World ? Asia ? India

Hemis Festival

Hemis Festival, Ladakh

1 - 2 Jul 2009 (annual)
Cost: Free
Hemis Gompa, one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Ladakh (Leh), bursts into colourful life on Guru Padmasambhava's birthday.
This annual two-day Buddhist festival is celebrated in splendid style in most monasteries throughout the subcontinent of India, and the celebrations at the Hemis Gompa, the biggest, wealthiest and one of the most important monasteries in the Buddhist world (long associated with the Ladakhi royal family), are particularly memorable.

The event revolves around a lavish and extended pantomime, initiated by a solemn parade of (mock) pre-lamaism priests, clad in rich robes of china silk and brocade (and odd tall tufted hats). Various stories are told - the essence being the fight of evil with good and the arrival of Buddhism to Ladakh. Sunset and sunrise are the best times to see all the colours against the stunning backdrop of the mountains. If wearing strange clothes isn't enough, these pantomimers then perform an endless dance to a cacophony of brass trumpets, cymbals and drums.

The event honours both the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava (who is responsible for introducing Buddhism to Nepal) and the ancient victory of Lamaism over Shamanism and other religious practices.

In Sikkim, the festival is observed for three days from the tenth day of DawaNapha, while in Ladakh, it is from the tenth day of DawaDunpha, so be aware that the exact dates will differ depending on where you are in the subcontinent. Wherever you are, however, the message of the festival is the same - symbolising the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and virtue over vice.
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