Article by Mathew Thottungal
Is Ladakh Festivities Larger than Life Extravaganza?
Well the Ladakh region is famed for its high mountain ranges, trekking, rafting trails and snow leopards. But it’s the annual Ladakh festivities that showcase the splendor and the cultural effervescence of the region, truly making the event a larger than life event for all the visitors who come calling each year. Kalpana Chatterjee takes a snapshot and shares some of her perspectives on the cultural life in the region…
Each of the Gompas of Ladakh have an annual festival attached to it, which is not only colorful but attracts a sizeable number of tourists and natives to it. What is unique about it that draws in the crowd each year?
After a long harsh winter of about six months , Ladakh primes itself for ushering tourists from far away countries for trekking, rafting ,
sightseeing and exploring the region. Ladakh as a region is dotted with monasteries called the Gompas. The Gompas and their annual festivals bear testimony to the opulence and the unending faith the people of Ladakh bestow upon their religion and customs. These fairs and festivals offer various shades of life, which in turn connects the past with the present .The Tibetan calendar is marked by a plethora of such festivals. Every monastery has a long and rich traditional past and every festival has a significant story to unravel. The resident monks of the monastery, dress to the occasion and enact these stories which are unique and specific to the protocols of the monastery. The costumes, the story telling are the highlights of the programme. She feels that during her stay over the last year or so, she has had the privilege of witnessing a large number of these festivals.
Chham dancers form the core of the festivities, with monks who form the base of the dancers wearing colorful masks dancing away to glory. Is there any folklore and tradition attached to the dance form or it’s a ritual performed by not only the monks but the others too? Comment
Chham is performed by the monks of the monastery. Chham dances depict short stories of victory of good over evil, and they are all depicted in several stages, wearing different masks, headgears, costumes comprising of colourful layers of aprons and robes. Sometimes the Chhams go on for hours and even days. It is performed in the courtyards of the monasteries before a large gathering of spectators (foreigners and locals). Chham and its variations are dependent on the sect of the hosting monastery, the religious occasion, the traditions of the particular monastery and of course, its history. The main purpose of this dance is to pacify the divine power, to kill the ‘evil king’ and protect the people from the wrath of natural calamities, diseases and epidemics and safeguard the health, happiness and prosperity for the people of the region. The Chham dance has a spiritual and religious significance too it.
What is the most popular festival in Ladakh from the large number of festival in the region? Why do you consider some festival to be more popular than the others, does it mean its uniqueness and flavor appeals to the crowds or what’s the sense of the popularity that you see about it?
The two day Hemis Festival is one of the oldest religious carnivals. It is an extraordinary cultural fiesta to discover the best of Ladakh culture and heritage. The Monastery is believed to be 300 years old and also the richest. The Hemis monastery takes great pride in the display of the two-story high ‘Thanka’ (is a painting on silk with embroidery, usually depicting a Buddhist deity) of the monastery. The Thanka is beautifully embroidered with pearls and semi-precious stones, and depicts Guru Padmasambhava. It is unfurled only once in
twelve years. A large number of monks perform the Mask dances here in batches of about 12 -15 in the large courtyard. Prior bookings are also done for Hemis, as it is the only monastery which attracts the largest number of foreign tourists. Moreover, it’s a photographer’s paradise too.
The Hemis festival has Colour, Grandeur, Action, and has a fair blend of it all. A colourful fair, displaying some beautiful handicrafts, is also one of the special highlights of the festival. Country liquor made of fermented Barley is considered as the flavor of festival and is served as part of the celebrations.
It is during the festivals, we see the splendor of the cultural effervescence. One cannot help being amazed at the loud merry making and the constant liveliness that is prevalent as part of the festivities. Adding to colour and flamboyance of the festival is the backdrop of a religious undercurrent. It is this facet of human behavior amongst the locals with the grandeur of Chham dancers and the Buddhist chants that seem to make the event larger than life!