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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
It was indeed a great experience and I cherish every moment, thanks for reviving the memories….
Yes Prasad, one of the most amazing experiences for me in the recent times. Thanks for stopping by.
It must have been a great experience.
Very well written article and very interesting story.
I never knew it comes once in 12 years.
Thanks Shreya. It was. The 12 years is because of the 12 years of rigourous learning culminating in Saint Naropa’s Enlightenment.
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.
Thanks Shubham. I am sure I did hear someone talk about the Naropa Monastery. Maybe next time we will visit it.
This is real a paradise
Yes . I agree Tashi.
so colorful and gorgeous pictures 🙂
Thanks Joshi Daniel. In real life it is even more colorful and lively.
I believe it…
Thanks 🙂 🙂
Thank you so much sir , for mentioning my name . It’s an honour for a beginner like me . Truely a beautiful article .
Dear Faisal, We really enjoyed your singing and it is my honest opinion. Wish you luck in your career 🙂
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!
Thanks Divyakshi. Ladakh is a must visit and you are right, schedule it with one or more of the festivals.
What a great experience to witness these special celebrations!
Thanks Kavey. It was indeed an awesome experience and at that altitude with low oxygen!
Never heard of this lovely story but it is very inspiring. You are very lucky to be able to watch such a nice festival.
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 🙂
Amazing experience – I love the picture of His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa complete with mic! This isn’t a place I’d ever heard of so I am captivated
Thanks Finoa. This spiritual leader is completely tech savvy!
Seems like an interesting festival. I wanna witness one.
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.
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.
Thanks Holly. In real life it was even more lively and colorful. Do let us know when you plan to come to India.
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!
Thanks Jenna. Ensure you get a window seat 🙂 .
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.
Thanks Christina, Whole of Ladkh is quite picturesque. Each monastery have their own annual festival including Leh. Hemis is one of the major monasteries.
The Naropa Festival sounds totally unique. I’d never heard of the bone ornaments, but how fascinating. The colours, the people, what a trip!
Carol, the whole region is quite colorful despite being an arid and treeless. I suppose the people make up for the otherwise colorless surrounding. 🙂
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.
Thanks Sarah 🙂 I was so awestruck, I missed capturing some of the important moments 🙂
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!
It was surely a most enjoyable festival. I am glad you like it . Thanks for stopping by.