Dressing the Deity – The Attire of ’cham Performers in-between sādhana and Bhutanese Everyday Wear

Thursday 3 June 2021 17:00 - 18:00
Add to Calendar 2021-06-03T16:00:002021-06-03T17:00:00 Dressing the Deity – The Attire of ’cham Performers in-between sādhana and Bhutanese Everyday Wear
Mareike Wulff
Event price
Free for all
Event type
Lectures and Seminars
Booking Required
Not Required
Contact name
Daniel Wojahn
Contact email

In this talk Mareike Wulff discusses the disguise of Tibetan Buddhist ’cham performers (Dz ’cham pa) in Bhutan. The ’cham pa represent and embody entities of the Buddhist pantheon – in its widest sense. These include high-ranking wrathful protectors of the doctrine (Dz dharmapāla), all sorts of local and messenger deities, but also humanoid characters like Buddhist saints and figures taken out of tales. In order to make visible the intangible entities, the ’cham performers don masks (Dz ’bag) or other headgear, and costumes (Dz ’cham chas) that resemble the beings in their outer appearance. Several of the deity ’cham characters can be found in sādhanas that describe their appearance, and/or on thangkhas and murals, depicted two-dimensionally. While the ’cham masks are usually similar in their looks to textual description and other visual depictions, the ’cham garb sometimes differs significantly; just think of a wrathful dharmapāla being described in the text as nearly naked, scarcely covered with a tiger-skin loincloth and bone ornaments, while when appearing in a ’cham is entirely covered in a floor-length silk brocade gown. Sādhana descriptions also often describe deity garments in very vague terms, which when converted into ‘real’ material objects become very distinctive and standardised ’cham garments, in some cases referencing regional attire. Mareike Wulff looks at the composition of garments that make up a ’cham outfit and talks about which bearing the presence and identity of the human performer has on the costumes. She opens up how textual sources, social and historical contexts in combination result in localised ’cham costumes.

Mareike Wulff is currently completing her PhD at the Central Asian Seminar, Humboldt University. Her thesis documents and analyses a Tibetan Buddhist ’cham mask dance festival staged by a village community of lay Buddhist practitioners in rural Bhutan.

Being a trained costume designer and bespoke tailor, who worked in theatre houses, she approaches ritual performances and its material culture from a behind-the-scenes perspective and looks at the lived realities of the makers of the festival. She explores how the human community members annually (re-)construct their social reality by carrying out Buddhist rituals (Dz cho ga) and a number of exchange and communication acts directed to the intangible community members of the local and Buddhist deities. Her drawings of the material culture of the festival – attire, masks and ritual objects – add a visual layer to the written analysis. Mareike Wulff’s research interests include Bhutan and Himalayan Studies, Tibetan Buddhism, Material Culture, Memory and Ritual Studies, and the Sociology of Religion.