Opera (Lhamo)


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This page is dedicated to H.H. Dalai Lama who has supported and encouraged the preservation of the Tibetan Performing Arts in exile.


Lhamo - Tibetan Opera

The performance form which has come to represent the Tibetan musical heritage in exile is lhamo, also known as Tibetan opera. Great efforts to preserve lhamo are being made both by TIPA and the other amateur lhamo troupes in exile.The Dalai Lama himself has often stressed the need to preserve this unique Tibetan performing art.

Origins of lhamo

There is some evidence that the origins of lhamo are related to Indian Buddhist drama or to the masked dances and musical dramas of the Tibetan Royal Dynastic period (6th to 9th century AD). But traditionally it is told lhamo was founded in the 14th century by the saint and scholar Thangtong Gyalpo (1385-1464). Amongst the Tibetans there are many stories of the wondrous deeds of Thangtong Gyalpo (TG), but he is perhaps most famous for his construction of iron chain bridges, chak sam, which provided access to remote villages of Tibet and permitted the spread of Buddhism. TG is looked upon as the patron of lhamo and even today, each lhamo troupe possesses a statue of him which is kept in a shrine, usually at the home of the Gegen , the director-teacher of the group. During the lhamo performance the statue is set up on an altar at the center of the stage and offerings are made to it.

The name lhamo (meaning 'goddess' or 'fairy') or A che lhamo ('elder sister fairy'), comes from the name of one of the figures in the preliminary phase of the opera. A story is told about seven beautiful sisters in the workforce of TG whom he trained to perform, while he himself wrote the operatic arias based on religious stories.When the women performed, the onlookers would exclaim, “the goddesses (lhamo) themselves are dancing!”Hence the operatic tradition became known as Ache lhamo, or more simply, lhamo.

Webpage last updated: 27.03.04

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