The courtyard of Hemis Gompa-the biggest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, is the stage for the famous 'Hemis' festival, that celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. The colourful two day pageant fals on the 10th day (Tse-Chu) of the Tibetan lunar month. The local people are seen dressed up in their finest traditional garb for the occasion.
Splendid masked dances and sacred plays by Lamas called 'chhams' are performed around the central flagpole, to the accompaniment of cymbals, drums and long horns. Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism is believed to have fought with demons for the safety of the local people. The Lamas wear colourful costumes, i.e. long brocade gowns set off by quaint headgears. Masks worn by the lamas represent various guardian divinities of the Dugpa order, of which Hemis is the leading establishment in Ladakh. The dances end with the ritual destruction of a sacrificial offering of a human figure made of dough by the leader of the Black Hat dancers. The pieces are then scattered in the four directions depicting a re-enactment of the assassination of the Tibetan apostate king Lang-dar-ma by a Buddhist monk in AD842 or cleansing of the soul after death.
'Rimpoche' or the head lama presides over the function. The lamas recite mantras associated with the various episodes of the 'chhams'. The festival takes an auspicious turn every 12 years in the Tibetan Year of the Monkey, when the two-storey high ' Thanka' depicting Padmasambhava is displayed. This famous 'Thanka', richly embroidered with pearls and semi-precious stones, is due to be displayed next in AD 2004.
A colourful fair, displaying some beautiful handicrafts, is the special highlight of the festival.
The so-called 'devil dances' constitute an important element in the social entertainment of the Ladakhis. The uproarious song-and-dance mirth, created by these mask dances, which invariably depict the victory of the right over evil, is kept by the all-round consumption of huge bowls of 'chang', Ladakhis own country liquor.
How to get there
Hemis lies 45-km southeast of Leh, the headquarters of Ladakh
Air : The nearest airport is at Leh
Road: By car, Hemis is an easy day trip from Leh. By bus, services are only frequent during the festival; at other times a single daily service leaves at 9.00 am and returns at 12.30 pm, leaving no time to have a good look round.
Festivals - Jammu and Kashmir