Wednesday, February 20, 2008

When snow lions and yaks dance

Wednesday February 20 2008 09:42 IST

Athira M.

The rehearsal for a Yak Chham performance

THE snow lions and the yaks - they form the hilarious lot at Octave 2008, the national festival of the North-East currently on at Nishagandhi.

To be exact, the artists from Sikkim who perform Singhi Chham (Dance of the snow lion) and Yak Chham (Dance of the yak).

It is not at all an easy task out there for these artists. Two artists get into a costume, be it of the snow lion or the yak. Remember, these costumes, which come in two parts (head portion and the rear portion) weigh nearly 18 kg when taken together.

And the toughest part for the artists is to dance with gentle and rhythmic movements. Also, they have to sit, jump, turn over and run in a circle! Above all, each of these actions should be perfectly synchronised.

�The artist in front will stand holding the head portion of the animal. The one behind will form the rear part of the body, bending forward and holding the person in front,� says Dawa Lepcha, who has been performing the dance forms for nearly two decades.

The performers add that it takes two or three months for an artist to become an expert.

The �mouth� of the yak or the snow lion is kept wide open, so that the artist can see through that. There are threads inside which when moved will result in the closing and opening of the eyes of the animals.

There will be a ringmaster wearing colourful costumes. The musicians play instruments like yangjey (which looks like a santoor), cymbal and gna (drum). The music and steps are different for Singhi Chham and Yak Chham.

The musicians too have elaborate costumes, like three robes, one on top of the other, a special boot and a cap.

Yak Chaam is a tribute to the yak, an animal whom the people rely on for survival at high altitudes. Singhi Chaam is linked with the five peaks of Mount Kanchenjunga, which form an image of the snow lion.

The artists - Karma, Lakpa, Sadup, Arun, Zigme, Tashi and others - do both Singhi Chham and Yak Chham. �Both forms are difficult. You feel very hot inside that costume,� they say.

Sometimes, as they roll over, they hurt the elbow or the leg or sprain some body parts. If the two artists fail to synchronise their movements, there will be problems.

Singhi Chham was performed on Monday afternoon at Vikas Bhavan. Unfortunately, there is no other presentation of the dance at Nishagandhi. Yak Chham will be staged on Wednesday evening at Nishagandhi.