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Korean Mask Dances

Mask dances have been handed down under the name of T'alch'um, Sandae nori, Ogwangdae, and Yayu, each rooted in a different region.

During ancient times masks were believed to drive away malicious spirits, diseases, and fearsome animals. Their purposes were: first, to ward off all evils; second, to manifest supernatural beings; third, to honor the deceased; and fourth, to represent totemic animals.

Korean mask dances evolved from dances, music, and dramas performed during P'algwanhoe, the court ceremonies of the Koryo dynasty, during Yondunghoe, a Buddhist ceremony held to pray for the nation's peace and the well-being of the people, and during Narye, the shaman rite held on the lunar New Year's Eve to ward off evils.

Korean mask dances date back to the court entertainments of the Shilla Kingdom, such as Ch'eoyongmu, the masked dance celebrating the life of Ch'royong, and Hyang-ak Ogi (Five Masked Entertainments). The latter originated from China and Central Asia. It combines Kumhwan (Ball Game Masked Dance), Wolchon (Mime Farce or Comic Masked Dance), Taemyon (Talismanic Masked Dance), Soktok, (Acrobatic Masked Dance), and Sanye (Lion Mask Dance).

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Sanye, a lion masked dance drama that reached Shilla from India through Central Asia and China, is related to the lion masked dance drama of Japan's Kigaku as well as to Korea's many masked dance dramas, including Pukch'long Saja norum, Pongsan T'alch'um, Suyong Yayu, and T'ongyong Ogwangdae.

The Choson court established an office to manage the masked dances and dramas. This court style of entertainment gradually evolved into diverse forms that became dispersed throughout the country.

The dominant themes of these masked dances and dramas are: first, to relieve the anger of the commoners against the ruling class; second, to make fun of debauched monks; third, to expose the triangular relationship between husband, wife, and concubine; and fourth, to encourage virtue and punish vice.

Mask dances in Korea have been handed down by different regional style: the Hwanghae-do province's Haeso style, such as Pongsan, Kangnyong, and the EUnnyul Mask Dances; the Kyonggi-do province's Yangju Pyol sandae's and Songp'a Sandae Mask Dances; the Kyongsangnam-do province's Suyong Yayu, Tongnae Yayu, Kasan Ogwangdae, T'ongyong Ogwangdae, and Kosong Ogwangdae; Kyongsangbuk-do province's Hahoe Pyolshin-gut; Kangwon-do province's Kwanno Mask Dance; and the Namsadangp'ae (Male Itinerant Entertaining Troupe of the Northern Line) Totpoegich'um Mask Dance.

The common instruments for the melodic and rhythmic support of mask dances are p'iri, a double-reed cylindrical oboe, chottae, or transverse flute, changgu (or changgo), an hourglass-shape drum, kkwaenggwari, a hand-held gong, and haegum, a two-stringed fiddle. The instrumental ensemble differs by region. Kyonggi-do province uses six instruments called yukkak: two p'iri; one taegum; one haegum; one changgu, and one puk.

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