Ladakh, ‘the land of high passes’, and its beautiful landscapes top the ‘must-visit’ list of every wanderlust. The mesmerizing mountain peaks, lakes, empty roads, and daunting passes of Ladakh fascinate all. The serenity Ladakh possesses is very particular to this Union Territory of India. Along with its captivating panorama, Ladakh also has a unique culture that must receive equal appreciation and acknowledgement. Ladakh has some unique festivals that bring more vibrancy and vigour to the cold land. The Tibetan culture of Ladakh celebrates these festivals according to a unique calendar. Most of these occasions take place in the courtyard of the various monasteries.
Without further ado, let us take an extended trip up to the crown of the landmass of India. We will learn about the distinct festivals of Ladakh.
1. Losar Festival
Let us begin with the celebration of the Tibetan New Year. Losar Festival is one the most famous festivals in Ladakh, and the festival had its origin in the 7th Century.
Losar Festival is a 15 days celebration that marks the arrival of the New Year. During the fortnight of festivities, feasts are held in honour of the ancestors, gods, and animals in the various gompas and individual houses. The entire land becomes a colourful arena where monasteries, homes, and people dress up in illuminative attires. Metho, a special procession, takes place along the streets and lanes of Ladakh. People chant mantras and carry flaming torches believing that the chants and the light will keep away evil. Special preparation of foods and meeting with relatives is a must. Folk dance and music, the famous cham dance (masked dance), and special prayers are all part of the celebration.
The Losar Festival’s date varies according to the Tibetan calendar. Usually, it falls in the time of the Winter Solstice, and each year the date changes.
2. Hemis Tsechu Festival
Hemis Tsechu Festival is the most famous monastery festival in Ladakh, and devotees await this particular event throughout the year. The Hemis Tsechu Festival marks the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, one of the founding members of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet.
The celebration takes place in the Hemis Gompa, 45 km away from the central city of Leh. The monks take part in the Cham dance and wear colourful traditional clothes. The hops have a special meaning. Each of the dance moves signifies the magical deeds of Padmasambhava in his eight manifestations of defeating evils. The festivity takes place for two days. The actual date of the occasion varies each year but falls on the tenth day of the Tibetan Lunar month.
An exceptional aspect of this celebration is displaying a four-storey thangka of Guru Padmasambhava every 12 years. Other thangkas are part of the decoration every year, but this particular thangka is put up once every 12 years.
3. Matho Nagrang Festival
Matho Nagrang Festival is an extraordinary occasion that makes it stand out from other events. The celebration takes place in Matho Monastery, one of the off-beat monasteries of Ladakh.
The Matho Nagrang Festival has unique attractions like the Cham dance performances. But the unique attribute of this occasion is the prophecy of two oracles. The oracles observe two months of solitude, meditating in complete isolation. After two months, the prophets make their first public appearance. On the special day of Matho Nagrang, the forecasters predict the possible happenings of the future. Many believers flock to this monastery to take advice from them.
Matho Nagrang Festival also takes place for two days. The date again varies according to the Tibetan calendar, and the 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar observes the Matho Nagrang Festival.
4. Saka Dawa Festival
Saka Dawa is one of the primary festivals not only of Ladakh but of the entire Buddhist community. It is the auspicious occasion of Buddha Purnima.
In Tibetan culture, ‘Saka’ is the star’s name closest to Earth, and ‘Dawa’ means month. Saka Dawa is the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar. This month marks the birth, enlightenment, and death of Lord Buddha. The 15th day of this month is particularly holy according to Buddhist culture. The celebration includes taking pledges, eight particular oaths, by the monks. The time observes a complete period of peace and purity. The monks perform a lot of offerings to not just the deities but also the poor people. They also feed the poor. They believe good acts have rewards worth 300 times more.
This pious festival of Saka Dawa ensures the protection of all life forms. Reciting holy chants, performing sadhanas, feeding the poor are sacred acts of this festival. The date of the festival shifts according to the Buddhist calendar but usually falls in May.
5. Tak-Tok Festival
Tak-Tok is one of the most exciting and attractive festivals in Ladakh, and Tak-Thok Tse-Chu is also a famous tourist attraction. The celebration takes place in the cave of the Tak Thok Gompa.
The speciality of the Tak-Tok Festival is the varied cultural performances highlighting the tradition of the community. The Lamas and local people perform the different dances, Cham dance being a must recital. The hops have specific significance, and some represent the compassionate and wrathful deities, while some bring forth various animals. People believe that visitors who come to witness this festival learn more about the teachings of their culture and get protection from evil things. Tak-Tok is an occasion for locals to dress up in their best attire like most social gatherings. Even the visitors must not miss the chance to adorn the ethnic clothes of Ladakh and get a more rustic experience of the festival.
According to the Tibetan calendar, the date of the Tak-Tok Festival is on the 10th day of the fifth month. A day of colourful events and an evening of local delicacies account for the wholesome ambience of the festival.
6. Dosmoche Festival
Dosmoche Festival is the ‘great prayer’ ceremony of Lhasa. It is the annual prayer festival that the Ladakh Royals first celebrated, and the festival is a symbol of washing away all evil.
Dosmoche Festival is famous amongst the locals of Ladakh, and they celebrate the occasion with a lot of pomp and fare. The affair is a marker of the well-being and safety of all the people living there. People perform the folk dances and the Cham dance. The activities take place all across Leh, Likir, and Diskit monasteries. Lamas from various monasteries across Ladakh known for their astrology and tantric practice come together for this event. They prepare Thread Crosses and other sacred emblems. These offerings are burnt. The smoke rising from these burnings is believed to carry away the evil from the place, and good luck will prevail over the place.
Dosmoche is also popularly known as the Festival of the Scapegoat. The festivities take place for two days. Dosmoche is also significant for it is the last event of the New Year celebrations. The two days of Dosmoche fall on the 28th and 29th of the twelfth month of the Tibetan calendar.
7. Sindhu Darshan
Sindhu Darshan is a relatively new festival that has become a very vital part of the culture of Ladakh. It was first celebrated as a promotion for Ladakh tourism in 1997. The festival now holds a unique message of communal harmony, unity, and national integration for the entire nation.
Sindhu Darshan celebrates the River Indus. The occasion takes place at Shey Manla, and this event also takes place on the auspicious day of Guru Purnima. People from across the different states of India come to participate in Sindhu Darshan. They bring water in an earthen pot from their respective states and pour it into the Indus River. Fifty lamas pray on the river banks, and different cultural programs are a must for the occasion.
Sindhu Darshan’s celebration takes place for three days. The occasion is also a way of paying respect to the heroes of the Indian Army. The festival is an excellent way of encouraging the unity and integrity of India in the tranquil land of Ladakh.
Ladakh is a land of a unique culture residing in the lap of natural beauty. These festivals of Ladakh have a distinctive flavour that further enhances the place. The picturesque sight of Ladakh is mesmerizing for tourists whenever they visit the land. But to have a more authentic experience of Ladakh, one can make plans for the dates of the different festivals of Ladakh. The unpolluted beauty of Ladakh gets a bout of vigour during these celebrations that stays with its audiences for a long time.