Drums, Horns, Cymbals and grotesque masks

The Hemis monastery is one of the oldest and the richest monasteries in Ladakh. It has a rich cultural heritage which boasts of a huge collection of Buddha statues made of copper, sacred thangkas and murals. The monastery has a huge courtyard flanked on one side by the temple which is known as “Tshogkhang” and the assembly hall on the other side known as “Dukhang”. It is here in this courtyard that the annual Hemis festival takes place. It is held on the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. The festival is generally celebrated in June with the dates being flexible as they follow the Tibetan calendar.

The day we went to the Hemis festival they had a religious head as their chief guest. The monks wearing elaborate head gear carried huge drums and cymbals lined the courtyard to welcome their guest.

It was a hot, scorching summer day as hundreds of visitors and photographers waited for the performance to begin. The roof of the monastery was lined with high powered cameras on their stands. A note to future visitors here. Please do carry hats, shades and lots of water!!

The most awaited sight is the mystic mask dances. The mask dances of Ladakh are known as Chams Performance. It was part of a tantric tradition performed by those monasteries that follow the tantric form of worship.

The dance started with a beating of drums and cymbals. Dancers wearing elaborate masks moved around the central flagpole. The movements are slow and measured bringing into stark contrast the grotesque and demonic looking masks they wear.

The dance performance carries on for over 2 hours. Once it was over we roamed around the temple. The walls are covered with beautiful frescoes. Spend some time sitting in the solitude of the temple.

On a separate note I must mention one thing that has been on my mind ever since I read “The Rozabal Line”. It is rumoured that the Hemis has, in its secret archives, certain documents that say that Jesus of Nazareth visited India between the ages of 12 to 30 during his so called missing years of the Bible. Whatever be the case Hemis monastery is famous in its own right as one of the most revered ones in the region.

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The Hemis festival of June 2016 is even more important as it is considered to be the Kumbh Mela of the Himalayas and happens only once in 12 years.

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