This type of dance, which translates to “Black Hat Dance”, is one of the first dances the monks typically learn and serves a variety of purposes depending on the venue and religious context. At the Mahakala festival, 21 monks perform a day long version of the Sha-nak in order to clear the ground and clear it of any spiritual obstacles so that the religious activities of the festival can take place without hindrance. Sometimes, the obstacles being removed are personal obstacles, such as afflictive emotions and causes of suffering (“Black Hat Dance”). In many other cases, the Sha-nak symbolizes the slaying of King Lang Darma, who was known for persecuting Buddhists throughout Tibet in the latter half of the ninth century.
At the beginning of the dance, the Sha-nak dancers make symbolic offerings to the various lamas and Dharmapalas that came before them, so that their blessing can be received before the dance is performed. The main offering given is the Gold Libation, also known as tea (“Black Hat Dance”).
The Sha-nak is traditionally performed in large triangularly shaped robes with large sleeves and decorative headpieces. The reason for the large sleeves is that, the way lama Paldorje supposedly killed Lang Darma was by hiding a bow and arrow in his sleeves, and this detais remains an integral part of the Sha-nak to this day (Reynolds, Gyasto, Hellen, & Martin 131). When the dance is done in the traditional costumes, the performance is said to send viewers into a sort of trance. However, the weight and the bulkiness of the costumes makes the dance extremely difficult to perform, hence the reason large amounts of training are required.