Deer (Shava)
Papier- mâché, covered with velvet; late 19th-early 20th century
Chojin Temple Museum, Ulaan Baatar

While most of the Tsam dances were performed at a slow and solemn pace, two characters, one wearing a deer’s mask and the other a buffalo’s mask, performed a spirited, wild dance. They are the henchmen of Yama, the Supreme Judge of Hell. During this mad dance the protruding tongue of the deer–with its tip weighed down by millet grains–would sway back and forth. In addition to its function as an acolyte of Yama, the deer had another task. At the conclusion of the Tsam ceremony it chopped up the lingka (doll of dough), which was now filled with all the evil that had been banished into it by the terrifying deities.

The Tsam and Maidari festivals which are the focus of the exhibition Dancing Demons: Ceremonial Masks of Mongolia were among the most important of the Mongolian religious calendar. Although attaining their most elaborate and spectacular form in Mongolia, they were Tibetan in origin and were practiced in many of the regions in which Tibetan Buddhism was influential.