Hemis Monastery situated in Ladakh is one of the oldest establishments in India, dating back to the 11th century. The monastery is significant in hosting the unique “Hemis Festival” and is also listed among the World Heritage sites of UNESCO. The festival is celebrated to mark the birth anniversary of Lord Padmasambhava. Tibetans and Buddhists worship him as their holy religious leader, also known as Guru Rimpoche.
It is a two-day festival flanked with rituals, traditional dances, and songs and the display of the local handicrafts and souvenirs. The Tibetans follow the Lunar Calendar and hence the festival dates are decided based on the 10th day of the calendar i.e. the month of June.
The big courtyard of the monastery is known as the Hemis Gompa. It is situated in the middle and hosts the main center stage of the festival. The main theme of the festival is to demolish the demons and establish prosperity through the blessings of God and His deities.
Lord Padmasambhava’s Thangka
Every 12th year of the Hemis festival is known to be very auspicious since on that year the famous Thangka of Lord Padmasambhava is displayed to the public in a worldly fashion. Thangka is noteworthy due to the paintings of Lord Buddha and its deities on a cotton or silk cloth. The Thangka of Padmasambhava is majestic and its length resembles almost a two-storeyed building. Many tourists and devotees often select the 12th year to pay a visit to the monastery and be a part of the authentic holy moment. It is amazing to watch the Thangka, embellished with gems, pearls, and stones, being unfurled in front of thousands of audience.
The Cham or the Mask Dance
The dance is performed by the Lamas or the priests of the monastery and is the main attraction of the festival. The dancers cover their faces with masks and are known as “Chams”. The masks are bright and colorful, each depicting a certain mythological story or event. The performers wear vibrant colored costumes and dance along with the rhythmic and melodious beats of the traditional musical instruments. The steady movements of the dancers and the harmonious sounds of the drums and the trumpets create a magical atmosphere filled with spirituality and serenity. The dance is performed with the objective to ward off evils and usher in goodwill and peace in the world.
A special Padmasambhava dance is performed to demonstrate the downfall of Ruta demons in the presence of Yama and Guru Orakpo.
The religious ceremony commences early morning wherein Lord Padmasambhava is first worshipped. The head of the monks presides over the entire event. The celebrations are followed thereafter, in the midst of the musical beats. It is wonderful to soothe the ears along with the flowing tunes of the cymbals, the drums, and the trumpets. A lively environment is created all around astonising the visitors with its splendour and magnificence. Different plays are also performed at the center stage especially portraying the lives of Lord Buddha and the deities. The visitors are also entertained by serving the local liquor called “Chang”. The locals deck up themselves with their bright traditional attires and ornaments to celebrate along with family and friends. Other than the Cham dance, the Devil dance is also equally famous. Few of the dances describe the mythological stories and also illustrations from the Tibetan fables. Many stalls and shops are set up inside the monastery grounds where the tourists crowd to buy the locally made handicrafts, jewellery, dresses, and other artifacts.
How to Reach
The nearest airport is Leh. The nearest railway station is Jammu Tawi. Private and public buses are available from Srinagar to Leh. Cabs are also available in plenty to reach the monastery.
Every year thousands of tourists from all over the world arrive at the Hemis festival to witness the spectacular celebrations. Along with the festivities, the visitors and the locals spent a good amount of time in shopping the antique and ethnic objects sold at the stalls. The festival imbibes a sense of inner strength and purity to lead life with simplicity and honesty. After the chilling snow covered winters in the Leh-Ladakh region, the festival brings in positive spirit and a sense of respite and pleasure.