Last week (July 14 and 15, 2016), I was standing above 13,000 feet in the center courtyard of a 344 year monastery of the Drukpa order. Tucked deep in a hidden valley flanked by mighty high Himalayan peaks, this place is home to the Hemis monastery and one that is the traditional venue for the Hemis festival, which is held in honour of Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) – the founder of the Drukpa lineage.
This is one of those unique festivals where you get to see Buddhist monks dance to a tune of traditional music and religious scripts. Over 2 days, nearly all of Ladakh’s action seems to get diverted here as locals and tourists alike come to see the vibrant and colorful masked dancers enthral the audience. What made this festival even more special this year was its Kumbha mela like status where they revealed a 400 year old silk thangka painting of Guru Padmasambhava amidst lots of fanfare and deep spiritual resonance. This embroidered thangka is revealed only once every 12 years and hence this year’s summer festival of Ladakh was even more special.
I had traveled all the way from Bangalore to Leh just to attend this festival. After a brief acclimatization stint at Leh, I parked myself right in the media corner of this ancient monastery and got to see this sensational festival up close. Here are 20 vibrant pictures of this amazing Hemis Monastery Festival from my media corner.
One of the more scary masks from the festival, this represents Guru Dorje Drolod, one of the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava.
This is the silk thangka of Guru Rinpoche that gets unveiled once every 12 years and one that was shown to the public for a few hours on the 1st day of this festival.
Monks of all age groups attended this festival. I like this photograph a lot as it symbolizes a spiritual look towards heaven.
Monks dressed in colorful attire and playing the gyaling, the traditional ritual clarinets of Ladakh.
The Hemis festival was not all about monks, masks and dancing, but also about the locals who came out decked in full traditional attire.
A smiling masked performer started the Hemis monastery festival’s dance sessions.
The entire festival followed a religious script and it included monks of all ages from the Drukpa lineage of the Hemis monastery.
The monks corner of Hemis monastery. The monks of the Drukpa lineage (you can make them out by their traditional caps) came out in huge numbers to watch their brethren perform.
Guru Padma Vajra, one of the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche enthralling the crowd.
The creases and wrinkles of an elderly Ladakhi woman.
A young monk playing the drums and also doubled up as a singer.
Even the monks seemed to be bitten by the phone camera bug!
Every monk seemed to have come out in their finest attire and look. This handsome looking monk seemed to catch the attention of my lens.
The Hemis festival is full of color, drama and action.
The Dakinis or the divine fairies represented through these monks wearing the brass masks.
A Black Hat Dancer and his tantric dress.
A monk carrying a big traditional music instrument right before the start of the dance performances.
Young monks of the Drukpa lineage were also an integral part of the audience.
A pure and innocent look. This adorable young monk captured my attention amidst a sea of red/maroon.
The Eight Manifestations of Padmasambhava, one of the more important performances of the Hemis Monastery Festival.