Lamas, robed in colourful garments and wearing masks, perform mimes which often portray the triumph of good over evil
It would be unfair to just sum Ladakh’s appeal by terming it a beautiful and serene tourist destination. The true magnetism of the place lies in the wide variety of its festivals, all of which are a perfect concoction of ancient customs, rich culture and celebration of life in the form of feasting, music, dance, fun and frolic.
The highlights of most of these festivals are the dance dramas – Chhams — performed by Lamas wearing vibrant clothes and formidable masks. Choreographed as per ancient customs and considered ritual offerings to the holy deities of the monasteries, these colourful dances make for an unforgettable experience for the visitors.
The popular themes include the victory of good over evil or some special stories related to great Lamas where their supernatural powers are demonstrated or the stories related to Guru Padmasambhava. These festivals also provide visitors with an opportunity to see all murals, images and idols, which are otherwise hid behind veils, in these monasteries.
While summers are known for its archery and thanksgiving events, dull winters are brightened up by celebrations of most of its religious festivals. Travel.india.com brings to you some of the famous festivals of the region.
The two-day Hemis Festival is the most popular festival of Ladakh, celebrated at the 300-year-old monastery of Hemis Jangchub Choling near Leh. It celebrates the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the saviour of the local people from the wrath of demons. He is believed to be the second Buddha and brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet.
Cham dances are considered a form of meditation and an offering to the gods
The enthralling dance dramas by Lamas dressed in traditional clothes and century old masks, accompanied by music from drums and long horns, adds to the charm of the festival. Visitors can also indulge in some exquisite shopping during the festival since artisans from all across Ladakh come to sell handicrafts and other commodities here.
Every Tibetan year of monkey, which comes after every 12 years and is considered to be the Guru’s birth year, is celebrated with the unveiling of a two-storey high ‘Thangka’ of Padmasambhava. Thangka is either painted or richly embroidered with pearls and semi-precious stones. It is due to be exhibited in 2016.
Losar festival, which has its origin in the 15th century, celebrates the Ladakhi or Tibetan New Year. It is regarded as the most
important socio-religious event of Ladakh.
Many monastery festivals take place in winter, a relatively idle time for majority of the people
The festival is marked by making offerings to the Gods, both in Gompas and their shrines. The celebrations are an amalgamation of ancient rituals, staged dance dramas, the dance of the Ibex deer and lots of music, dance and revelry for the people. The auspicious images of the Ibex deer and other symbols are made on the door, walls of kitchen and wooden columns to welcome the New Year.
Watching the popular “Metho” ceremony, where hundreds of people carrying flaming torches and chanting prayers parade through the streets to chase away evil spirits and hungry ghosts, is an experience of a lifetime. These blazing torches, which are eventually thrown away, are supposed to ward off the evil and is a spectacular way to bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new.
The festivities are spread over two weeks during the eleventh month of the Buddhist year, which can mean November, December or January. The dates and the location change every year.
Dosmoche Festival, also called the festival of the Scapegoat, is the other New Year festival celebrated with a lot of fanfare at Leh. The festival, which falls in the second half of February, is celebrated by ceremonious burning or casting away of ritual figures made of dough (scapegoats). It is believed that these scapegoats carry the evil spirits or negative energy of the old year and cleanse the towns to greet the New Year. A grand wooden mast, decorated with streamers and religious emblems, is put up outside Leh to celebrate the mood.
Prayer ceremony, modelled after the Great Prayer ceremony of Lhasa (Mon-lam), is an integral part of the festival. It is followed by sacred dances by Lamas selected from various monasteries of the region. The followers chant prayers to thwart off the evil spirits and seek protection from forthcoming natural calamities.
Phyang festival is considered special since it exhibits the Thangka of ‘Skyabje Jigten Gombo’ every year, unlike the Hemis where Thangka is exhibited once in 12 years. Skyabje Jigten Gombo is the founder of the “Dri-gung-pa” monastic order. The festival is celebrated on the second and third day of the sixth Tibetan month, which falls in July-August. Cultural ‘Chhams’ are organised and votive offerings are burnt on the last day to celebrate the festival.
It is not just monastery festivals that are part of Ladakh’s cultural landscape, the region also hosts Sindhu Darshan Festival and the Ladakh Festival.
Sindhu Darshan Festival
The Sindhu Darshan festival is celebrated with a lot of vigour by the people of Ladakh to stress the importance of River Sindhu (Indus) as the cradle of Indian civilization. The River is considered a symbol of India’s unity, cultural identity and communal harmony.
Thousands of devotees come to pray and take a dip in the River Indus, which originates from the Mansarovar – the holy abode of Lord Shiva — in Tibet.
The festival showcases various facets of the Indian culture and serves as a platform for several performing arts. Artists from many parts of the country are brought together by the Jammu Kashmir government, with the help of Ministry of Tourism and Culture, to create a vibrant and fun-filled atmosphere.
The festival also pays respect to the valiant soldiers who laid down their lives while fighting at Siachen, Kargil and other places. This festival was initiated in the year 1997 and is now organized annually at Leh in the month of May-June.
Organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism to showcase Ladakhi culture, the festival is celebrated over 15 days across the region. Usually slated between September 1-15, the festival is a heady cocktail of vibrant and colourful folk dances, music, theatre, polo and archery competitions. The final carnival parade, which highlights the rich and cultural diversity of Ladakh, passes through the streets of Leh and promises to be an unforgettable experience for the spectator as well as the participants. Artists from across the state come with their art and handicraft items to participate in the fairs widely appreciated by tourists.
Most of Ladakh festivals are held in the courtyard of monasteries and it is believed shower blessings on onlookers too