The Dance of the Judgement of the Dead (Raksha Marcham)

This dance is one of the most interesting of the Tshechu and it is extremely didactic. It is divided into two parts.

First comes a long dance by the Rakshas who are aides to the Lord of the Dead. They wear yellow skirts and animal masks. Then the Lord of the Dead—Shinje Choekyi Gyelpo—enters together with his attendants, the white god and the black demon who live with all beings and bear witness to their actions. The Lord of the Dead is a wrathful representation of Avalokiteshvara, the deity of compassion. Next begins the judgement proper. The first to enter is a sinner dressed all in black with a black mask, holding a basket containing a piece of meat that symbolizes his sins. The Lord of the Dead listens to his story, then has his actions weighed on a scale. The good actions are symbolized by white pebbles, the bad ones by black pebbles. The white god tries to save the sinner by emphasising his good actions, whereas the black demon describes the man’s wicked actions in detail. In the end, the sinner is sent to hell to the great joy of the black demon who accompanies him on the road to hell, symbolized by a length of black cloth.

A general dance ensues and then a virtuous man enters. As a sign of his piety, he is dressed in white, with a white face, and he holds a prayer flag. The same judgement scene as before unfolds and the virtuous man is sent to paradise on a road which is symbolized by a length of white cloth. The black demon tries to seize him at the last moment but the white god saves him and he is welcomed by celestial beings.

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