Ladakh, the Land of high passes is of no doubt famous for its serene and tranquil natural beauty but is also the land of colorful fairs and vibrant festivities and a trip to Ladakh is incomplete without attending at least one of these traditional feats in the form of festivals in various monasteries. Starting from Losar, the new year of Ladakh, and every significant occasion for the local is transformed into a huge celebration making it a festival. Marriage ceremony, flowering season, harvesting season, Ladakh festival and annual festivals of the different monasteries are some of the important fairs and festivities of Ladakh. Of all these, Chhams or Religious mask dances performed during annual festivals of monasteries is an important part of Ladakh's cultural and religious life. All major Ladakhi monasteries hold annual dance festivals. The most famous among them is the world-famous festival at the Hemis monastery, a leading centre of the Drukpa tradition of Buddhism as well as at the Phyang and Lamayuru monastery belonging to the Drikung Kargyu School.
Chhams or mask dances provide a spectacular show, performed by lamas in the Monastery courtyard to celebrate religious festivals, demonstrating perfect foot work and grace. The performers or costumed Lamas with gaily painted masks, ceremonial swords and sparkling jewels, leap and swing to the rhythm of resounding drums, trumpeting of horns and chanting of monks enacting a story of good winning over evil. The masks often resemble legendary creatures or illustrate the various moods of the gods. This dance which is accompanied by music played by monks using traditional Tibetan instruments is usually performed by a few selected sects of Buddhism. There are at times as many as 15-20 performers on the open-air stage with the audience sitting as close as possible. The performers mix with the crowd and bless the onlookers. Villagers from the surrounding district gather at a common place to contribute auspicious offerings to the lama or monastery and to witness the Chhams and festivities that last for several days. Another special feature during this festival is the trade fair held at the base of the monasteries, in which villagers from all over Ladakh as well as the tourists assemble to shop and trade items and socialize.
Some famous annual festivals of monasteries:
Hemis Festival ( Summer)
Located in Leh, this Gompa was founded in 1430 by King Tashi Namgyal of Ladakh, it has a three-story high gold idol of Maitreya Buddha and ancient manuscripts and frescoes. A lama from Sankar Monastery visits Namgyal Tsemo Temple every morning and evening to maintain the temples associated with the fort 14th century ruined palace and lights the butter-lamps.
Phyang Tsedup takes place in July / Aug. Like other monasteries, monks wearing colorful brocade robes and Mask in the form of different god and goddesses perform mask dances. The huge thanka of Skyoba Giksten Gonbo is hung in the courtyard during the festival. Monastery is picturesquely located in the middle of village.
This 2-day festival is celebrated during summer, in the spectacularly situated monastery of Lamayuru, about 125 kms west of Leh. Monks like other monastic festival perform mask dances and the masks worn by the lamas during the dances represent guardian divinities from the Drikungpa pantheon. During the festival monks perform prayer and rituals to get rid of disaster and peace in the world.
Thiksey Gustor (Winter)
Thiksay monastery of Indus valley, one of the biggest and most impressive monastery in account of excellence maintenance and resemblance with Potala palace of Tibet celebrates two days sacred Mask dance festival commemorating the victory over ignorance and evils. Mask dance of Thiksay monastery is considered to be among the most impressive in Ladakh. The mask worn by the dancers represent the Guardians, Protectors and the Gods and Goddesses. The festival ends with the symbolic assassination of evils and burning of the effigy of evils.
Matho Nagrang (Winter)
Matho Nagrang is celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month of Tibetan calendar, at Matho monastery, the only monastery of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. During these two days of festival mask dances are performed by monks of the monastery wearing colorful silk brocaded robes and mask in different forms of God and Goddesses. The festival is famous because of appearance of the two oracles during the festival after full month meditation in complete isolation. The two oracles appear in the courtyard accompanying mask dancers and predict future events and people from far and away come to seek advice to perform ritual to tackle with disasters.
Stok Guru Tsechu(Winter)
The monks of Stok and Spituk monasteries also celebrate Stok Guru Tsechu for two days with mask dances performed. It is also held in Feb. around a week before the Matho Nagrang. During the festival two oracle appears, but they are laymen from the same village prepared by monks to receive the spirit of the deities.
Takthok Tsechu (Summer)
Every year on the 9th and 10th day of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar, Takthok Tsechu celebrations takes place in which monks like other monastic festival perform sacred mask dances and various rituals .The monastery was founded around the mid-16th century during the reign of Tsewang Namgyal on a mountainside around a cave in which Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated in the 8th century. It is the only Nyingma monastery in Ladakh. There is cave inside the Takdok Monastery which was used by Guru Padamasambhava for meditation while his arduous journey to Tibet.
Korzok Gustor ( Summer)
Korzok Monastery of "Changthang Nomadic Highland" is located on the bank of Tsomorri Lake on the west direction of beautiful turquoise colour brackish lake and is also regarded as very sacred by the Nomadic people. The Monastery celebrates the annual two days scared mask dance festivals in summer, commemorating the victory of good over evil. The scared mask dance festival is famous for the Changpa, Nomad of Changthang which is attended by large number of local as well as tourist. The nomads throng this occasion in their traditional dress with full of revere and devotion. This two-day festival ends with the dismemberment and dispersal of the 'Storma' (sacrificial cake) by the leader of the Black Hat dancers in a ceremony called 'Argham' of 'Killing'. This symbolizes the destruction of all forms of evil and also re-enacts the assassination of the Tibetan apostate King Lang-dar-ma, by a Buddhist monk in the mid 9th century. The masks worn by the dancers represent the guardian divinities (Dharmapalas) of the Buddhist pantheon, and the patron divinities of the Geluk-pa order.
Karsha Gustor( Summer)
Karsha Gustor festival, commemorating the birthday of Je - Tsongkhapa the founder of Gelugpa order of Tibet and victory of good over evil takes place at the largest Geluk-pa monastery of Zanskar. The monastery is built on a steep mountainside rising above the village of Karsha, a spectacular site some 12 kilometers from Padum, Zanskar's ancient capital. During this festival of Gustor, Black Hat Dance is performed. The significance of this dance is to ward off the evil forces and to establish the victory of good over the evil. The masks worn by the dancers represent the guardian divinities (Dharmapalas) of the Buddhist pantheon, and the patron divinities of the Geluk-pa order
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Monastic Festival Dates
|Names of the Festival||Venue||2015||2016||2017|
|Spituk Gustor||Spituk Monastery||Jan 18-19||Jan 7-8||Jan 25-26|
|Dosmochey||Leh, Likir Monasteries||Feb 17-18||Feb 6-7||Feb 24-25|
|Yargon Tungshak||Nubra (Yarma)||Feb 22-23||Feb 12-13||Mar 2-3|
|Stock Guru Tsechu||Stok Monastery||Feb 27-28||Feb 16-17||Mar 6-7|
|Matho Nagrang||Matho Monastery||Mar 4-5||Feb 21-22||Mar 11-12|
|Saka Dawa||All over Ladakh||June 2||May 20||June 9|
|Yuru Kabgyat||Lamayuru Monastery||June 14-15||July 1-2||June 21-22|
|Hemis Tsechu||Hemis Monastery||June 26-27||July 14-15||July 3-4|
|Stongday Gustor(Zanskar)||Stongdey Monastery||July 4-5||July 22-23||July 12-13|
|Karsha Gustor(Zanskar)||Karsha Monastery||July 14-15||July 31-Aug 01||July 21-22|
|Phyang Tsesdup||Phyang Monastery||July 14-15||July 31-Aug 01||July 21-22|
|Sachukul Gustor||Sachukul Monastery||July 4-5||July 21-22||July 11-12|
|Korzok Gustor(Tsomoriri)||Korzok Monastery||July 19-20||Aug 5-6||July 26-27|
|Dakthok Tseschu||Dak thok Monastery||July 26-27||Aug 13-14||Aug 2-3|
|Sani Nasjal(Zanskar)||Zanskar||July 30-31||Aug 17-18||Aug 6-7|
|Deskit Gustor(Nubra)||Diskit Monastery||Oct 10-11||Oct 28-19||Oct 17-18|
|Thiksay Gustor( Nubra)||Thiksey Monastery||Oct 30-31||Nov 17-18||Nov 6-7|
|Chemday Wangchok||Chemray Monastery||Nov 9-10||Nov 27-28||Nov 16-17|
|Galden Namchot||All over Ladakh||Dec 5||Dec 23||Dec 12|
|Losar||All over Ladakh||Dec 12||Dec 30||Dec 19|