Naropa Festival: A Buddhist Cultural Extravaganza in Ladakh

The fluttering colorful prayer flags, the sound of wind, and a large congregation of monks and nuns, created the most spiritual atmosphere in the middle of the barren land, surrounded by spellbinding landscapes, in Ladakh. It felt as if the sun-kissed mountains covered with fresh snow , bathed and glittering in the golden sun-rays, had suddenly become alive. The eagerness to welcome the procession from the Hemis Monastery carrying the sacred relics was in the air. There were hundreds of locals who had gathered to witness the elaborate inauguration ceremonies of one of the biggest Buddhist Festival, named the Naropa Festival.

The sound of the blowing of conch shells, beating of drums, the traditional Buddhist musical instruments like Gyaling, Rolmo, and Cymbals were in complete sync the moment the procession arrived at the festival ground. The festival officially kicked off with the unveiling of Naropa’s “Crown Ornament,” along with a set of ancient spiritual relics of Buddhist tradition on 16th September and continued till 20th September in Leh. Welcome to Naropa Festival 2018.

The rugged and barren mountains, the fluffy cotton ball like clouds hanging in the sky and the play of shades on the hills, make it an unbelievable scenery. The unfolding drama of nature takes you to a world of high passes that celebrates the most admirable plethora of cultural magnetism, unique traditional mosaic and the most humble people on earth.

As far as my eyes met, the boundless mountains, crystalline rivers, drastic landscapes, and the stunning vistas on earth like Moonland appeared. This part of the world is nothing less than dream and it left me speechless.

Who is Naropa & Why Naropa Festival?

Any inquisitive mind will wonder about Naropa and why this festival is celebrated in Ladakh or what is the significance of the festival in Buddhism?

  Photo Courtesy: karmapa.org

Naropa was an Indian scholar-saint who heralded the beginning of the rich tradition in Buddhist philosophy. Born as a Bengali prince named Samantabhadra, Naropa (1016-1100) rebelled against the royal training and decided to take intellectual education in Kashmir at the age of eight. He continued to study philosophy in Nalanda University in the later years where he became one of the leading scholars of the university. His legacy and the teachings soon traversed the Himalayas and made a lasting impact, which helped in shaping the cultural identity of many people. It is said that a Dakini appeared in front of him, emphasizing the meditation practices and asked him to search for a certain Tilopa for instructions. Later he embarked on a spiritual journey to find his teacher Tilopa whose teachings he mastered later, transmitting the teachings to the next generation of disciples. His teachings of the Six Yogas of Naropa which include milam (dream yoga), tummo (the yoga of inner heat), bardo (the yoga of the intermediate stage), gyulu (the yoga of illusory body), osel (the yoga of clear light), phowa (the yoga of transference of consciousness) and devotional practice, were one of the fundamental pillars of Vajrayana Buddhist tradition.

It is said that Naropa was offered the Six Bone Ornaments by Dakinis the moment he was enlightened. Today, these Six Bone Ornaments are considered as the most revered relics of Buddhism and regarded as a living piece of Himalayan history. For more than thousand years, the Six Bone Ornaments have been used as a relic of devotional support and now every 12 years His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, who is revered as the authentic reincarnation of Naropa, wears the Six Bone Ornaments during the Naropa Festival.

Photo Cortesy: IANS

It is believed that the Six Bone Ornaments are so blessed that they are considered the manifestations of deities and mere sight of the ornaments will alter the trajectory of your current life and will ensure a favorable rebirth. The festival is considered as the Kumbh Mela of Himalayas where thousands of devotees from around the world flock to Ladakh to attend the most sacred and biggest Buddhist festival.

Naropa Festival 2018

Naropa Festival in Ladakh has become one of the major festivals to be celebrated after the famous Hemis festival. The devotees, the Buddhist people across different countries, and tourists gather in Leh during this famous festival to witness the cultural spectacular and to be a part of the rich cultural heritage of Drukpa Lineage.





Around 40 km away from the Leh city, the festival is held at the famous Hemis Monastery which is one of the biggest monasteries in the country. Traditionally, the Naropa Festival is celebrated every 12 years and the circle was completed in 2016, with the grand celebration of Saint Naropa held in Leh with much flair.

This year, the five-day Naropa Festival, one of the Himalayan region’s biggest festivals, was held from 16th September to 20th September with a spectacular display of cultural events ranging from traditional dance performances to pop concerts by prominent artists.

While the highlight of day one was the display of the scared relics, the second day’s cultural highlight was the unfurling of a great Himalayan treasure – the largest silk embroidery brocade of Buddha Amitabha. It was 70 foot in height and the intricate detailed work on the brocade was eye-arresting. Ladakh’s first EDM Album, “Rhythm of the Stars,” was also launched during Naropa Festival. The five day celebration was one of the biggest cultural extravaganzas. From the procession of monks led by the Ladakh native, His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, the various cultural activities, traditional dance performances, religious teachings to concerts by the biggest names from Bollywood music industry, the Naropa festival is one of the biggest and most famous of the Buddhist festivals of the country and worth attending.

What I liked about the Naropa Festival

The Naropa Festival is not just a religious festival about the Buddhist teachings and celebrating the scholar-Naropa’s legacy and lessons, but it is beyond that. The festival celebrates the spirit of harmony, peace and spirituality in the highest possible way. It gives a fair opportunity to people to be a part of the rich cultural heritage of Drukpa Lineage and also allows everyone to soak into the world of tranquility.

The festival showcases the traditional dance forms, various cultural practices and also educates people about their noble initiatives taken by the Drukpa Lineage to make a tough terrain like Ladakh a better place.

I really enjoyed the traditional dance performances by the local Ladakhi people, adorned with their traditional silk costumes with head-gears, especially self choreographed “Dharma Dance” performance by the Kung-fu-Nuns.

The Ladakhi students showcased an indigenous fashion show titled, “Incredible Ladakh”. Another highlight of the festival was the“Largest Ladakhi Dance,” wherein two hundred ninety-nine Ladakhi women gracefully performed the famous dance of “Shondol”, thereby earning the new Guinness World Record for Ladakh, India.

The concert by established names of the Indian music industry like Sonu Nigam, Kailash Kher and Papon created magic on stage and entertained audience with their melodious songs for hours.

Photo Courtesy: Shadows Galore

In spite of the harsh cold at night, I was amazed to see the crowd which had gathered to attend the music concerts by these artists. The unimaginable impact of Bollywood on the people of Ladakh was clearly visible at the concert every night.

The Drukpa Initiatives

The Drukpa Lineage is always known for their noble, thoughtful and path-breaking initiatives in the field of Eco tourism, protection and conservation of environment, and preserving the rich cultural heritage of Ladakh. During the press meet, His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, informed everyone about the Naropa Fellowship, a new one-year, post-graduate academic program designed to support the next generation of leaders in India. The fellowship not only encourages the youth to have a better education but also instills leadership qualities and encourages them to take up entrepreneurship in future.

Not only that, he also talked about the prestigious project called Live to Love, a global humanitarian movement, which encourages tree plantation in Ladakh for a better ecosystem. The Drukpa Order also believes in gender equality and diversity. The Drukpa Order has been promoting collaborative action for the environment by this incredible initiative, where around 500 nuns led by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa participated in Cycle Yatra, which commenced in Kathmandu (Nepal) and culminated at Hemis Monastery in Leh in 2016.

We were also told about another great initiate to make Ladakh free from plastic and trash. The Drukpa Order has provided trash bags to cabs and buses in the region that hangs behind the driver’s seat, to encourage tourists and public to dispose their trash in the bag, instead of littering the holy terrain. This is one commendable initiative by the Drukpa Lineage and speaks highly about their continuous efforts to keep Ladakh clean.

A few places make an impressionable impact on your mind, body and soul and Ladakh is one such place. The unfathomable faith in Buddhism, the purity in the air, simplicity of people and un-scalable mountains make you think deep about the worldly possessions and also instill gratitude in the real sense. And, festivals like Naropa even serves a greater purpose to celebrate spirituality, humanity, heritage, culture, diversity and music in the most beautiful and peaceful way.

 


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18 Comments

  1. kuldeep

    Wow! A great article. Loved the read, will definitely share with my friends.

    Reply
  2. Kesari

    I literally found this post very interesting and it just cast spell on me. I am soon going to visit ladakh, thanks for sharing this post.

    Reply
  3. Row Pol

    Naropa festival is looking very beautiful. Ladakh is the place of religious. Ashoka holidays offer best pilgrimage tour packages in India at best price or pocket friendly tour packages.

    Reply
  4. Taj Mahal sunrise Tour from Delhi

    Such a wonderful post you have shared which is related to the Naropa Festival. Your post is really great and awesome pictures you captured. Thanks for sharing your experience of that festival.

    Reply
  5. MD Barkotali

    This celebration resembles an extraordinary ordeal. I adore the manner in which you depicted the soul, vitality, and shades of Naropa. I went to this celebration a year ago and it was a totally stunning knowledge, much the same as whatever remains of my Kashmir trip.

    Reply
  6. Daniel

    This festival looks like a great experience. I love the way you portrayed the spirit, energy, and colors of Naropa. I attended this festival last year and it was an absolutely amazing experience, just like the rest of my Kashmir trip.

    Reply
  7. Juliette

    What an incredible festival to witness. There is so much colour, as well as history, heritage, culture and religion. Incredible depth. I would love to see the local Ladakhi people dance – but wow! 290 women in one dance! That would have been incredible to witness that! Such a rich festival that would be eye-opening and nourishing for the soul to be part of.

    Reply
  8. Navita Deshpande

    Loved the way you have brought our the spirit, energy, colors and flavors of Naropa Festival. It does truly come across as a Buddhist cultural extravaganza. Ladakh has been on our list for a very long time and we are happy to add Hemis Monastery to our list. Something new to learn everyday. Pleasantly amazed that Naropa Festival is referred to as the Kumbh Mela of Himalayas. Its amazing how the history, culture and heritage is preserved and showcased in festivals such as Naropa and what a delight it would be, to be a part of this amazing experience!

    Reply
  9. Rajesh Chandel

    Woo!! Great insight of the festival. Really a great place to visit and to see the beauty of Himalaya’s. Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
  10. Kavita Favelle

    Thanks for this post about Naropa Festival, not one I’d read about previously. And the information on the story of Naropa himself was very useful by way of introduction. Looks like you had wonderful weather for your visit, so you could capture these colourful images of the procession!
    Kavita Favelle recently posted…The Best Souvenirs to Buy in the USAMy Profile

    Reply
  11. Annick

    You captured the Naropa Festival’s message of peace and inclusivity well in the photos of the people. It’s nice to hear of the importance of saving the region from plastics and trash. I wish more regions would encourage it. And what an honor for a Guinness World Record to be set during this special celebration.

    Reply
  12. Natasha L

    Wow, thanks for providing lots of insight into this festival. I would love to visit and getting the background into the meaning is really helpful to understand things. Thank you!

    Reply
  13. Yukti

    This Naropa festival looks very colorful, a harmonious festival in Ladakh. I loved the largest embroidered brocade of Buddha. Also to know about great Indian scholar, Naropa is great as he studied in prestigious ancient Nalanda University. Thanks for sharing all detailed information about this sacred and great festival.

    Reply
  14. Clarice

    This is very interesting. I have only read about it online but these type of celebrations should be experienced and seen up close. Would love to join and visit next year. Also, love your photos.

    Reply
  15. Amar Singh

    What a brilliant post about an equally beautiful destination and one I really want to visit. Would definitely want to visit during this famous festival. The rugged mountains with the colour just look stunning. Live the monestary and the children who are so well taught and deciplined. The entertainment surely looks great as well.

    Reply
  16. Amar Singh

    Brilliant post and a lot of details. I really want to visit it next year. Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  17. Anindya Sundar Basu

    I so much wanted to attend this festival. Bookmarking this for next year. Great write up on the festival as well as pictures

    Reply

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