Naropa Festival 2016

Naropa & His legacy

A thousand years ago, a child was born named Naropada (Tibetan name Naropa) who grew to be an excellent scholar at Nalanda but left his materialistic world and his family to the path of enlightenment. At the age of forty he met his Guru Talopa and the next twelve years were the most introspective and spiritual learning period for him that led his attaining enlightenment.

Naropa Festival 2016, Naro Palace, Hemis Monastery
Fully decorated Naro Palace, the venue for the Naropa Festival 2016 and also where the six bone ornaments were in public display

At this moment a Dakini is said to have appeared and presented him with six bone Ornaments to match Naropa’s Six Yogas which was the essence of the 12 years of his learning. A new era in Buddhism had begun and Naropa soon had great number of followers.

Since then the six bone ornaments form one of the most important Buddhist relics and the date of enlightenment most important event for that line of Buddhism. The six bone ornaments include Anklets, Bangles, Crown, Earrings, Necklace & Seralkha and they are said to have the energy to transform the person wearing it and all who are around him or her. From that time, every twelve years the event is celebrated as Naropa festival.

This year the Himalayan Kumbh Mela (as Naropa Festival is also called) coincides with the 1000th birth anniversary of Saint Naropa and the scale of celebrations had climbed several notches. It was held at the base of the mountain on which Hemis monastery is situated along Indus River (Sindhu river) and is nicknamed #Naropa2016.

Naropa Festival 2016 , Ladakh, Aerial View
An Aerial view of Ladakh . That lake ought ot be Pangong or Tso Moriri, Any guesses?

The flight to Leh was picturesque as if someone was flashing one picture postcard after another so fast that it looked like a movie. The small airport and much of the route had billboards that announced the festival to all who would look up. It is believed that the current leader HH Gyalwang Drukpa, is the true unmistaken incarnation of Saint Naropa and also reincarnation of the founder of Drukpa Lineage. The festival had been organized at his behest and in his august presence on 16th September 2016, an auspicious full moon day.

Naropa Festival 2016, Full Moon, Naro Palace
A day after the full moon day. Moon rising behind Naro Palace.
Naropa Festival 2016, His Excellency the Governor N N Vohra and His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa
His Excellency the Governor N N Vohra and His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa addressing a large gathering before commencement of cultural programmes

The main events of the festival was held on a ground adjoining the Naro Palace. It is a fairly recent building but extremely colourful and impressive, to say the least. The festivities began with religious chanting led by the Drukpa, sitting on his high throne and after an elaborate ritual, donning the ceremonial robes and the six bone relic to mark the of the beginning of the 6 day religious, cultural and Bollywood extravaganza. The chief guest, H.E. NN Vohra, Governor of Jammu and Kashmir flagged off the Cultural programs

Naropa Festival 2016, Six Bone Ornaments
His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa donning a crown of the venerated six bone ornament crown. On his hand a picture of Dakini

I found H.H. Drukpa, who was recognized as the reincarnation of the founder of Drukpa Lineage at a tender age of three, to be very knowledgeable about the current issues, gender equality and was interested in transforming Buddhism to make it more relevant for this age and time. To this end he even had a debate for modernizing Buddhism. He is one of the few to have cycled from Kathmandu to Ladakh. Greatest amongst his achievements are the prestigious United Nations Millennium Development Goals and Guinness Record of most trees planted in Ladakh.

Naropa Festival 2016, Thanka, Thangka Painting,
30 Metres Tall Silk Embroidered Thanka Art of Buddha as Amitabha

On the fourth day of the festival, the monks unfurled a gigantic (about 30 metres high) silk embroidered brocade called Thanka art  of Buddha Amitabha, amongst prayers and chanting. As a special invitee I got the ringside view to the events. As a special invitee I got the ringside view to the events. The unfurling commenced amidst prayers and chanting and later the Drukpa blessed everyone with rice, akin to Hindu Akshata.

Naropa Festival 2016, Rice Akshata
HH Gualwang Drokpa, Presenting to the public , the Thanka Amitabha and blessing them too with rice

The daily time-table was religious discourse in the morning and cultural programme in the afternoon followed by Bollywood performances. The local performances included Kungfu and dances by the Nuns, which was a sight to behold. Beautiful performances by the students of the Drukpa’s school called the Druk Padma Karpo School (Druk White Lotus School). By the way Drukpa’s school building was the one we saw in the movie 3 Idiots final scenes. In fact if you ask for Rancho’s school, people will readily direct you to this school. The immense power of Bollywood movies at play here.

Naropa Festival 2016, The Druk Padma Karpo School , HH Gyalwang Drukpa, Rancho School , 3 Idiots School
The Druk Padma Karpo School run by HH Gyalwang Drukpa also called the Rancho School or the 3 Idiots School
Naropa Festival 2016, Ladakh Performances
Nuns Performances, Ladakhi Orchestra, Only Drums, Play on Hemis Monastery

On the fifth day, there was a play on the founding guru of Hemis Monastery.  The play was in Ladakhi but I could follow it reasonably well just by their actions. Of course I had in hand a leaflet that explained everything :).  It was serious at places interspersed with humour which brought out a laugh or two from crowd.

Naropa Festival 2016, Neeti Mohan
Neeti Mohan in a jovial mood with a staff member

I also had access to green room where I met Shankar Ehsan Loy. On another night Neeti Mohan and sudden appearance by Terence Lewis who had already performed a few days earlier. On asking , he said he had been to Pangong Lake and Turtuk. Of course he had come to boost the morale of Shakti Mohan, his student. The audience, including HH Drupa, enjoyed the beautiful singing performance by Sairam Iyer, the Dual voice singer.

Naropa Festival 2016, Shankar Ehsan Loy
Shankar and Loy of the famous trio enthralling the audience including HH Drukpa. The ladakhis have never seen anything like it before. They performed “Breathless” at that low oxygen level where we were literally Breathless.
Naropa Festival 2016, Sairam Iyer
Sairam Iyer, The dual voice wonder singing bollywood duets

While the Bollywood programs were true to their creed, I just loved the local performances . Amongst them was also the upcoming local singer such as the talented Faizal Khan. I truly hope Faizal gets the recognition due to him. Of course he got to sing with Neeti Mohan as I saw them practicing an impromptu performance what was originally a male song converted to a duet. They may have performed later at the stage too. Unfortunately we had an early flight to catch the next day and had to leave in the middle.

HH Drukpa supported all the participants by sitting through each and every performance and also enjoying the same immensely. No wonder his followers hold him in high esteem. Kudos, to the people of Ladakh. The audience did not storm the floor level at any point during the entire 6 days although the place was relatively less secure. The discipline showed! I have to admit shame-facedly that we the people of big cities have a lot to learn.

Naropa Festival 2016, HH Gyalwang Drukpa
HH Gyalwang Drukpa Enjoying a moment

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37 thoughts on “Naropa Festival 2016

  1. Very well written. Never been to Ladakh and it is one of the places on my bucket list. My daughters too are avid travellers and love Rancho’s school in 3 Idiots – they have put this school on their bucket list.

    1. Thanks Nidhi. The school by itself may not be very impressive, but I am told the activities of the school are quite different from a normal school.

  2. It must have been a great experience.
    Very well written article and very interesting story.

    I never knew it comes once in 12 years.

    1. Thanks Shreya. It was. The 12 years is because of the 12 years of rigourous learning culminating in Saint Naropa’s Enlightenment.

  3. Wonderful research and excellent photographs.

    I was very very lucky to have come across a monastery said to be established by Naropa himself – Dzongkhul in Zanskar. Your post reminded me of that.

  4. Thank you so much sir , for mentioning my name . It’s an honour for a beginner like me . Truely a beautiful article .

  5. Fabulous coverage of the festival. Have never been to Ladakh (hides in shame) and would love to visit it during this festival. The pictures are so vibrant and full of life!

  6. Never heard of this lovely story but it is very inspiring. You are very lucky to be able to watch such a nice festival.

    1. Thanks Chrysoula. I had to attend this time as next would be 12 years away 🙂 🙂 . However if you ever go to Ladakh , plan it to coincide with the annual festival of any of the monasteries. You will not be disappointed 🙂

    1. Thanks Karla. It was one of the best multi-day festivals I have attended and next one is 12 years away. However each of the monasteries have their own every year and they are quite spell binding in their own way.

  7. I was stuck on how beautiful and colorful it all was. I need to get to India and see as much as I can. Part of my family is from there. Thank you for opening my eyes to learn some more new things.

  8. Gorgeous photos! The flight to Leh definitely looks amazing. That’s great you were still able to follow the play for the most part, even though it wasn’t in English! Sounds like a very neat festival–I’d love to check it out someday!

  9. Naroh Palace looks impressive and the festival looks like a photographer’s dream. I love festivals and often try pick my travel dates around a major festival.

    1. Thanks Christina, Whole of Ladkh is quite picturesque. Each monastery have their own annual festival including Leh. Hemis is one of the major monasteries.

    1. Carol, the whole region is quite colorful despite being an arid and treeless. I suppose the people make up for the otherwise colorless surrounding. 🙂

  10. What an incredible experience for you. Your detail and insight into this one of a kind cultural experience is refreshing. Your pictures are beautiful and have captured the beauty and significance the festival.

  11. What an interesting festival – A celebration from someone’s selflessness, who left his materialistic world and his family to the path of enlightenment. That alone is amazing! Great photos and detailed article! Thanks for sharing!

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