Asia’s Traditional Masked Performance

Asia’s Traditional Masked Performance

Many Asian countries have traditional masked performances,
such as Mudiyettu of India, Eunyul Talchum of Korea, Hat Boi of Vietnam, Tsam Masked Dance of Mongolia, Khon Masked Dance of Thailand and Gar Cham of Bhutan.


Mudiyettu – Ritual Dance-and-dramatic Art of India

Considered to be the oldest ritualistic dance-and-dramatic art of Kerala, Mudiyettu is performed primarily to appease the goddess Bhadrakali. The dance depicts Bhadrakali’s war, defeat and death of the demon Darika, based on the Puranic story Darikavadham.


Performed during the months of Vrischikam and Meenam (November to March) in Kavus, which are temples dedicated to the goddess. It is most commonly performed by men from the Maran community.


During and after the performance, powdered pine resin tellipodi is thrown on the torches.
This not only makes the performance more dramatic, but the fumes produced also help to cure smallpox. In fact, the chutti on Bhadrakali’s face symbolizes smallpox.

Eunyul Talchum – Socially Satirical Dance-and-dramatic Art of Korea

Eunyul Talchum is a type of Haeseo Talchum (Masked Dance from Haeseo) handed down in Soeup, Eunyul, Hwanghae-do Province. It is a socially satirical masked performance, showing the social realities of the late Joseon Dynasty. As a socially satirical comedy, it has diverse characters representing social classes and groups of the time.

Act 1. Sajachum - The Lion Dance

Sajachum, the lion dance, is a ritualistic dance. It is performed to purify the performing stage by expelling evil spirits.

Act 2. Sangjwachum - Dance of Novice Monks

Heonmok, a novice monk, is dressed in a white monastic robe, a white-peaked hat, a flowered kasaya robe draped over both shoulders and white pants.
As he enters, he bows in all four directions (bowing rites) and begins to dance.

Act 3. Palmeokjungchum - Dance of Eight Depraved Monks

Meokjungs are depraved monks who, despite being Buddhist monks, lead vulgar lives.
The eight monks enjoy singing and dancing, ridiculing Nojang, the teacher, and seducing women while playing the Beopgo (Buddhist drum)

The dance represents the secularization process of Buddhism during the late Joseon Dynasty, and Meokjungs are viewed as deviant characters.

Act 4. The Noblemen’s Dance (Yangbanchum)

The servant Malttugi makes fun of the three noblemen brothers. The brothers are portrayed as typical ruling class that are reckless, timid and arrogant.

Act 5. The Old Monk’s Dance (Noseungchum)

The dance reveals secularized aspects of Buddhist monks during the late Joseon Dynasty.

Act 6. Dance of the Old Man and Old Woman (Yeonggam and Halmi)

After a long separation, the Yeonggam, the old man, and his wife Halmi, the old woman, are reunited by chance.
When Halmi meets her husband’s concubine, the two women start to fight.
While fighting, the concubine kicks Halmi so hard that she dies.

When Halmi dies, a shaman appears and holds a rite for her.

This act shows the tragedy of the women arising from the social irregularities allowing men to have more than one wife.

Hát Bội – Masked Dance-and-dramatic Art of Viet Nam

Vietnamese traditional opera, hallowed musical art form known as Tuong or Boi, is one of Viet Nam’s major classical performance genres.


Hát Bội relies on the principles of symbolization and stylization.
These principles have profoundly influenced Hát Bội’s typical dance gestures and makeup, which distinguishes Hát Bội from other traditional performing arts.


Tsam – Religious Masked Dance of Mongolia

Tsam is a part of Mongolia’s secret tantric rituals.


Although its origin can be traced back to Tibet, Tsam is enlivened with various Mongolian cultural elements,
namely the creative imagination and aesthetics of Mongol craftsmen, roles of heroic figures from folk myths and epics,
and elements of shamanism and archaic religious phenomena.


Tsam art is closely linked to Tsam mask crafts.
The art of making Tsam masks demonstrates Mongolian artisans’ unique artistic talent and skills.
One famous example is the Coral Mask of the Red Deity.


Tsam is a complex art derived from religion and culture, and is an integration of body, language
and mind expressed as dance movements, highlighting the charms of religious chanting and meditation.

Khon - Royal Dance-and-Dramatic Art of Thai

Khon is the most iconic of Thailand’s masked dances. It is characterized by vibrant visuals that span various genres of art, from the elaborate embroidery on the costumes to highly detailed props, such as masks and swords made by master craftsmen.


Traditionally, Khon was performed only in the royal court and enjoyed only by male members of the royalty.
It is performed by over 100 masked dancers, a narrator explaining the plot of the play,
a large Piphat (traditional Thai musical ensemble comprising of string instruments and percussions) and a chorus.
Dancers act out the story.


Khon depicts the glory of Rama, hero and incarnation of the god Vishnu, who brings order and justice to the world.
This theme underlines the cultural and moral significance of the monarchy as the unifying force of society.

Gar Cham – Religious Masked Dance of Bhutan

Gar Cham, Bhutan’s masked dance, is a tradition that spans through Bhutan’s history.


Masked dances are normally performed during Tshechu, an annual ritual which means “the Tenth Day”, and also the birthday of Bhutan’s patron saint, Padmasambhava, commonly known as Guru Rinpoche.


Tshechu and Gar Cham are not only splendid theatrical performances but they are also significant in spiritual and cultural aspects.
Watching the masked dancers perform their roles as symbolic manifestations of higher beings and deities,
the audience can appreciate the values of human life and is encouraged to pay homage to the sublime beings.


Masked dances are an integral part of Bhutan’s cultural identity.
The dances are dramatized teachings of enlightened spiritual masters, passing on knowledge to sentient beings within the three realms.
These dances are said to have the power to liberate the enlightened.


Masked dances are performend to entertain people, and at the same time, reaffirm the devotion and commitment of human beings to lead morally sound and righteous lives.
At a higher level, the dances serve as a means for liberation from the worldly sufferings and the attaining of final enlightenment.