Himanshu Pandya finds kindred spirits at the Naropa Festival in Ladakh
Ladakh, though stark, is awe-inspiring. The people who call this high-altitude desert landscape home brave the incredibly harsh weather conditions that shape these vistas all year round. I have always admired the tough-as-nails, yet kind and generous, Ladakhis. Their culture is as fascinating as their land, and the Naropa Festival gave me a long-awaited opportunity to interact with them and observe them at close quarters. This is my tribute to them
The “Maha Kumbh of the Himalayas”, the Naropa Festival is the biggest Buddhist festival in the region, celebrating the life of Naropa, a famed Buddhist scholar and philosopher. Every twelfth year of the Buddhist calendar, followers of the Drukpa lineage from all over the world, along with thousands of villagers from the region, arrive at the Hemis Monastery for five days of festivity. It is said that Naropa, after his enlightenment, was presented with six bone relics by a dakini (female messenger of wisdom in Buddhist lore), which he went on to pass to his successor, Marpa. This tradition has continued for over a thousand years, with these sacred ornaments being passed on from one head of the Drukpa to the next. Every 12 years, they wear them and they are later kept on display for the faithful to gaze upon and admire. The year 2016 marked the centenary of Naropa’s birth; it was decided to make the Naropa Festival an annual event from 2018 onwards at the Naropa Stupa, also known as the Naro Photang, on the grounds of the Hemis Monastery.
As I looked on, the crisp September air echoed with the sounds of traditional Tibetan instruments, alongside conch shells, cymbals and monastery drums, as the procession carrying the crown ornament arrived. The excitement in the air was palpable; I was beside myself with joy at being with the Ladakhis at this important moment.