Ladakh Celebrates Winter Hemis Festival

Ladakh: Ladakh is now gearing up for spring-summer with the celebration of the third Winter Hemis Festival. The Summer Hemis Festival is one of the most popular Buddhist festivals worldwide and the Winter Hemis Festival in its third edition is a new addition that is held in the winter month of January or February each year to mark the passing of the old year and winter and welcoming the new year and coming of spring.

This year the celebrations were indeed special since it coincided with the birthday of His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the 1000-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas. Over 80,000 people, including locals and visitors from India and overseas, descended on Ladakh for the celebrations, despite the extreme temperatures.

The birthday celebrations of His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa started on 17th February and continued till 22nd February 2016.  The celebrations included public teaching on “The Skills of Living a Successful and Happy Life” and a guided meditation program on “Defining Wisdom”. Post this was the commencement of the Third Winter Hemis Festival, a weeklong celebration that started from 23rd to end on 28th Feb 2016.

The Winter Hemis Festival sees the coming together of the followers and friends of the Drukpa Order who jointly pray for peace, happiness and harmony for all beings. The Festival includes joint prayers and Dharma dances to ward off obstacles and clear the path for a better year ahead. The locals usually celebrate by showcasing their rich culture along with the rhythmic sounds of cymbals, drums and trumpets, symbolizing the opening of Ladakh for tourism.

On the occasion, amidst thousands of devotees, a total of 1520 animals of different species (chickens, sheep, goats, cows, bulls and yaks which had been abandoned or waiting to be slaughtered) were rescued in what is a life release ceremony called as ‘Tsethar’(a Buddhist practice of saving lives) and taken to Stray Animal Care and Management Centre managed by Young Drukpa Association (YDA) Ladakh with the blessings of His Holiness The Gyalwang Drukpa.

The Hemis Monastery is the seat of the Drukpa Order and one of the largest and most important Buddhist Monasteries in the world. The Winter Hemis Festival is a unique experience for people visiting Ladakh during this time of the year as the participants get a first-hand experience of spiritual devotion and determination. A huge crowd gathers in the open, prays and meditates together with one pointed motivation, wishing the world to be a better place; a sight that is spectacular to watch.

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