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Timings : 30th June 2020 to 1st July 2020

Time Required : July

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Hemis Festival, Leh Ladakh Overview

The Hemis Festival, a two-day festival hosted at the Hemis Gompa Monastery celebrates the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar month, the main highlight of Hemis festival is the gathering of the lamas around the central flagpole of monastery, where they perform the mystic mask dances (Chams) and sacred plays.

When is the Hemis Festival Celebrated? - Dates & Celebration

The date of Hemis Festival falls in June of the Gregorian calendar when the two-day festival commences. The next Hemis Tsechu is expected to be commemorated on 30th June 2020 to 1st July 2020.

The known set of words to define the date of his birth is the 'tenth day of the month of Monkey'. However, the festivity is observed at different times in different communities of the followers of Tantric Buddhism, because the Monkey month is considered different regarding the order of months in different communities.

Some believe the Monkey month as the fifth month of the year in the Buddhist lunar calendar, whereas others consider it to be third or fourth or sixth. The date of Hemis Festival is decided by the Lama heads. The Hemis Monastery - which is dominated by the Drukpa lineage or Dragon lineage of Tibetan Buddhism considers the fifth month of the Buddhist lunar year as the Monkey month, and festivity is organised on its tenth day.

Where is the Hemis Festival Celebrated? - The venue of the Festivity 

Mural Painting at the Hemis Gompa
Mural Painting at the Hemis Gompa

Hemis festival is observed in the Hemis Gompa or Hemis Monastery, which is situated in Hemis village of Ladakh region in Jammu & Kashmir. While the common festive atmosphere is spread all over Ladakh, the elaborate rituals, including traditional music and masked dances take place in the courtyard of the Hemis Gompa. Although the birth anniversary of Padmasambhava is celebrated among other communities following the same Tantric Buddhism such as in Bhutan, the Hemis festival, in its entirety, is particular to Ladakh. 

How is the Hemis Festival Celebrated? - Celebrations & Rituals

Lamas in the middle of a Performative dance
Lamas in the middle of a Performative dance

The Hemis festival protrudes the significant cultural, historical, and regional traditions that have been incorporated into the followers of Tantric Buddhist community of Ladakh. The Hemis monastery is the centre of the two-day festivity that is celebrated with much enthusiasm. An enchanting set of rituals and art-forms are projected, which captivates the viewers among the tranquillity of the Himalayas. The practice of traditional rituals on occasion to revere Lord Padmasambhava is believed to enhance the health of the observers, both physical and spiritual.
A visitor can witness the many facets of what has formed the festivity in its present form. The celebrations occur in the central courtyard of the Hemis monastery.

Blessings of Padmasambhava
It is believed that Padmasambhava's mission was to enhance the spiritual self of all human beings on earth. In that capacity, it is claimed that observance of the rituals on his birth anniversary improves the spiritual as well as the physical condition of the observers. Thus, the ceremony begins in the morning with putting up of Lord Padmasambhava's portrait on the top of the monastery for all to see and seek his blessings.

The Elaborate Rituals
The courtyard in front of the main gate of the monastery where the celebration takes place has two raised platforms. There is a pole in the centre and a dais upon which Lamas take a seat on cushions. A table is spread before them, and ritual items such as a cup of holy water, forms crafter with dough and butter (which are central to all traditional tantric rituals), rice, and incense sticks are placed upon it. This is a ritual particular to the Lamas and others are only supposed to see.

The portrait of Lord Padmasambhava or 'Rygyalsras Rinpoche' is put forth for display, accompanied by the beating of drums and clashing of cymbals. During the celebrations, music remains an essential part. Traditional music is played throughout with drums, cymbals and wind instruments. The captivating music of the ceremony gives it an identity of its own, making an impact on the viewer, never to be forgotten.

'Chams' or Dance of the Lamas

Lamas Performing Chams
Lamas Performing Chams

Chams is the main attraction of the Hemis festival. It is a ritual which sets the festival apart from most other, soliciting it as a tradition of the Himalaya. The Lamas clad themselves in baggy attires of red, blue, and mustard yellow shades, with masks, ribbons and horns. The masks, as brocades, have variety in appearance, some flat and simple and others grotesque. The masked Lamas take part in a dance that depicts folklores and tales. People gather in great numbers at the monastery to witness this wonderful event, as the music begins with a soft note and then becomes fast and intense, making Lamas perform in accordance, while telling of stories accompany from the background.

The Message of Hemis Festival
The performative dance of the Lamas concludes with a message for the audience. The end witnesses the leader of the High Hat group of dancers put an end to an effigy of evil, made of dough. The whole performance is the portrayal of a combat between the good and the evil, which culminates with the message of victory of the good over the evil.

History of Hemis Festival - Legends & Traditions

The Hemis Monastery
The Hemis Monastery

The culturally-rich Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir has much to offer for seekers of Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions alike. As is the case with most great religions of the world, Buddhism too has incorporated different cultures and practices in different regions. The Himalayan Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism - which refers to Buddhist schools of the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and Jammu & Kashmir - has got a distinctive feature of its own in the Ladakh region.

The life and times of monk Padmasambhava - also known as Guru Rinpoche - is traced back to 9th or 10th century AD from the writings called Testament of Ba, which records the establishment of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. The history of the celebration of Hemis festival in Ladakh dates back to around three hundred years back from now when the Hemis Monastery was established at the site.

Most of the followers of Tibetan Buddhism are believers of the Vajrayana tradition or the Tantric tradition, which has Padmasambhava as a central figure about its spread in the subcontinent. He is honoured as a reincarnation of the Buddha owing to his date of birth - which is the tenth day of the Monkey month of the Monkey year - which is same as was foretold by the Gautama Buddha about his successor. He is believed to have been born on his own, making his appearance to the world upon a lotus, thus getting the name of Padmasambhava, which Padmasambhava'smeans Lotus-born. The birth of Padmasambhava is celebrated by all communities of Vajrayana Buddhism, as is evident from the celebration of Trelda Tsechu festival in Bhutan on the occasion of Guru Rinpoche's birth. The Hemis Festival of Ladakh is celebrated to mark the birth anniversary of the most important figure of Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava aka Guru Rinpoche.

About Hemis Monastery

The Hemis Monastery - known as Hemis Gompa - in Hemis area of Ladakh is considered as a central seat of the Kagyu lineage of the Buddhist faith. One of the central figures of Tibetan Buddhism is monk Padmasambhava who is revered as 'Second Buddha' or an incarnation of the Buddha, who also helped in the construction of the first Buddhist temple in Tibet. The Hemis Gompa is Hemis village of Ladakh celebrates the two-day festival of Hemis or 'Hemis Tsechu' to commemorate the birth anniversary of monk Padmasambhava.

How to Reach Hemis in Ladakh - Distance & Routes 

Masked Performance of Lamas on Hemis Festival
Masked Performance of Lamas on Hemis Festival

The nearest railway station to reach Hemis is the Jammu Tawi Railway Station, which is situated at a distance of around 710 kilometres from Hemis. The other option is to visit Manali through Shimla and take a bus or a taxi to Leh. From Leh, a bus or a taxi further can be taken to reach Hemis.

However, the nearest airport from Hemis is the Leh Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, which at an approximate distance of 40 kilometres from Hemis.

Video of Hemis Festival - A Glimpse of the Festival

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