Musical Notation, Divine Invocation

Buddhist Digital Resource Center

The pages in this collection represent the written ritual music of monasteries across the Tibetan Buddhist world. A vital component of Tibetan Buddhist experience, musical notation allows for the transference of sacred sound and ceremony across generations. A means to memorize sacred text, express devotion, ward off feral sprits, and invoke deities, the music displayed in this exhibit is potent and richly meaningful. Integrally supporting devotion and prayer, music gives Buddhist ritual life its shape, its weight, and its power. As you explore this exhibit, imagine the resounding of Tibetan horns, the beating of a small two-headed damaru drum, and clanging of the rolmo, the ritual cymbal used for Buddhist rites.

Musical Notation, Divine Invocation
Tibetan musical scores consist of notations that symbolically represent the melodies, rhythm patterns, and instrumental arrangements. In harmony with chanting, visualizations, and hand gestures, music crucially guides ritual performances.  

Ritual music can invoke deities, ward off feral spirits, and support prayer, meditation, and the memorization of Buddhist text.

TBRC Place ID for Pelyul Monastery:!rid=G18

This manuscript provides musical arrangement for the propitiation of the protector deity Mahakala, composed by the 6th Karmapa and performed within the Kamtsang Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism.

The notations were reproduced from a private monastery library in the Nangchen region of Kham, eastern Tibet.

These musical notes guide the ritual performance of ceremonial offerings to the main meditation deities and protectors of Drepung, one of the three main Geluk monasteries in Lhasa, Tibet.

Buddhist music often involves chanting as well as ceremonial instrumentation, and as in the case of the Yakze Monastery score, dance choreography.

TBRC Place ID for Yakze Monastery:!rid=G1679

Notations to perform the Longchen Nyingtik, one of the most widely practiced tantric rites in Tibet. Revealed as a treasure from the mind by the visionary Jigme Lingpa (1729-1798), this practice has its own particular musical arrangement.

Music is crucial to the transmission of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition which has been passed down over generations via notations such as this.

TBRC Place ID for Pelpung Monastery: W1KG12529.

Musical score for chanting and percussion rites performed within the Drikung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism. This manuscript originated from a Drikung Monastery in Ladakh.

This is a multi-tiered notation for ritual music performed within the Geluk order of Tibetan Buddhism. Lines are annotated by verse.

Musical notation manuscript found and digitized in a Buddhist monastery in Mongolia.

This musical notation describes itself as "melodic vajra tunes to evoke the protector deity Mahakala, his consort and retinue." Written in black ink with rubricated syllables matched to the meter.

Credits: Story

Curatorial Team:

Emma Lewis
Devin Zuckerman

Credits: All media
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