Tara).
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