Celebrating Ladakh’s oldest tradition: Hemis Festival

This place called Leh is an epitome for travelers who are in search of solace. These magnificent mountains and expansive monasteries gives you a reality check, it asks you loud – Who are you? How do you manage these emotions? Have you ever been trapped in such thoughts when you visited a place.

When you look back into the history, some places still look very primitive as well as pure to us. Why? It is because these places have preserved their traditions and time again they joyfully transfer them to their next generation. I had planned my Ladakh trip in sync with the Hemis Festival as I wanted to witness the extravagant festival of the region on 23-24 June 2018.

hemis festival leh ladakh roots

Situated 40 kms from Leh, the Hemis Monastery, we decided to grab the free seats by 11 am and were fortunate to find a central place exactly next to the stairs from where the dancers were to make their entry. Summer afternoons in Ladakh can be really scorching, so do carry hats and wear proper sunscreen. We waited for almost two hours for the show to start by the Head Priest, who directs the entire festival.

hemis festival leh ladakh roots

hemis festival leh ladakh roots

The Hemis Festival is a colourful two-day affair that falls on the 10th day (called Tse-Chu in the local language) of the Tibetan Lunar month. This festival is a celebration of the birth anniversary of spiritual leader Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibet Tantric Buddhism. The so-called Cham dance performance, a mask dance which is a part of Tantric Buddhism, is performed only in monasteries following the Tantric teachings.

hemis festival leh ladakh roots

The real spectacle is provided by the masked performers wearing horns, multicoloured ribbons and brocade clothes that shine bright in June sun. Each colourful mask depicts a different figure in the legend that’s being portrayed.

hemis festival leh ladakh roots

hemis festival leh ladakh roots
Source: Namgail Tsaskhan

Priests play the music with traditional instruments like long horns, drums and cymbals. The music starts on a slow note and quickly picks up pace as the narrative becomes intense.

hemis festival leh ladakh roots

The Padmasambhava Dance, which shows the conquest of the ruta demons, includes Yama — the God of Death, and the blackhatted sorcerer, Guru Trakpo — the vanquisher of all demons. The music keeps building up to a hair-raising climax when the leader of the Black Hat dance strikes down the devil’s idols in combat victory.

It takes place for 2 days and people come from all over Ladakh to watch and take part in the various ceremonies. It is a wonderful opportunity to mingle with the locals, watch them in their devotional prayers, and exchange cultures and ideas. The Ladakhi people are so kind, welcoming, warm-hearted, curious and interested and you will never hear a loud or angry word from them.

The festival is a must-visit for a traveler who is seeking to explore and add various experiences to cherish in this life.

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