If you are someone who loves to travel, then Ladakh has to be in your bucket list and I’m no exception. Since, teenage I always wanted to go to Leh, Ladakh and witness the serene beauty with my own eyes. And, that dream finally came true a few days ago!
As luck would have it, not only did I got a chance to visit one of the most beautiful place in the World but also cover one of the oldest festival of India which dates to the 8th century. The Hemis festival is held at the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh every year for two days. It is organized by the Drukpa Order of the Himalayas to celebrate the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the 8th century Indian saint who spread Vajrayana Buddhism throughout the Himalayas. His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, the spiritual representative to His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, blessed the event and its participants.
The festival traditionally attracted sect followers but now has grown to become one of the biggest festival bringing in travellers, tourists, devotees and followers in masses from across the world. I met a lot of foreigners at the festival and an interesting couple from Florida, USA who have been coming each year since 1995. They too personally went to meet His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche and take his blessings after the event.
To commemorate this event, participants dress in their traditional attire and decorate the town in symbols of Ladakhi culture and heritage. The first day of the festival featured the monks of the Drukpa Order performing ‘Chams’ – an ancient mask dance performed to the sounds of cymbals, drums and long horn as they recite stories associated with the Drukpa Buddhism. A series of ‘Chams’ performed in a sequence demonstrate the victory of good over evil, which was the central theme of the festival and highly resonant in our world today. The performers wear colourful and elaborate costumes with brightly painted masks and delivered a highly moving performance that moved slowly into a crescendo as the healing scent of herbal incense filled the atmosphere – making it a unique visual and emotional experience for the audience.
More than 20,000 people from a cross section of Ladakhi society and visitors from various countries joined the festivities. In addition to the traditional ‘Chams’, the monks also recreated a representation of the eight different forms of Guru Padmasambhava, representing good over evil. The first day of the Hemis Festival was dedicated to the traditional dances and representations of the eight different forms of Padmasambhava. On the following day monks continued with their traditional performances on various instruments and exhibited the thangka-painting of silk patchwork of the great Gyelsey Rinpoche, grandson of the great Ladakhi King Senge Namgyal. The monks assembled for the worship of Maharaja Pehara, a protector of Buddhist teaching, with eleven senior monks as part of his retinue – a great honor.
His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche and His Eminence Khamdrak Rinpoche Jigme Tenzin Wangpo, advisor and chairperson of the Naropa Festival 2018 flagged off the official countdown to the grand festival to be held in September this year.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I am lucky to have got an opportunity to be in Leh at the time of Hemis Festival and witness the holy festival. I learnt so much about the Drupka lineage, Ladakhi culture, Drupka Buddhism and even the upcoming Naropa festival. I really hope that I get once in a life opportunity to witness the grandeur of Naropa festival which honours the millennial birth anniversary of the 11th century Indian Saint Naropa and is the biggest spiritual gathering in the region. This year an extremely rare and sacred relic from the lineage of Naropa, never shown before to the public, will be put on display for visitors.
If you plan to go Leh, Ladakh then visiting the Hemis Monastery is most recommended. Also, if you happen to be there in summers then definitely attend the Hemis festival and if you visit in September then Naropa festival is a must.
For all those who have attended either of the festivals or the monastery then do let us know in the comments section below or leave a comment on our social media channels.
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