Why Ladakh's Hemis Festival is a must-visit
The Hemis Festival is a colourful two-day affair that falls on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar month.
I had planned my Ladakh trip in sync with the Hemis Festival as I wanted to witness the extravagant festival of the region. 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.
Situated 40 kms from Leh, the Hemis Monastery is the Principal Gompa of the state. The main venue and stage for this festival is the courtyard of Hemis Gompa. We decided to sit in the free seating area and were fortunate to find a central place exactly next to the stairs from where the dancers were to make their entry.
We had reached there by 11am, the sun was on our head and that's when we realised that summer afternoons in Ladakh can be really scorching. Fanning ourselves, we waited for almost two hours for the show to start. We took time to visit the museum in the monastery complex, which has an impressive collection of artifacts related to Buddhism, collected from all across central Asia through centuries. The Head Priest directs the entire festival.
In my opinion, the most esoteric of festivities are the Mystic Masked Dancers — referred collectively as Chams Performances that illustrate good prevailing over bad. These masks are the most fundamental component of the dance. Each colourful mask depicts a different figure in the legend that's being portrayed. 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. Priests play the music with traditional instruments like long horns, drums and cymbals. The masks have a strong Tibetan influence, which is widespread throughout the region.
Another highlight is the display of a large and precious Thangka of the Guru, this is a large piece of cloth almost 22 feet in height which has the portrait of the Guru woven in a bright colour and the finest silk. The festival is a must-visit for the discerning traveller.
To get an insight in the culture of Ladakh plan your next trip coinciding with the Hemis Festival.
This year the festival was held on June 26 and 27.