The Unique Hemis Festival at Ladakh
Hemis Festival, 2022, begins today on the 8th of July, at Ladakh’s Hemis Monastery and will end tomorrow. It is a unique festival and is famous in spite of Ladakh’s extreme weather conditions. Every year it takes place in June or July (the 10th day of the fifth month of the Tibetan Lunar Calendar). The purpose is to commemorate the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava or Rinpoche. He was a tantric Buddhist monk from India; who established the Tantric form of Buddhism (Vajrayana) in Tibet in the 8th or 9th century. The Hemis Monastery is the 11th-century monastery of Drukpa lineage (Red Hat Sect of Buddhism), restored in 1672 AD.
The Hemis Festival
The two-day festival begins with rituals performed by the chief monk in association with other monks and a huge thangka of Guru Rinpoche, woven in silk and brocades is hung from the top of the Monastery. The display of this precious thangka is an essential part of the Hemis Festival. Then follow the series of mask dances (Chham) performed by the monks in the courtyard. The dances make the festival so distinctive and mystical. These special dances represent driving away ‘the unholy’. Ritualistic chants, the beating of drums, the clashing of cymbals, and the wailing of conches and Tibetan horns create a magical environment of festivity.
The Mask Dances of Hemis Festival
Each dance at the Hemis Festival represents a story. From all across the globe keen visitors, whether Buddhists or non-Buddhists come to attend the festival; devotees, travelers, photographers, and filmmakers; especially to be an audience to this dance.
The dance of the 4 Gomas or Gatekeepers is meant to bind the evil spirits so that they cannot escape. The dancers are dressed in vibrant brocade attires and wear huge wooden masks with skulls on top. The Dharmapalas, the guardians of the truth also dance to keep the teachings of the Buddha protected from impurities. Dancers are seen in Buddha masks too.
The dance of the 5 Chemchog Heruka represents the fierce form of Guru Rinpoche/ Padmasambhava. It is believed to eliminate evil with wrath and liberate the land. Then there is the dance of the 4 Lords of the Graveyards who celebrate the death of immorality. They rejoice to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. They wear large wooden masks which look like skulls. Their attires also have bone-like designs woven on them to make them look like skeletons. The dance festival ends with the Black Hat Dance by 13 monks. They close the dance with a ritual of protecting the land and making a sacred arena where evil can’t pervade.
Photo courtesy: Outlook.com and India.com
Take Away from the Hemis Festival
The pivotal point of the iconic Hemis Festival is the idea of the triumph of good over evil. Witnessing the Hemis Festival is an experience in itself. The monks of the Hemis Monastery rehearse hard before the festival. The Hemis Monastery is 45kms from Leh, the capital of Ladakh. It is the largest and richest Gompa or Buddhist Monastery in the Ladakh Region. Perched on a cliff, at a height of 12000 feet above sea level; the rooftop of this Himalayan monastery offers a spectacular panoramic view of the rugged mountains and the vast valley. Besides the scenic beauty, the intricate and colorful murals of the monastery, the temples of Lord Buddha and Guru Padmasambhava, Hemis Museum, and the huge golden Buddha statue on a hilltop near Hemis Monastery are the things to see at Hemis Monastery.
A similar article was published at Monkatforty.
A versatile writer and travel freak, discovering the world in her own casual way. Loves to immerse into the core of Mother Nature and extract her inherent beauty.
13 thoughts on “The Unique Hemis Festival at Ladakh”
Oh wow! It certainly looks very unique. What a sight to see with those masks and costumes. It looks like a fabulous little festival.
I would love to attend that festival. These are the kinds of events I always love when I travel. They’re a wonderful way to experience the true culture of a country.
Just the views look like it would be worth a visit. But getting to see something as special as the festival, especially since it’s such a short one, would be amazing!
I do love culture and learning about different cultures and ceremonies. This sounds like an amazing event to see and be part of
It must have been amazing to go see the festival first hand. The costumes look great, they’re so colourful.
I love the message of the festival but moreover all those incredible colours and costumes what a feast for the ideas!
I’ve never been to Ladakh but I would love to go to these amazing festivals like Hemis…I can’t can’t wait…
The festivals must be such an incredible and special experience. Looks like a truly memorable festival.
What an amazing festival – there is so much meaning behind and the vibrant colours make it just look incredible.
Such a significant and beautiful festival! I do hope I can visit the Hemis Festival one day when I visit Ladakh
I am sure articulating such a vibrant event in words must have been tough. But beautifully presented.
Those masks are really interesting! Thank you for sharing this festival, I had never heard of it before.
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