Skip to main content

Atsara: A Sacred-Profane Character



The Atsara figure is an integral part of many Bhutanese festivals. Being a primary agent of mirth and merriment, the red face comical character holding a phallus is generally thought of as a clown at the tshechu festivals. The Atsara character, however, is more than just a clown for entertainment. The Atsara combines the spirit of the sacred and profane, wit and wisdom, humour and responsibility. He helps his audience not only to forget their worries and problems with his jokes but also to occasionally drop their normal sense of self-importance, hypocrisy and false propriety through his pranks.
The name, Atsara, is said to have come from the Sanskrit term acārya, which is transcribed inTshuyig as ཨ་ཙརྱ་. Acārya refers to a teacher or scholar and was a title used to refer to the Indian masters. For instance, the three famous Indian acāryas who have shown great kindness to Tibet are said to be 1) Atiśa Dīpaṅkara, the white acārya, Dampa Sangye, the black acārya and Padmasambhava, the variegated acārya. There was also a red acārya from India who came to Tibet in the 11th century and is sadly remembered for his licentious behaviour, which is said to have corrupted Buddhism in the name of tantric practice. It is difficult to say, without any evidence, on which group of personalities Bhutan’s Atsara character is based and how it has evolved. Many traditional scholars claim that Atsara is a parody of Indian mahāsiddhas, some of whom were enlightened mavericks living unconventional lives while being highly realized Buddhist saints. These enlightened saints, who were renegades on the fringes of society, practiced crazy wisdom as did the divine madmen of Tibet such as Drukpa Kunley.
Whether the Atsara figure is a caricatural reminder of unorthodox saints of crazy wisdom or remnants of loose lustful behaviour of some priests who abused tantric Buddhism, it is today one of Bhutan’s unique and exotic cultural institution. With a red face to symbolize burning passion and a large thunderbolt or phallus to signify masculine power and fertility, the Atsara plays a very important role in Bhutan’s major festivals. Curiously, it is also a Bhutanese cultural character, who is dressed in trousers and a jacket with fanciful patches. Unless he is replaced by other comical figures such as the Gathpo, as is the case during some festivals in central Bhutan, the Atsara is the chief clown to entertain the crowd and the master of ceremony to help the festival run smoothly. The Atsara guides the mask dancers if they forget their steps, tie the masks and silk robes if they fall loose, and provide any support the dancers may need once in the public arena. Often, there are more than one Atsara but only a master mask dancer, who is sharp and witty, dexterous and sensitive to the crowd normally qualify to be the lead Atsara. The junior Atsaras in various masks and costumes merely accompany him. The chief Atsara must know the jokes he should crack and the antics he has to play in the course of specific dances and performances. Towards the end of the festival, the Atsaras are also allowed to collect money from the people as tips and offerings, which in some cases are later shared with all dancers and performers.
The Atsara character represents the traditional Bhutanese personality of being open, liberal, jovial and spontaneous. On the festival ground where people come to immerse in sacred enjoyment and forget the woes and worries of everyday life, the Atsara is a reminder for people to drop unnecessary hang-ups and taboos, inhibitions and obsessions and to unleash their free spirit of ease, joy and laughter. His character remotely reflects the liberated spirit of the Buddha, which has transcended the dualistic apprehension of likes and dislikes, pain and pleasure and such other prejudices, biases and fixations. In an age when people are becoming increasingly neurotic, complex, susceptible and stressed, the Atsara is a true teacher to help us let go of our mental and emotional constriction and seek the inner state of openness and ease.
Personal Communication with Dasho Karma Phuntsho. Shejun Director.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Life is challenging????

Life isn't all about eating and sleeping. I think I am quite okay compare to other people but yes I have been running through difficulties like others at some point of my life. I wonder if one can do what others are doing too but not many of us are able to. Today I worked as lecturer and my job is to teach but then it is different for the others.

For some life is traveling around world and visiting places they like and explore. For some it is begging everyday and earn to eat one time food. For some it is wrestling, boxing, body building and want to gain name and fame.  For some becoming leader and politician working for the country. For some it is all about praying, meditating and working for the others good. For some it is all about business making money. For some looking for a girl friend and boy friend to date and enjoy. Some landing on the moon and mars finding what is there.

to be continued and writing after long time. please follow me as I am back.

Buli Tulku Biography

A brief Biography of Buli Tulku: the Linage of 
Terton Dorji Lingpa... Taken from Kinga 
Jigdrel Singye Chholling Monastery
page .

From the time of the historical Buddha to the present day, unbroken succession of great beings have achieved enlightenment and have dedicated themselves to teaching others the path that leads to awakening. Buddhism was brought from India to Tibet over several generations, starting with King Songtsen Gampo in the 6th century, and was finally established as the state religion under the King Trisong Detsen in the 8th century. In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a widespread tradition of recognizing the reincarnations of highly realized teachers. Such incarnations are known as Tulkus. They take rebirth out of compassion, and to carry on the responsibilities of their previous incarnations. Thus, Buli Tulku is one of such reincarnated Tulkus and had passed several lineages. 

1. Phagpa Magapa: Buli Tulku, Lama Sonam Loday was born as a Legdrup at Tsang Nenmo in Kham, China …