Making a trip to Leh Ladakh soon?
Gigantic colourful masks, traditional dancing and singing are a common sight at the many cultural festivities that take place in the Leh region.
Leh is the former capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, now the Leh district in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. In terms of area it is the second largest district in the country, after Kutch, Gujarat. The town is dominated by the ruined Leh Palace, the former mansion of the royal family of Ladakh, built in the same style and about the same time as the Potala Palace. It was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India, during the 1959 Tibetan uprising.
Heavily influenced by Buddhist and Tibetan culture, Leh has an abundance of monastic festivals. Though many festivals feature similar types of celebrations and tend to revolve around the celebration of life and rituals to ward off evil and attract peace, they each possess a deep and rich history of their own often held in memory of the great Monks who founded their monastery.
Dosmochey is celebrated in the Leh, Liker and Deskit monasteries. Among them, the Leh Dosmochey, a two day celebration in the courtyards of the Leh palace, is the most well known. Monks from different monasteries perform the Chams every year turn by turn. The festival takes place at the end and the beginning of the Tibetan New Year. The monks of the Takthok monastery prepare offerings of thread crosses that are believed to restrain all evil and guard against natural disaster. On the second day, the offerings are taken out of the town in a procession accompanied by people whistling to ward off evil spirits.
2. Matho Nagrang
Celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month of the Tibetan calander, the Matho Nagrang is a festival of the Matho monastery, the only monastery of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. During the two days, mask dances are performed by monks of the monastery wearing colorful silk brocaded robes and masks representing the different forms of God and Goddesses. The festival is famous because of appearance of the two oracles during the festival after full month meditation in complete isolation. The two oracles appear in the courtyard accompanying mask dancers and predict future events and people from far and away come to seek advice to perform ritual to tackle with disasters.
3. Stok Guru Tsechu
The monks of the Stok and Spituk monasteries celebrate the festival of Stok Gruru Tsechu for two days with mask dances. During the festival two laymen are dressed as oracles and are prepared by the monks to receive the spirit of the deities.
4. Hemis Festival
The Hemis Festival is one of the most famous monastic festivals held to commemorate the birth of Guru Padma Sambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. The sacred dramatic dance of life is performed wearing masks and colorful brocaded robes. During the festival, a four storey traditional painting of Guru Padma Sambhava is hung in the courtyard along with other precious paintings.
5. Thiksey, Karsha and Spituk Gustor
The monasteries of Thiksey, Spituk and Karsha celebrate Gustors, which are two day festivals. The celebration marks the victory of the good over evil. The masks worn by the dancers represent the Guardians, Protectors and Gods & Goddesses. The festival culminates in the symbolic assassination of evil by burning a representative effigy.
6. Ladakh Festival
The Ladakh Festival takes place in Leh on a large scale with an inaugral procession of various cultural troupes from different part of Ladakh. The procession passes through the Leh Market accompanied by dancing and singing with traditional music while dressed in colourful traditional Ladakhi dresses. The 15 day festival also includes Archery, Polo, mask dances from the monasteries and traditional dances by cultural troupes from Villages. In addition there is a series of musical concerts and dance programs in Leh town.
7. Yuru Kabgyat
The Yuru Kabgyat is a two day festival held at the Lamayuru monastery near Leh. Like most of the other monastic festivals, Monks perform traditional mask dances, prayers and rituals to get rid of disaster and bring peace to the world.
8. Phyang Tsedup
During the Phyang Tsedup celebrations, monks wearing colorful brocade robes and masks perform traditional dances. A huge Thanka (a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, or silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala) of Skyoba Giksten Gonbo, founder of the Degungpa way of teaching, is hung in the courtyard during the festival.
The Losar festival is a month long celebration, during which Gods, deities, ancestors and even animals are fed without fail. Images of an Ibex are put up as an auspicious symbol while walls of the kitchens are dotted which are believed to bring prosperity in the coming year. The Metho (procession of fire) takes place with people chanting slogans to chase away ghosts and evil spirits. They later return with rocks of ice as an auspicious symbol which are then stored carefully. In some villages there is a tradition of making old snowmen/women, which last for about a week. People of all ages celebrate this festival with family members getting together to celebrate with a tradition of filling a cup of tea, with their name, for even members who are absent.
10. Sindhu Darshan
The Sindhu Darshan is a three day festival held in Shey Manla around 8 kms. from Leh on the bank of the Indus river. It was first organized in October 1997, as a symbol of unity, communal harmony and national integration. Along with the promotion of domestic tourism in Ladakh, it is also a symbolic salute to the brave soldiers of India who have been battling both humans and the natural elements. During this festival artists from different parts of the country perform traditional dances and people from all religions, castes and regions participate.