Hemis monastery decked up for famed mask dance

Leh, July 8 (IANS) Ahead of a grand congregation of Buddhists next month, the 17th century Hemis monastery of Drukpa lineage, the largest such in Ladakh, has been decked up for a two-day annual festival that sees monks wearing traditional masks representing deities and evil spirits, the organisers said.

The famed Hemis Festival, which will be inaugurated by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on July 14, commemorates the birth of Padmasambhava, the eighth century Indian guru revered for spreading Buddhism throughout the Himalayas.

Spiritual teachers, monks, nuns, devotees and tourists from across the globe will gather to witness the mesmerising festivities that include the traditional mask dance, portraying the triumph of good over evil, Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche told IANS.

He is the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas.

A 400-year-old embroidered silk ‘thangka’ or religious tapestry depicting Guru Padmasambhava will be especially unfurled during the festival.

The four-storey high tapestry has a deep spiritual resonance and is believed to provide ‘liberation through sight’ from karmic debt to all those who witness it.

This year, the Hemis Festival will also witness the grand Naropa Festival, popularly known as the Kumbh Mela of the Himalayas, from September 13 to October 1.

The Naropa Festival was earlier to be held like in the past in July but was postponed at the last minute as it was coinciding with the visit of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to Leh in August for teachings.

The Naropa Festival, which honours the birth anniversary of the 11th century Indian saint Naropa, is the biggest spiritual gathering in the region and happens only once in 12 years.

For the Buddhists, it’s like the Hindu’s Maha Kumbh Mela, a mass pilgrimage also celebrated every 12 years.

Event organisers say this year’s Naropa Festival is special as it marks the saint’s 1,000th birth anniversary.

Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, who is also the chairperson of the Druk Padma Karpo Educational Society that runs the famous Druk Padma Karpo School of Hindi film “3 Idiots” fame, said the festival is expecting a congregation of more than 1.5 million people from India and abroad.

“With 10,000 people from Vietnam already confirming their attendance, interest is also being evinced by people from countries like Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and Poland, besides others,” he said.

He said the festival is also drawing more international tourists.

In the last Naropa Festival in July 2004, more than 135,000 devotees gathered at the Hemis Monastery, 40 km from Leh.

The events also mark the largest assembly of Drukpa masters and include cultural performances by prominent Himalayan artists representing the greater Drukpa community.

The 19-day festival will see the display of the famed, sacred six bone ornaments belonging to Naropa by the Gyalwang Drukpa.

The globally acclaimed maroon-robed ‘kung fu nuns’ will also perform.

Belonging to the Druk Amitabha Mountain Nunnery based in the hills overlooking Kathmandu, they use a mixture of martial arts and meditation to empower young women.

Founded in the 17th Century, the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh in India’s Jammu and Kashmir houses the most famous holy relics which are thousands of years old.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

–IANS

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