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The Music of Tibetan Buddhism in Ladakh: The Musical Structure of Tibetan Buddhist Chant in the Ritual bskaṅ-GSO of the Dge-Lugs-Pa Sect

  • Atsuko Tsukamoto


Ladakh is located in the northwestern part of India between the Himalayan and the Karakoram Ranges. The traditional culture of Tibetan Buddhism has been conserved in Ladakh since Rin-chen bzan-po (985–1055) introduced Buddhism in the Early 11th-century. In the 19th-century, several studies of Ladakh were reported by European scholars and missionaries. Because foreigners were banned from the region from 1947 to 1974, due to the boundary dispute between India and Pakistan, cultural studies of Ladakh were scarce and research has progressed slowly. Since the ban was lifted, cultural research, particularly in Buddhism, iconography and ethnology, have made systematic progress. However, concerning Buddhist chant in Ladakh, we have nothing more than a few descriptions in reports by ethnologists and Buddhist scholars. Buddhist chant in Ladakh is important for research in Tibetan Buddhist chant because of its preservation of traditional culture when the region was isolated in the postwar period.



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1. In Ladakh, a ritual is called pŭjā in Sanskrit. It means worship or reverence.

2. Maṇḍata (GZ 7158-9), manufactured by Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd. In 1980.

3. The most popular sect of Tibetan Buddhism was founded by Tson-kha-pa (1357–1419), who censured all the old conservative sects.

4. Performed in Japan under the auspices of The Japan Foundation, Seibu Museum and Mainichi Newspapers.

5. According to the author's field research, the longest ritual of the bskan-gso lasted approximately twelve hours.

6. The titles of the sections 3, 6 and 9 are quoted from each scripture, so that they do not indicate the meaning of the religious function.

7. Cf., note 6.

8. Cf., note 6.

9. Rol-mo means “music” or “musical instrument.”

10. See Ryōjun Inoue (1979): “Rama-kyō kenbun-ki” (The Record of Experience for Lamaism) in Dai-ikkai radakku chōsa-dan hōkoku-sho (The Report of Research for Ladakh No. 7), Kyoto: Syuchiin University.

11. Both of the sbug-chal and the sil-sñan are sometimes played at the same time; for example, on the occasion of the se-phren, performed at the opening of the ritual, or at the masked dance festival.

12. Kaufmann, Walter (1975). Tibetan Buddhist Chant. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

13. In gsan-snag rgyud-ba grba tshad gi mjad-rgyun hkrul-med byin-rlabs can gyi dbyans-.…, rol-yig dad bcas ḥdir rta rnams bshegs so, one can surmise that the omitted syllables are yig and dan.

14. Pronounced in Japanese.

15. Information received from Tsultrim Kelsang.

16. Can be roughly translated as “Rise up, rise up from the ultimate True World. Rise up firmly from the part of the enlightened True World. You show us your angry appearance, so we call to the mighty deity, Mahākālā.”

The Music of Tibetan Buddhism in Ladakh: The Musical Structure of Tibetan Buddhist Chant in the Ritual bskaṅ-GSO of the Dge-Lugs-Pa Sect

  • Atsuko Tsukamoto


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