Indulgence in the spirituality of Buddhism and a perfect blend of natural landscape, introduces us to Ladakh .The arid mountains draped with the white snow caps that covers the mountains all over, is scenically most soothing view captured through our naked eyes . The festivals of Ladakh pulls visitors flooding and buzzing across the place and with their ethnic religious aura glorify the cold desert.
The prayer flags fluttering across, with white washed stupas adds on to the beauty of the landscape . The Cham dance as a dance form, is a part of all the religious festivals in Ladakh. The dance always has a similar theme of good winning over evil and bringing about happiness. It is in this way the culture is still alive and is passed on from generation to generation.
Ladakh as mystical a place that it is, the flamboyancy of the festivals brings in good vibes.
Here are some unique festivals of Ladakh one must surely not miss.
1) Saka Dawa: May 20th 2016
Saka Dawa is a festival celebrated on the Birth of Buddha. It is a festival which celebrates him receiving enlightenment and attaining Parinirvana( Death). It is a festival which recalls and respects Shakyamuni’s Buddhahood and the death of his mortal body.
’Saga’ or ‘Saka’ is the name of a star prominent in the fourth lunar month of Tibetan calendar, and Dawa means month. This festival begins in May and ends in June.
The Saka Dawa month is dedicated in ‘making good deeds’. Early Buddhist teachings say that there are three grounds of meritorious action namely generosity (Dana),morality (sila),and meditation (bhavana).
Saka Dawa is denoted as a “Month of merits ”. In the 28 stars of Tibetan Astrology ‘Saka’ is the star which is the closest to the earth and is the most prominent one.
People from different villages gather at the centre of the city. Men and women are robed in their traditional attire.A procession is held and is aimed at connecting everyone to all the Buddhist teachings . Copies of old Buddhist Sutras from the monasteries are taken out in the yatra ,and the Ladakhis bow down to seek blessing of the sacred text .
One of the ritual involves not talking to anyone for 24 hours.
Pilgrims walk clockwise around the holy site chanting mantras such as,’White or Green Tara’ or ‘Om Mani Padme hum’ and light butter lamps. The significance of lighting lamps is to drive out spiritual darkness and visual darkness. Buddhist monasteries light lots of butter lamps all over which is visually the most beautiful sight.
2) Yuru Kabgyat : July 1st -2nd ,2016
Mystic mask dance and with clothes of colourful fabric ,the festival of Yuru Kabgyat is celebrated with great verve and zest .This festival is celebrated for two long days with spiritual zeal at Lamayuru located 127 km from Leh .There are visitors buzzing from all over the world to attend the festival of Yuru Kabgyat .
All the visitors and locals gather at the Leh Valley were the Buddhist Monks take part in the dance drama. The dance drama at Yuru Kabgyat consists of performance by the ‘Chams’. The dance is performed in circular motion, complemented with the rhythmic tempo of drums, cymbals,long pipes etc.
Mask drama dance is a vital ingredient of Buddhist festival .
The main character figure in the dance drama is the Yama (god of death) and Padmasambhava (second Buddha).
The colourful mask is made out of paper pulp which also has a thin coat of plaster on it, and the monks are dressed in the bright colour costume. The mask dance was stared in the 8th century, when the cham dance was commenced.
The main objective of this dance is to enchant the deity. It is also performed to get rid of dark evil spirit and protect the people from the natural calamities ,epidemics and ensure health and hygiene for the people and also pray for peace and well being .
3) Hemis Tsechu: July 14th and 15th, 2016
Hemis is one of the famous festivals of Ladakh that brings the air of colours in the cold desert . Dedicated to the birth of Lord Padmasambhava, Hemis is celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month .The dramatic masked performance depicting the tales of conflict between good and evil is dramatized with an enthusiastic dance performance. They are robed with colourful blazing costume and paper mache mask. The rhythmic tempo of cymbals, drums and trumpets sets up the celebration of Hemis early in the morning.
The pristine monasteries are draped with bright colour cloth flaring in the icy breeze .A beautiful dais is raised with luxuriant cushioned seats and delicately painted Tibetan table which is set up with ceremonia, cups of holy water ,uncooked rice , incense stick and tormas made of dough and butter .
The mystic dance performers are locally called as Chams .These chams performers are essentially part of Tantric tradition ,this performance is only presented in those gompas which practise Tantris Vajrayana teaching and monks perform Tantric worship.
Visitors who visit Ladakh at the time of Hemis are the lucky ones to experience the auspicious festival and the exclusive handicraft sold in the monastery. Tibetan jewellery, gems and antiques can also add to the interest of the visitors.
4) Stongday Gustor : July 22nd & 23rd ,2016
Ladakh is influenced by monastic festivals, one among them is Stongday Gustor .This festival is celebrated in the Stongday monastery in the Zanskar region of Ladhak.
Stongday is second largest monastery.
Sacred dance is performed by the monastery monks. Bright mask and colourful fabric are draped, and on the tempo of the drums and cymbals the monks perform the dance. This dance portrays a narrative storyline of the victory of good over the evil. The aura of this festival energizes the surrounding and brings in good vibes.
Festivals in fact are the best way to understand and feel the ladhaki culture .Scenically the visuals of the these festivals are so astounding that it magnetically pulls out people from the nook and corner of the world to land up at Ladakh.
5) Sanchukul Gustor: July 22nd – 23rd, 2016
Surrounded by the snow top mountains and located on the altitude of 14000ft dwelling in the serenity of the nature is the Sanchukul Monastery. Sanchukul village was constructed by Lama Choje Denma Kunga Dragpa. Around 70 monks reside inside the monastery. Majorly the festivals in Ladakh are based on the Monasteries and Gompas, one such festival is Sanchukul Gustor .
Gustor means ‘scarifies’ on the 29th day.
The festival is commenced with a unique dance performance, the monks participating in the dance drama wear black hat denoting the victory of good over the evil .They wear colourful masks portraying themselves as the Dharampals of Geluk – pa .The performance also narrates the story of killing the traitor king .The ceremony comes to an end with the offerings of sacrificial cake known as storma . Argham (killing )of the evil puppet is done by the leader of the dancer, this marks the killing of the evil forces .
6) Karsha Gustor : 31st July –Aug 1
Zanskar (Karsha Gustor) is localy also known as Spitok Gustor Zanskar Festival . The black hat dancers are symbolised as the defender of the divinities (Dharampalas ) and the angels of Geluk-pa. The objective of this dance is the re-portrayal of the assassination of the Tibetan rebellious king Lang–dar-ma, by the Buddhist monks.
The puppets of the evil forces are burnt at the end of the festival .
The leader of the dancer of the black hat performers is honoured to kill the evil force, which is also as Argham. This festival is held in the month of July. Other than Karsha this festival also takes place in Spitok and Thiksey .
7) Phyang Tsesdup : July 31st –Aug 1st ,2016
As a Mark of triumph and glory, festivals of Ladakh are unique in their own ways . One such festival is the Phyang Tsesdup .On the hills about 17km west of Leh is the Phyang Tesedup monastery. It is a Kadampa establishment and also one of the two monasteries with Dir- gung- pa order .
The start of the festival is commenced with prayers. Pilgrims visit the monastery to pay their regards to Skyabje Jigten Gombo .The conclusion of the festival is done by burning the storma on the final day. Highlight of the festival is the Thangka. It is a structure raised in the ceremony of Skyabje Jigten Gombo. He is the founder of the Dir-gung-pa order .This is one the most important festival of Buddhism.
Thangkas are Buddhist paintings which are found in all monasteries in Ladakh.
Tourists attend this festival with great zest and enjoy the mask dance, and also the beautiful exhibition of Thangka adds on the glory of the ladakhi festival and culture .
8) Ladakh Polo Festival : July 11th – 17th ,2016
Something different from a spititual festival and organised for the first time is the Ladakh Polo Festival. This festival will be held in the village Chushot of Leh district .This village is surrounded by the chains of mountain and dwelled in the serenity of nature away from the buzz of city life .
The significance of this festival is to make the visitors aware of the local games like polo, archery, folk music, folk dance, traditional art, local drama, authentic local cuisines which are available at this festival. Tourist can enjoy the Polo festival with the dramatic landscape of the nature and relish the authentic ladakhi summers.