In a remote valley 40 km from Leh lies the biggest and most respected monastery of the region – Hemis Gompa. Every year, the monastery has a month-long annual festival in July to mark Guru Padmasambhava’s birth anniversary. Monks wear silk robes and colorful masks and dance to instruments like drums, longhorns and cymbals.
This year, the Naropa Festival marks 1000 years since the time Naropa visited Ladakh. Naropa, who was born to a royal family of Kashmir, was raised by monks because everyone, including the king and queen, believed he was not worldly.
Naropa then went to Nalanda University and was known to be a brilliant debater. He went on to become the ‘gatekeeper’ of the institution. He would ask questions on theology or philosophy before he would allow anyone entrance into the building. He later was said to have meditated in caves near Lamayuru and Zanskar.
The lamas perform dances dressed as gods, demons and devils, twirling in a mystic rhythm. These masks are the manifestations of Padmasambhava – royal, feminine, angry, saintly, etc.
The festival has handicrafts and souvenir stalls, tree planting programmes, and cultural performances. The monastery will also be holding free eye camps during the festival to benefit locals who can’t afford health care. The festival began on 1 June, 2016 and will be held till 31 July, 2016.
One of the main attractions of the month-long festivals is when the Gyalwang Drukpa, the head of the Drukpa Order, wears the six bone ornaments of Naropa, which are some of the holiest treasures of Buddhism.