The Dance of the Stag and the Hunting Dogs (Shawa Shachhi)

This dance depicts the conversion to Buddhism of a hunter named Gonpo Dorje by the great saint Milarepa (1040–1123). More like a theatrical play than any of the other dances, it is very long and is usually performed in two parts, each of which concludes one day of tshechu.

The story goes that while the saint Milarepa was meditating in a cave, he heard shouting and barking. He came out of his retreat and saw a stag covered with sweat and trembling with fear. Milarepa calmed it by singing a religious hymn and took it under his protection. Soon afterwards two dogs appeared which had been chasing the stag, and Milarepa won them over with one of his songs.

The hunter arrived unexpectedly, looking for his dogs, and when he saw them lying down with the stag at Milarepa’s feet, he flew into a rage and shot a poisoned arrow at the saint. The saint used his superhuman powers to snap the hunter’s bow, while the arrow, instead of hitting him, returned to the astonished hunter. Milarepa then intoned a song that succeeded in convincing the hunter to give up hunting and take up Buddhism.

The first part of this dance has a comic tone, starting with the hunter’s servant who jokes with the atsaras. The hunter, crowned with leaves and carrying his bow, then arrives with his two dogs. He performs non-Buddhist rituals aimed at bringing him good luck on the hunt, while his servant and the atsaras clown around him.

The second part is more dignified and religious. Milarepa appears clad all in white except for his characteristic red hat. He holds a pilgrim’s staff in his hand and with his songs he converts first the dogs and then the hunter. The conversion is symbolized by a rope over which the hunter and the dogs must jump.

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