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Reviving the Cam Dance Tradition in Mongolia

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Reviving the Cam Dance Tradition in Mongolia

Zsuzsa Majer and Krisztina Teleki

Traditional Mongolian Culture II

Reviving the Cam Dance Tradition in Mongolia

by Zsuzsa Majer and Krisztina Teleki

Series editor: Ágnes Birtalan

Technical editor: Attila Rákos

Eötvös Loránd University, Department of Inner Asian Studies

The publication of the present volume was supported by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA PD 83465) and the Dharma Gate Buddhist Foundation.

ISBN 978-963-284-512-8

Copyright © Budapest 2014

Editor’s Preface

The Department of Inner Asian Studies of the Institute of East Asian Studies at Eötvös Loránd University has been carrying on systematic, philology-based field research for over two decades. Since 1991 the Department – and until 2006 the Research Group of Altaic Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences – has conducted field research on diverse themes in different areas of Mongolia, in cooperation with the Institutes of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the departments of the Mongolian State University. The primarily focus is on linguistic and dialectal folklore and narrative texts with emphasis on religion (shamanism, folk religion, Buddhism). During our fieldwork we managed to collect and process materials in several areas of Mongolian spiritual and material culture whose publication offers an insight into the traditions and present state of transforming Mongolian nomadic culture. To present our research results we chose the DVD format because it allows for the attachment of sound and video materials to the still primary body of texts.

The first part of the series was the joint publication with the Institute für vergleichende Architekturforschung, Vienna, presenting the material culture of Mongolian nomads: Material Culture (Traditional Mongolian Culture I). Materielle Kultur. (Traditionelle mongolische Kultur I.). A mongol nomádok anyagi műveltsége. (Hagyományos mongol műveltség I.). Уламжлалт монгол соёл. Szerk./Ed./Hrsg. Birtalan, Ágnes. Wien – Budapest, IVA-ICRA Verlag – ELTE, Belső-ázsiai Tanszék 2008.

Several individual researchers on scholarships have also gone on research trips in connection with the centrally organized expeditions. The achievements of two of them, Zsuzsa Majer and Krisztina Teleki, provide the material for the present DVD. They conducted field research in Mongolia several times to study reviving Buddhism. The second DVD of our series introduces the Cam ritual of Tibetan origin which is also popular among Mongolians. The authors’ on-the-spot investigations with sound and video recordings complemented with the photos of the expedition archives combine into a unique presentation of this important and spectacular phenomenon of today’s Mongolian Buddhist religious practice even amidst earlier and recent publications on Cam.

The latest field researches were supported by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund grant no. 100613 (theme leader: Ágnes Birtalan).

Ágnes Birtalan


The aim of the present DVD is to make publicly available the material collected from 2004 on on the revitalization of the Cam (T. 'cham(s)) dances, a main and very spectacular Tantric practice in Mongolia. With hundreds of pictures and a number of videos showing all characters, special accessories, and main events of the dance it is hoped that the material will be interesting to the wider public as well. The revived Cam dance was mainly documented in Jǖn Xürē Daščoilin Monastery in Ulānbātar in several subsequent years, where it was observed in 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. In addition, the dance of Amarbayasgalant Monastery, Selenge province was observed in 2005, 2009 and 2010, and the dance of Daščoinxorlin Monastery, Bulgan province in 2005. The results of the survey on Mongolian Cam as observed in 2004 and 2005 are available in a detailed English description in the PhD dissertation of Zsuzsa Majer (A Comparative Study of the Ceremonial Practice in Present-day Mongolian Monasteries, Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Arts, Doctoral School of Linguistics, Program on Mongolian Linguistics, Budapest, 2008, 285 pages). That was updated by the observations in 2009, and the observations by Krisztina Teleki in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 on the changes and improvements of the dances, which gives more insight into the gradual revival of this practice in Mongolia as well as her remarks in the last chapter. Photos, voice records, and videos of the DVD were mainly made by the authors themselves, but others also provided additional pictures. All photos and videos were captioned in detail by the authors and placed with the appropriate chapter to help the understanding of the different events of the Cam period and bringing closer its characters. In addition, to show the Cam day events in full, two films are available on the DVD in the chapter Revival: the one presenting the dance at Jǖn Xürē Daščoilin Monastery was made by Zsuzsa Majer in 2009 (76 minutes), and the other illustrating some important details of the Cam performance at Amarbayasgalant Monastery was recorded by Krisztina Teleki in 2009 and 2010 (65 minutes). Short parts of these films are also available at the appropriate chapters. Cited books and other sources are listed in the bibliography. Tibetan (T.), Sanskrit (S.) and Khalkha Mongolian terms are used in the text (see Transcription of Foreign Terms for details).

Zsuzsa Majer’s CV

Tibetologist, Mongolist

PhD in Mongolian Linguistics

Zsuzsa Majer has a PhD in Mongolian linguistics and philology (2009, ELTE University, Faculty of Arts, Budapest, Hungary) and degrees as Tibetologist and Mongolist (2002, 2003). Her PhD thesis was written on the ritual and ceremonial practice in present-day Mongolian monasteries (A Comparative Study of the Ceremonial Practice in Present-day Mongolian Monasteries, PhD dissertation, Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Arts, Doctoral School of Linguistics, Program on Mongolian Linguistics, Budapest, 2008, 285 pages). A part of this was, along with the comparative study of the ceremonies of all Ulaanbaatar temples being active that time, a 34 pages English language description of the Mongolian Cam dances. This is now revised, updated and completed with further materials and published in two languages.

She has been to Mongolia 6 times since 1999, on scholarships and research trips for periods between two months – one and a half year, where, apart from studying related written sources, she was working in monasteries, libraries and archives surveying the history and revival of Mongolian Buddhism, the present-day religious life, ceremonies, and the history of the old Mongolian monasteries ruined in the 1937 purges. Her researches and publications mainly dealt with the following fields: history of Mongolian Buddhism; monasteries, monastic life, ceremonial and ritual practice once and now; revival of Mongolian Buddhism after 1990; terminology concerning the offerings, accessories and equipments of monasteries; and descriptions of Mongolian holy places written in Tibetan and Mongolian.

Her main researches, executed mostly in co-authorship with Krisztina Teleki, were a survey and documentation of old monastery sites of Ix xürē or Bogdīn xürē, the old monastic capital city of Mongolia (all in all 100 old monastic sites) that stood on the site of the present-day Ulaanbaatar; a survey of all active temples of Ulaanbaatar (40 in number) and their ceremonial system in 2005–2006; and the documentation of 150 old monastery sites and 40 present-day temples in Öwörxangai and Dundgow’ provinces and the south part of Töw province in the framework of the Documentation of Mongolian Monasteries project of Arts Council of Mongolia in 2007. For the countrywide survey, together with Krisztina Teleki, they helped to elaborate the survey methodology and questionnaires about present-day or revived monasteries as well as old monastic sites and for interviewing old (ex-)monks.

In the last decade they executed interviews with all in all 80 old lamas aged 80-106 who had been monks before the purges on the old way of monastic life and ceremonial system, during research trips between 2005–2009, starting with the first 31 interviews recorded in 2006 with old lamas that time still gathering in one of the monasteries in Ulaanbaatar and Jūnmod, Töw aimag and later doing interviews with the same methodology countrywide.

Apart from the ACM survey, she had studied about 20 old and current monastic sites in other Mongolian provinces during the last several years.

In 2009 she executed with Krisztina Teleki a detailed background research for the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology of Monaco and the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences surveying the old Jaya gegēn monastery and the smaller monastic sites once subordinated to it, also studying the revival of the two monastic parts of the old monastery. They published a book on the history and revival of this monastery.

In the last three years (2010–2013) on a research scholarship given by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Bolyai János Research Scholarship) she elaborated research at the Inner Asian Department, Institute for Far Eastern Studies of Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Arts, and produced publications on the monastic system of Mongolian Buddhism and its main monasteries.

Her new researches however focus on after-death rites and practices connected to death and dying and their Tibetan language texts used in the practice of present-day Mongolian Buddhism.

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