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Dongba Culture

Dong Ba means “wise man”, it is Naxi people’s sage or priest, who is also the the creator, preserver and inheritor of Dongba Culture.

As the privileged group, Dongba, the caretaker of the endangered Naxi culture, enjoy supreme social status in any Naxi village and town. Due to their immeasurable role, Naxi culture is named as Dongba culture, which encompasses Dongba language, script, painting, dance, music and rituals.

According to the rule, only Dongba can study the script. Besides, years of painstaking and intensive training is needed to cultivate a Dongba, who is expected to master singing, dancing, history, literature, painting , medicine and most importantly, the one-thousand-year-old Dongba script made of 1400 pictographs, which is the only living pictographic script still in use today.

Naxi people also count on Dongba to perform various rituals, from offering sacrifice to Heaven and Earth to cure an ailment or repel evils.

Dongba:  the creator, preserver and inheritor of Dongba Culture

Dongba Religion

Rooted in Naxis’primitive shamanism which advocates nature worship, Dongba religion blossomed during the Tang Dynasty and mirrored the joint influences of polytheism, Buddhism, Taosim and Ben religion. Almost all the Naxis are Dongba followers. Themed with Ancestor Worship, Nature Worship,Ghost Worship and Deity Worship, Dongba religion is manifested through various rituals: Heaven Worship Ritual, Funeral Ritual, exorcism and divination,etc.

Dongba religion states that the heaven consists of ten layers and is inhabited by 13 gods, who are in charge of the fortune and health of commoners. Dingbashiluo reigns the secular world, who has 360 disciples dispatched in fiver directions: north, south, east, west and middle. They are responsible for the wellbeing and longevity of people. The hell consists of 19 tiers, and is reserved for those evil souls. Believing everything in nature is imbued with spiritual property, Dongba needs to perform specific ritual for different purpose.

The core of Dongba religion lies in the belief that man and nature are two half-brothers born of the same father and two mothers. Kill too many animals or cut down too many trees will bring severe punishment from God. Hence, you can seldom see a Naxi people violate this ancient law, even in nowadays, which in return contributes to maintain Lijiang’s pristine beauty.

According to record, Baishui Tai of Baidi Village, Sanba Township, Zhongdian(中甸) is the origination place of Dongba religion, and a mecca for all Dongba. During past past 250 years, numerous Dongba and their followers have frequented Baidi Village to meditate and pray. Baidi Village is also the best to see Heaven Worship Ceremony, the grandest worship ceremony of Dongba religion.
dongba religion
dongba ritual

 Dongba Religion

Dongba Dance

The earliest record of Dongba Dance can be traced back to Tang dynasty(618-907), and there exist two classics named Jie Mo. Jiemo records hundreds of dance steps of over 60 almost-extinct dances. What is more amazing is that Jie Mo is written by Dongba script. As the indispensable part of Dongba culture, it presents a sharp contrast between divine themes and extremely funny actions inspired by almost every animal they have found in nature; frog, yak, horse, goat....

Since very young, Dongba has to practice specific dance for unique purpose. Sometimes, he need to dress up and act like a clown to entertain good deities, while in other times, he has to dispel those evil beings by swirl like a hawk. Reflecting the primitive lifestyle, Dongba Dance will bring us into another time and space, into the lost kingdom, just as Peter Goullart has depicted. Dongba Dance is usually played according to Naxi Ancient Music, which features euphonious, energetic and heavenly voices from the Tang and Song dynasties.

Dongba Painting

Dongba painting is another fabulous archaic art Naxis offer to us. Those eye-dazzling masterpieces done on wooden pieces, papers or silk, shed light on their spiritual world, which is both impressive, inviting and bewildering at first sight. Gods and demons are two frequent subjects, just as pray for blessing is the eternal theme. Road to Heaven is the most important Dongba painting.

If you learn enough of Naxi ancient painting, you will find out that Dongba painting is more profound than you can imagine.As we know, Baisha murals mirror Tibetan Buddhism, Han Buddhism and Taoism influences, while Dongba painting represented by Road to Heaven reveals more ancient and exotic religion lineage.  A good place to enjoy Dongba painting is Baisha Ancient Town, which houses plenty of Ming-era murals mirroring various influences.
road to heaven dongba painting
road to heaven dongba painting

Road to Heaven(神路图)

 dongba paintingdongba painting 
Naxi Ancient Music

Simple and graceful in style, Naxi Ancient Music is subtle, euphonious and vibrant in character. Spend several hours in Lijiang, you can hear the celestial voices of Tang dynasty which has long died out in inland China. A bunch of senior-aged musicians with artifacts will bring you back to Tang, through the profound Heaven-worshiping tune or high-pitched and dreamy Wind-worship chanting.
Dongba Sculptures and Handicrafts
Wooden sculptures and handicrafts patterned with figures of Dongba religion make good gifts. You can also follow the routine by writing blessings on the wooden cards, it is said your dream will all come true.
dongba bell
 People write blessings on these wooden cards in Lijiang


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