Hemis Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Ladakh (in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir). Located 45 km from Leh, the 300 year old monastery is home to the famous Hemis festival which falls in June or July every year.
History of the festival
The Hemis Festival is celebrated to commemorate the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava who founded Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. Also known as Second Buddha, the festival is of huge importance to those celebrating.
Hemis is celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month in the Hemis Monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh.
The ceremonies begin with an early morning ritual atop the Gompa where, to the beat of drums and the resounding clash of cymbals and wail of pipes, the portrait of the sacred Guru Rinpoche (another name for the Guru) is brought forward so that all devotees can take blessings.
The most esoteric of festivities are the mystic mask dances. The Mask Dances of Ladakh are referred collectively as chams Performance.
At the Festival
A bevy of locals and tourists alike are seen making a beeline in local buses and cabs to the cosy monastery, clearly not equipped to handle the massive surge of humanity. Many travellers also camp outside the night before to get early entry and row side seats to the wonderful traditional dances.
Masked lamas perform elaborate dances, special music performances and commentaries in front of a large but intimate crowd. The half day ceremony is watched in awe by thousands. As a spectator try and get a seat as close to the main courtyard. These fill fast, so arrive at the festival as early as 7 in the morning. Tickets are available for Rs 500/- to sit very close to the performance. It is a great experience to sit and watch this marvellous show with the locals. They too, come dressed in their traditional cummerbunds and head gear for this annual ceremony.
Outside the monastery, the ambience is nothing short of a fair. Local food, artefacts and knick-knacks are on display. This is a good occasion to pick up local handicrafts as all merchants come and display their wares at the festival.
Related links and articles of interest:
Leh destination guide
Ladakh Rural Homestays
National Parks of India – Hemis National Park
Ladakh tourism: Things to do in this wild land of wonders
Many thanks to the photographers who share their images under the Creative Commons licence. All images link back to the original source.
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