Hemis Mela of Leh
Ladakh in the northernmost region of Jammu and Kashmir State has always haunted the travelers’ imagination because of its sheer inaccessibility. Surrounded by lofty mountains, chiming bells of monastries and trumpets, humming of holy mantras, the continuous flutter of colorful buntings (tarchok), in monasteries of Ladakh draw people from every nook and corners of the world.
In the midst of the lofty mountains and brown trees stands a Gompa called “HEMIS GOMPA” situated at about 50 km south east of Leh. Hemis Gompa was founded in the 1630’s by a Tibetan lama Stag-tsang- raspa Ngawang Gyatso (1573-1651), popularly known as “Taktsang Shambunath” and also in Ladakhi language as “Staktsang Raspa” (tiger like) under the patronage of King Sengge Namgyal, who also adopted the tradition of Sang-Sngas-Chos-gling gompa in Tibet. Hemis is well -known as Drukpa Kagyu “Red Hat order” in the central Ladakh. It is perhaps the largest and richest gompa in Ladakh and is renowned for its famous religious festival, partly due to the fact that unlike most gompas which hold their festival in winter, Hemis annual festival” HEMIS TSE-CHU” is held in the summer months.
Religious festivals in Ladakh are important events throughout the Tibetan Buddhist world commemorating the deeds of the Buddha or those of the Bodhisattva. Similarly Hemis Tsechu- commemorating the deeds of padmasambhava traditionally known as” Guru Rinpoche” the eighth century master who is credited with the introduction of the most profound Buddhist teachings into Tibet and Ladakh. Each 10th day of lunar Tibetan calendar is believed to associated with a special event in the life of the Padmasambhava which is dramatized in the context of a religious festival which may last for two days.
The annual festival features a mask dance drama traditionally called “Cham” performed by the monks of the respective monasteries. They dress themselves in ornate brocade robes and colorful masks along with weapons and ornaments. Chams is essentially a part of Tantric tradition. Here the most impressive dance performed is the eight manifestations of the Padmasambhava. Following are the eight manifestation of Guru padmasambhava-
* Tsokye Dorje chang,
* Pema Gyalpo
* Shakya Sengge,
* Nyima Ozer,
* Sengge Dradok,
* Dorje Drolo
Onlookers identify masks by watching their fearful facial form and color. Beside eight manifestation of Padmasambhava different forms of popular deities also appear for the dances such as drum dance, Hashang and Hatuk, gonpo dance, etc.
The sacred mask dance (cham) is the core event of any monastic festival . Although the dance has several meanings, essentially the victory of good over evil, one interpretation is that it represents the death of the central Tibetan king Lang Darma, the king who until his assassination, tried to wipe out Budhism from Tibet in the 9th century . Thus his death is still celebrated at Hemis Festival. The festival reaches its climax with dismembering of a human figure made from dough.
The dance is followed by the various monastic instrument viz-a-viz cymbals (Bugjal), trumpets (Kangling), resonant drum (Naa), conch shell (Tung), bell (Drilbu) etc, performed by the lamas. The Hemis festival takes place in the rectangular courtyard in front of the main door of the monastery.
Every after 12th year, during the festival a giant thangka painting said to be the largest in the world, is unveiled for public viewing and one has to wait for a long time to have a glimpse of the Thanka. These giant embroidery thangka paintings of Padmasambhava were made by the great artist Sopa Palai at the request of Gyalse Rinpoche of Hemis monastery in the 18th century.
However, Hemis has its own museum – a testimony to Tibetan Buddhism, the monastery and its history, a small artistic treasure trove that has been open in India since 2007 but has recently garnered attention from Buddhism scholars and art historians alike. The Hemis Museum, located in Ladakh India, is located within the Hemis Monastery an area of interest in Buddhist study and learning.
Hemis Monastery is the largest monastic institution in Ladakh with His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa as its Supreme Head.
This festive occasion marks an important celebration throughout Ladakh region attracting many visitors from every corner of the world.
Hemis has more than 200 branch monasteries in the Himalayas and more than 1,000 monks under its care. It is an important living monument and heritage of Himalayas and its people.