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Snow lion costume, as worn by an adult on all fours.

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theatrical clothing

1 item (description level: top)
Broad category
Education Handling Collection: Anthropology, Masks
Additional names, titles, or classifications
catalogue name:  theatrical clothing
object name (Horniman Ethno.):  theatrical clothing
object name (local):  Senggey Garcham
object name (common):  snow lion mask and costume

Bengal, India, South Asia; Asia
Additional place information
made or collected:  Bengal 
Additional culture information
Tibetan  (Tibet)

Materials & techniques
papier-mâché; wool; wood; cotton
Additional material & technique information
material: wool (overall)
material: wood (overall)
material: papier-mâché (overall)
material: cotton (overall)

The mask and costume are worn by dancers in traditional Tibetan dance dramas, sometimes around Tibetan new Year. How is it used? The Snow Lion dance can be performed by monks at the buddhist monastery or by laypeople and is often performed with 4 dancers in 2 lion costumes dancing in time with each other. The costume includes an elaborate mask with rolling eyes, gnashing teeth and twitching ears which are operated by strings inside the head of the mask. The Snow Lion dances, leaps, and rolls around the stage until it collapses on the stage panting. In some dances the lion leaves the monastery and visits local houses to collect donations. For Tibetan people the Snow Lion represents undying cheerfulness and fearlessness and is danced both to show the elegant qualities of the enlightened mind of buddhist belief and also for entertainment. Dances are accompanied by a variety of musical instruments such as dranyen, the six stringed lute, gyangling, the shawm, pi wang, the fiddle and gyumangs, the dulcimer, and also drum, cymbals and flute. Who is it used by and why them? Tibetan people living across the World use this mask. China began invading Tibet in 1949, and within a few years many Tibetans fled with their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, across the Himalayas to India and Nepal. Tibetan people forced to live outside their home country are trying hard to preserve their arts and culture. Traditional dances, such as the Snow Lion dance, have now been adapted by touring companies and are also performed as a tourist spectacle in Tibet, China and the West. A pair of Snow Lions have been chosen as a symbol of Tibetan unity, by the Dalai Lama, to appear on the Tibetan flag and are seen holding the three sacred jewels, the dharmachakra. This mask and costume first came to the museum from the Tibet Foundation here in London, but probably originally belonged to Gangjong Doeghar - "The Land of Snows' Dance Troupe" - who come from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) in Kalimpong, India. The Snow Lion is one of the Four Dignities, mythical animals which represent various qualities of the Bodhisattva attitude, such as strength, protection and cheerfulness. These animals are the Dragon, Tiger, Garuda and Snow Lion. The Snow Lion is also seen in carvings and sometimes the throne of a Buddha is depicted with eight Snowlions on it, in this case, they represent the 8 main Bodhisattva-disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. Two Tibetan buddhist heroes, the yogi and poet Milarepa and hero King Gesar are said to have been raised by snow lionesses in the mountains of Tibet, suckling on her milk.
The mask is built on a frame made of strips of very light wood or bamboo. The wood needs to be as light as possible so that the mask is not too heavy to dance in. These strips are bound together to make the basic shape and a padded place for the head of the wearer so that he can see out through the mouth. The frame is then covered in cloth and woollen strands are sewn on to imitate fur. Strings are attached inside the head mask so that the eyes, ears and mouth can be moved. The costume is made of a cotton jacket and trousers wirth sewn on woollen strands and the front paws, held by the front dancers hands, are shaped and padded wooden sticks again covered in wool. Older carved wood examples of snow lion faces are also found.

Related objects
contains theatrical clothing (HC.2001.77.5)
Related subjects
association: Milarepa and the snow leopard
object name (Horniman Ethno.): Tibetan
material: theatrical clothing
material: wool
material: wood
material: cotton

Record created 2001-06-13 by EDIT_JB
Record last updated 2017-01-30 by LMAYCOCK