If you happen to visit Ladakh in the summer try your best to align your holiday with the Hemis Festival. The festival commemorates the birth of the revered Guru Padamasambhava who is said to have brought the tantric form of Buddhism to the Himalayan kingdom. Every 12th year, known as the Tibetan year of the Monkey, the Hemis Festival dons an even more festive and auspicious look.
Normally each year there is a celebration at the monastery but in the year 2016 it will be 1000 years to the 11th century Buddhist saint Naropa’s visit to Ladakh, therefore Hemis will witness an extended two day long cultural extravaganza. The date of the Hemis Festival changes every year depending on when it falls on the tenth day of the Lunar calendar of the Tibetan month and in the year 2016 it falls on the 14th and 15th of July.
The festival is celebrated each year at the ancient Buddhist monastery of Hemis that belongs to the Drukpa lineage. The monastery lies 45 km from Leh and is home to more than 500 monks and plays host to hundreds of devotees and tourists eager to be a part of this spectacular Festival. The Festival in all its opulence and glory is a riot of colours. The elaborate costumes, colourful masks and dramatic dance performances by the monks attract multitudes of travellers from around the world.
The crowd gathers in the main courtyard of the monastery where they watch the Cham dancers perform. The monks in their traditional silk costumes and brightly painted masks perform the traditional Cham dance around the central flag pole to the sounds of the cymbals, long horns and drums. Cham are essentially a part of the tantric traditions and are performed only in monasteries that follow the tantric Vajrayana teachings. Every mask has its own place in the Tibetan and Buddhist legends signifying things like the good, the evil, divinity, humility etc.
On display after 12 years is the very beautiful ancient 12 m long Thangka( religious painting) which all can see hanging from the fourth floor of the monastery. Make the most of your visit and explore the monastery, talk to the monks and guides to find out more about the myths and legends associated with the monastery. It is believed that Jesus meditated here in the 12 years that he was missing. Check out the various stalls set up outside the monastery selling handicrafts and souvenirs.
Known as the Kumbh Mela of the Himalayas, Hemis Festival aims to bring together, in mind and spirit, people from different sects of Buddhism and from across the globe to witness this beautiful spectacle.
The Hemis Festival provides a great opportunity to witness this ancient monastery in all its splendour and get to see so much activity and festivity in an otherwise quiet and serene atmosphere.