Category Archives: Himalayan

Bollywood was the biggest draw for young Buddhists at the Kumbh of the Himalayas

4dde759835c2247276aa3aac0bb61d41Yahoo News, September 22, 2016

Outside the Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport at Leh, billboards announced the Naropa Festival, described to outsiders as the Kumbh Mela of the Himalayas.

The Naropa festival this 2016 was particularly special for two reasons: it was the millennial birth anniversary of yogi Naropa of Drupka lineage, the leading sect of Himalayan Buddhism, and it coincided with the Hemis Festival, a celebration that marks the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.

Usually, Hemis is held in July, inside the monastery, the seat of Drupka order in Ladakh. It is better known among tourists for the famous and sacred Chams, the masked dance of the Lamas that is performed to the music of drums, long horns and cymbals.

In honour of the double celebration this year, a new Gompa (a religious structure, like a university) was built in Leh. Unfortunately, it could not be completed in time, and so the month-long ceremonies of Hemis and Naropa were squeezed into September, before the weather grew too cold.

Looking at the vast crowd that chose to stay in Leh despite the chill to celebrate, I realised why Naroda is called the Kumbh of the Himalayas: monks and nuns had gathered from Bhutan and Nepal, where Drupka sect following is large, but followers of Buddhism also arrived from Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and the remote villages of Ladakh. From afar, the festival’s pandal area looks like a sea of maroon caps.

The biggest Buddhist festival in the world has changed in many ways over the years: for the convenience of global pilgrims, it has embraced technology. This year, the sacred ceremonies were held outside the new Gompa, where they were relayed on LED screens for the convenience of the large gathering. Continue reading

Crossing mountains to go to school

ST_20160831_LIFZAN_2559731The Straits Times

DAUG 31, 2016, 5:00 AM SGT
John Lui, Film Correspondent

This year’s Thus Have I Seen Buddhist Film Festival includes a suspenseful documentary about two monks leading a group of 17 children over treacherous terrain so they can go to school.

The children live in the impoverished Zanskar region of northern India. They are Buddhist and culturally and ethnically Tibetan, but in that part of Kashmir, the only school that gives them a chance to rise out of poverty and which caters to their Tibetan heritage, is in a town on the other side of a mountain range.

One of the monks who escorted the children is Geshe Lobsang Yonten, 52.

“Families with a little money can send their children to good Tibetan schools in India. I decided to take children from poor families to these schools,” he tells The Straits Times.

His mission, blessed by the Dalai Lama and funded by donations, was captured on film by director Frederick Marx, who produced and co-wrote the Oscar-nominated documentary Hoop Dreams (1994), which follows African-American families who have pinned their hopes for a better future on their sons’ talent for basketball.

Journey From Zanskar (PG13, 90 minutes) is also about one generation making sacrifices so that the next one can rise.

The film opens with Geshe Yonten, with another monk Lobsang Dhamchoe, walking about the Zanskari farms, persuading families to send their offspring to a faraway school. It is a heartrending choice as the poverty, high peaks and military strife in the region mean a long separation.

“It was a difficult decision. They would not be able to see each other for eight to 10 years,” says Geshe Yonten, himself born in Zanskar and educated elsewhere in India. He is now in Singapore, teaching at the Tibetan Buddhist Centre. Continue reading

Good triumphs over evil

Dressed up: Exqusite and traditional Perak headdresses for the festival. Photo: Special Arrangement

Dressed up: Exqusite and traditional Perak headdresses for the festival. Photo: Special Arrangement

The Hindu

July 21, 2016

July 31 and August 1 are important days for the people living in Zanskar mountains as they celebrate Karsha Gustor.

Karsha Gustor festival, is celebrated at the Karsha Monastery in Zanskar, Kargil district. One of the largest monasteries, it is home to over around 100 lamas. This festival is celebrated to remember the victory of good over evil. It takes place at the largest Geluk-pa (Yellow Hat) monastery, located on the slopes of Zanskar mountains.

Dance drama: Character traits. Photo: Special Arrangement

Dance drama: Character traits. Photo: Special Arrangement

The monks perform a masked dance which resembles cham.

The history of cham is interesting. Buddhist monks in medieval monasteries hold sacred festivals once a year, during which they perform these 1,300-year-old mystical dances, collectively called cham, to transform evil for the benefit of the entire world. Masked dances have been a part of the Buddhist scriptures. These dances were especially performed to ward off evil forces, and dates back to the historic times when Buddhist manuscripts were first written. The Zanskar (Karsha Gustor) Festival continues for two days.

Stok is a royal residence. At this time a man is chosen from the crowd after a formal selection. This layman is spiritually cleansed by the lamas, and is prepared to receive the spirit of the Holy Deity. During the Karsha Gustor, it is the layman who predicts the future not the reputed soothsayers.

Depicting myths: Citizens participate actively, making this festival a success. Photo: Special Arrangement

Depicting myths: Citizens participate actively, making this festival a success. Photo: Special Arrangement

The festival culminates with the Black Hat Dance where the leader of the dancers kills the evil force known as Argham.

The main feature is the re-enactment of the assassination of the Tibetan renegade, King Lang-dar-ma, by a Buddhist Monk. The king was said to be a traitor who lived in the mid 9th century, and caused a lot of harm to the state. An effigy of the evil forces is burnt at the end of the festival.


Tashi gang in the Spiti Valley


13442424_1133428870053164_3906819996895398559_oOur friends at Spiti Valley Tours posted 2 new photos.

“About 45min walk from Tashi gang towards Langza is a mediation cave with rock carvings of Guru Padmasambhava, Tara and other Buddhist deities. The carvings are gorgeous and have been made by monks using the cave. Most people in Tashi gang (1.30hrs from Kaza) know about the cave and may be willing to guide you there. Scholars from India and abroad have been studying these carvings. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Spiti is a wonder hidden in the Trans Himalayan range and discoveries of such sites only highlighted this.

“Tashi gang is a small village but significant nevertheless. Many Bon and Buddhist archaeological finds have been made there. An academic paper on the painting in the lakhang in Tashi gang has been presented at the first international conference on Spiti at the oxford university in May 2016.”

Buddhist monks perform traditional dance in Himachal

ANI News
Nov 22, 9:23 am

Kangra, Nov 22 (ANI): Buddhist monks performed their traditional ‘cham dance’ to mark the 10th grand prayer ceremony of their late Guru Padmasambhava in Himachal Pradesh. Wearing masks and dressed in traditional attire, the monks- some of whom are Grammy award winners- sang and danced, after offering prayers to Guru Padmasambhava, considered the “second Lord Buddha”. Guru Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche, was an 8th century Indian Buddhist spiritual leader, who is credited with construction of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. He is considered founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju was the chief guest at the event held at Palpung Sherabling monastery in Kangra district. The event is popular for the “Lama Dance” and attracted many tourists. The Dalai Lama with his thousands of followers fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. They have been living in exile since then in many Indian cities including northern hill town of Dharamsala.

Early Cultural History of Spiti

A shrine for the god Dungmarchen on the rooftop of a house, Kibbar.

A shrine for the god Dungmarchen on the rooftop of a house, Kibbar.

An issue of Flight of the Khyung  by John Vincent Bellezza on his site, Tibetan Archaeology, with lengthy and scholarly discussion of the early cultural history of the Spiti valley, in the Western Himalaya. Included are “an article on the indigenous priests and spirit-mediums of Spiti compiled from interviews with them” and one on “old residential architecture of Spiti.”

Follow the link to read; here is the table of contents:

1) A Review of the Early Cultural History of Spiti – Part Two

The root song of Spiti
The territorial deities of Spiti
The triumvirate of ancient ritual practitioners in Spiti
Non-Tibetan vocabulary in the dialect of Spiti

2) Interviews with Jowa, Luyar and Other Luminaries in Spiti

3) A Brief Report on the Oldest Residences of Spiti


Nepal, early Malla – Akshobhya


14th-15th century, Nepal, Akshobhya, gilt copper alloy, private collection.

From, JUNE 24, 2015

Akshobhya is depicted here in his buddha appearance, without jewellery or crown, sitting in the lotus position, his right hand calling Earth to witness, the left hand cupped to hold a begging bowl. One end of his transparent robe is neatly arranged into a small scallop-shape over his left shoulder.The round shape of the urna on his forehead and the use of turquoise inlay suggests this work was made to be used in Tibet. He has a broad forehead and an oval chin, square shoulders and sturdy limbs which contrast with his thin waist.

15th century, Nepal, Akshobhya (or crowned Shakyamuni), gilt copper and stone inlay, private collection.

15th century, Nepal, Akshobhya (or crowned Shakyamuni), gilt copper and stone inlay, private collection.

Akshobhya is wearing a very low five-leaf crown inlaid with stones (now missing) and decorated with coral-inlaid rosettes and ribbons that fall behind his ears in a typical Nepalese fashion. He has a wide forehead with a white a tear-drop urna at the centre. His shoulders are exaggeratedly broad. One end of his transparent garment is pleated in a fan shape over his left shoulder. The seams are decorated with beading that matches the top and bottom of the double-lotus base. The latter has narrow elongated fat petals often seen on 15th century Nepalese and Tibetan sculptures. We will note the beading across his left arm that goes parallel with the beading of the hem across his chest.