The ancient religious mask dance, or Tsam, is a significant religious
ritual which reflects Buddhist teachings through images. It is a
theatrical art performed by skilled dancers wearing magnificently
ornamented costumes, which represent characters of different holy
figures and devils, animals, and people.
Through story, music, and dance, the wide range of
personalities of the characters are depicted. To symbolize positive and
negative attributes, characters from popular stories, and animals such
as the Khangarid (lord of flies), lion (the king of wild animal), stag
(the beauty among animals), crow (the soothsayer) and various domestic
animals are imitated. Furthermore, the colors and decoration of the
costumes are clues as to the nature of the personalities of the
Tsam mask dancing is included in the art form called "Doigar,"
which embodies independent imagination, one of the ten kinds of wisdom
according to ancient Indian philosophy. The Tsam dance ceremony was
first introduced to Mongolia in the 8th century, when the famous Indian
Saint Lovon Badamjunai was invited to Mongolia to sanctify the
construction of the first Tibetan Buddhist temple, Samya. From that
time, the Tsam dance was performed following the traditional teaching
of Nyambdeyan, and during the 16th century, it became popular in
Dash-Ihum temple Uigien Namjra and other places. Eventually, more than
500 monasteries of the 700 Mongolian monasteries had their own local
variations of the ceremony.