Namkha at Karmapa’s Black Hat Dance

The last month of each Tibetan year is dedicated to clearing negativity accumulated throughout the year. It culminates with Gutor, an extensive ceremony featuring Lama Dance (Cham). By performing traditional rituals, Tibetan monks and yogis clean the ground for an auspicious, fresh New Year (Losar) to enter.

Losar – the Tibetan New Year – is celebrated in February or March each year, as based on the Lunar calendar. In 2020, Losar falls on the 24th February.

A large namkha structure is part of Gutor in the old traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, mainly Nyingma, where it is constructed as prescribed in the sacred texts known as terma (hidden treasures). I wrote a bit about that here.

At Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya in 2012 and 2017, His Holiness the Karmapa performed the extensive Black Hat Dance at Gutor time. A tall, woven construction could be seen on both occasions towards the right-hand side of the stage of the Monlam Pavilion.

Namkha at 34th Kagyu Monlam
A torma and large effigy made of thread are installed on stage at 34th Kagyu Monlam, 24th February 2017.

This effigy made of five-coloured threads wound in intricate patterns around a wooden frame was installed together with an impressive torma – an offering made out of dough, shaped as a giant head. The function of the thread construction, called namkha, is to entrap negative energies into its webs, having been lured there by the irresistible torma. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje presided over this offering ritual.

gutor torma at kagyu monlam
The Karmapa (left) approaches the great torma with the effigy made of thread above it.

On the day: The Karmapa performs several sacred dances together with other Lamas. Before the start of the dance, the great Hazhel torma is brought in with a great procession by monks from Rumtek Monastery and lay members of Tsurphu Labrang the stage. The Vajra Master, dressed as the Guardian of the Gate, swirles a black cloth to keep any spirits from escaping as the torma installation is moved.


The Karmapa (left) presiding over a dance. The namkha structure on the right.

Several dances are performed before the Karmapa approaches the rituals involving the torma. The Karmapa blesses the torma and effigy. 

Mahakala Puja with Namkha
His Holiness 17th Karmapa performs Mahakala Puja and Cham for the first time in India.

Cham dancers, in constant meditation, circle around the construction for a short time.

Namkha at Kagyu Monlam 2017
Dancing Lamas encircle the effigy.
Namkha at Kagyu Monlam 2012
Dancing Lamas encircle the namkha construction

The negative energies of the past year, attracted by the offering of the torma, are now considered entrapped in the web. A group of monks takes the effigy out of the pavilion.

Namkha at Kagyu Monlam
Torma with namkha taken off the stage
Namkha outside Pavilion
Effigy and torma carried out of the Monlam Pavilion

The monks then bring the construction to a nearby field, where a tall pile of clean hay has been prepared. The effigy is thrown on the pile and quickly burned, as a symbol of cleansing negativity.

Namkha discarded
The torma and namkha discarded on a pile of hay for burning.

 During the so-called torma attack, the accumulation of negativity and obstacles ‘trapped’ in the effigy is destroyed. 

Namkha burned
The effigy containing entrapped negative energy is incinerated and negativity purified.

Negativity released in that way, the ceremony inside the pavilion gradually bears to an end, and everyone may now start looking forward to the New Year’s festivities!

Namkha is an ancient Tibetan tradition of weaving the threads of five colours into a ritual object or a protection amulet. Explore my website to learn more: Research / Overview

Read more about the ceremony on the Kagyu Monlam website

Photos in this post are sourced from the following videos:


Monks build the Gutor Namkha at Losar

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