The Land Of Celebration
The centuries -old culture of Ladakh has found expression in its monuments, monasteries, oral literature, art forms and fairs and festivals. And in the time-honoured tradition of collective celebration ; every occasion -marriage , birth , harvesting or even the flowering of plants --- is marked by feasting, dancing and the singing of folk songs that form a part of its living heritage .
Monastic Festivals: A Carnival Of Life
But it is the monastic festivals that provide the average Ladakhi with the spice of life. No other festival can match them in religious and entertainment value.
Monastic festivals are held to commemorate the founding of a monastery, the birthday of its patron saint or major events in the evolution of Tibetan Buddhism. Thousands of people turn out in their colorful best, making every festival a carnival of colours.
Experience The Power Of 'Chhams'
Chhams, a highly choreographed scared dance-drama, is the core event of every monastic festival. A select group of resident Lamas, in brightly patterned brocade robes, perform these dances in the courtyard of the monastery. All of them wear masks which represent various divinities found in the Gon Khang' - the room dedicated to the guardian divinities in every major monastery. Some may even represent characters from historical episodes or Tibetan fables.
The Lamas, holding ritual objects in their hands, step around the central flagpole of the monastic courtyard in solemn dance and mime, accompanied by the crash of cymbals, the boom of drums, the melodious sound of the 'Shawn', and the deep resonance of twelve -foot horns.
Every dance begins with 'Ser Kyem', an invocation - by offering of sacred water and food - to the gods and the guardians of the four quarters to witness the 'Chhams'.
In between the more sombre dances, relief is provided by performers in the guise of skeletons who perform comic and acrobatic feats.
And At Last, The End Of Evil
As the 'Chhams' approaches climax, the votive offering - a grotesque human figure made of dough is ritually dismembered. This is traditionally done by 'Jha Nak', leader of the black hat dancers. He then scatters the pieces in the four cardinal directions. This act has many interpretations: cleansing of the soul, the dissolution of the human body after death, or a re - enactment of the assassination of the Tibetan apostate king Lang-dar-ma by a Buddhist monk in AD 842.
Of This Life And The Next
The rites and ceremonies of the festival are conducted by the ' Rimpoche' or Head Lama incarnate of the monastery. He occupies a high throne in the centre of the verandah at one side of the rectangular courtyard. Other Lamas sit on either side of the throne on carpet-covered straw mattresses, according to their hierarchy.
The Lamas recite mantras associated with various episode of 'Chhams' under the 'Rimpoche's direction, thus creating the right ambience for devotees to imbibe the religious significance of the dances. The appearance of the masked dancers serves to familiarise the devotees with the kind of divinities they are to encounter during the 49-day, 'Bardo' (or transit) period between death and rebirth in one of the six forms of existence depending upon one's 'Karma' (deeds).
Makeshift Markets And Merrymaking
The monastic festivals also provide an opportunity for socialising trading and organising outings. A makeshift market springs up overnight outside the monastic complex. During the summer festivals, people organise picnics overnight excursions, and all-night singing and dancing parties.