NAROPA FESTIVAL – KUMBH MELA OF THE HIMALAYA!

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A woman from Dha Hanu Village. They are billed as the last Aryans in the valley and are called Drokpa or Brokpa.

Music of cymbals, drums and trumpets waft in the air dramatically, spiritual chants adding to the aura of the place. Thousands of Ladakhis drop their conversation unceremoniously and glue their eyes on the elaborate ceremony.  His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa,  spiritual head of the 1000 year old Drukpa Order, revered as Naropa’s reincarnation, dons the Six Bone Ornaments. There is a strange meditative stillness in the air. Many people had gathered here, struggling under the scorching sun, only to witness this historical event. What made it extra special is the fact that Naropa Festival commemorates the millennial birth anniversary of Naropa.

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The crowd at the Naropa Festival never failed to swell!

It was my first time in Ladakh and the occasion could have not been any better. It is not every day that you are invited for an exclusive Press Trip to witness the Kumbh Mela of The Himalayas – The Naropa Festival. As I arrived at the festival venue near Hemis Monastary of Drukpa Lineage, from a distance, I saw a ‘well disciplined’ mob of thousands dotting the landscape. Soon, I passed audience, many of whom braved the sun with their colorful umbrellas, nuns sitting with patience and waiting for the action to begin, families camping in the hills nearby, often seen praying, chatting and passing on ‘tsampa’, a local dish to each other.

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The stage was set. The background was grand Naropa Palace, huge artificial lotus and dragons flanking on its stairway. Brown barren mountains filled up the canvas, sometimes revealing the snow stained mountains behind. For 7 days, this place was where all roads of Ladakh led to, what with Ladakhis from far away regions filling every inch of the campus.

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Local Ladakhi women wearing a Perak head dress

Though Ladakh hosts many festivals round the year, but Naropa festival, celebrated every 12 years, is the most important and holds a sacred status. Once the ceremony got over, the six bone ornament was put on display under tight security. Thousands lined up everyday for that one glimpse. It is the physical legacy of Saint Naropa– left behind after his liberation.

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Ladakhi Musicians performing. Naropa Palace in the background!

Saint Naropa (1016 – 1100 CE). He introduced a rich alternative tradition in Buddhism.  Much of his teachings are still followed across Ladakh and has helped shape the values, culture and identity of an entire race. Six yogas of Naropa, one of the fundamental pillars of Vajrayana Buddhist tradition, is his legacy. He was also the Chacellor of nalanda University in Bihar. Being a fan of the ruins of Nalanda, it was interesting for me to learn this. The Dakinis (sky dancer) offered Naropa, upon enlightment, the six bone ornaments and flew into the sky. It is now donned by His Holiness, every 12 years in front of a race who adore him.

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With great power comes great responsibility. His Holiness, Gyalwang Drukpa has millions of followers worldwide, many of whom had come to Naropa Festival to see him live. Men, women and kids hold hands and bow every time he passes through. It is a healthy mix of veneration and love of his followers for him. Over one week, I could see the camaraderie, mutual faith and good humour he shares with his ‘fans’. He would rejoice, clap excitedly at live Bollywood performance and local performances alike and then he would use the platform for conveying social messages.

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His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa with His Eminence N.N. Vohra, governor of J & K launching a religious book.

On the last day of the festival, as I arrived from an hour long walk from Hemis Monastary, just in the nick of time, I caught him addressing his people live. He spoke passionately about gender equality, animal welfare, environment, education, cleanliness and the need to rise above religious boundaries. I have not seen a spiritual leader talk like these ever. In a previous address, the chief guest His Eminence N.N. Vohra, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir divulged details of his recent long cycling expedition to an attentive audience of thousands. “Do you know, that His Holiness has arrived at Hemis Monastary for this festival not on plane, nor in car, but after a grueling cycling expedition of 2500 kilometres with 200 ‘Kung Fu’ Nuns over the period of 2 months! The purpose of the expedition which began in Kathmandu on 3rd July was to instill in people the values and raise awareness on gender equality, peace, cleanliness and environment.” He said with pride as the audience thundered with claps.

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He has taken upon himself to promote universal harmony and inner peace by integrating the spiritual tenets of love and appreciation into daily life. A secular global NGO founded by him – Live to Love (www.livetolove.org) helps him achieve the humanitarian goals. I was so impressed after visiting the charitable Dog shelter and the ‘3 Idiots’ School that I have decided to pen a separate blog on these. And oh, there is also a place I visited which is known for the holding the place in the Guinness Book of World Record for ‘most Trees planted’  It was a part of his ‘one million trees’ campaign. His Holiness ended his sppech with an announcement of a 10 day long Eco Pad Yatra (Eco walk) in the remote regions of Ladakh. This spiritual leader bilives in actions and not mere words. He sets an example everytime he picks up a plastic bottle from the road in front of his followers. Many have been embarrassed, emotional and many even shed tears when they see their spiritual guru doing that. I have always believed that if one has the power to engage with a large number of followers, one should indulge in socially relevant and beneficial causes. They have dubbed him a ‘Rock Star Monk’ not for nothing!

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Entertainment goes hand in hand

The Naropa festival was not always about spiritual activities. Many local and Bollywood artists enthralled the audience from morning to evening. Plays, Cham dances, folk songs, Bollywood and international music concerts, laser light show, regional dances, musical jugalbandis etc kept the audience engaged. For me many of the dances were exotic as I had seen them for the first timite. My favourite was a Nepali song and dance, A Ladakhi song and dance, an Australian duo and a Ladakhi instrumental session.

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Shreya Ghoshal enthralling the audience!

Among the Bollywood performances, shows by singer Shreya Ghoshal, musician Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy was my favourite. Hollywood actress Michelle Yeoh talked passionately about her association with Live to Love.

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Michelle Yeoh talking about her association with Live to Love!

The 7 days spent in Naropa festival will stay with me for a lifetime. I am back in Delhi, but the music of cymbals, drums and trumpets still resonate in my ears!

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Shankar Mahadevan and Loy had the audience in splits. It is not easy to breathe at such high altitude, Shankar still did what he does best – sing the song BREATHLESS to an amazed audience!

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The Grand Naropa Palace

Are You Coming To Naropa Festival 2016 in Ladakh– ‘The Kumbh Mela of the Himalayas’

The Drukpa Order announces dates for the once-in-12-years Naropa Festival ; invites everyone to be a part of the largest Buddhist Festival in the world.

We all have dreamt of heading to the Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir at some point of time. Especially after the movie 3 Idiots hammered it in the mind of an entire generation. This year, there is a special reason to go there. This year the mighty mountains of Leh will be witnessing a grand Buddhist festival which occurs every 12 years only.

From 16-22 September 2016, the barren landscapes of Ladakh will be embellished with the festive red, yellow, greens et al.  Ladakh based Drukpa Order, the leading sect of Himalayan Buddhism will be helming the events of this grand spiritual celebration that happens once in 12 years.

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I was invited to a press conference where His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche addressed the media. If you remember, he made an appearance in the Bollywood movie 3 idiots. He briefed us not only about the unique festival but also about the many social welfare programs handled by the foundation Live to Love such as planting trees, providing education to the underprivileged, empowering of women, the works!

The foundation ‘Live to Rescue’ has set up an adoption shelter to tackle the growing dog population in Ladakh. I was moved by the many ‘pad yatras’ organised. Monks walk the length and breadth of the country and even cross international borders, conveying their message to the humanity. Any one is free to join. I am hoping to someday walk with them in the Ladakh region. This will not only give me a better understanding of their work but will also give me a more immersive travel experience.

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Dog Rescue Cente at Ladakh!

Druk Parma Karpo School, also known as Rancho’s school after it shot to fame, post its appearance in 3 idiots is presently the only green school in the Himalayas. The school was opened with the objective of providing world class education to its students along with education steeped in local ethos and values.

Expect half a million people to attend the festival this year. It is going to be a unique mix of spirituality, culture and diversity. To keep the events lively, performances by leading Bollywood celebrities are lined up.  Many high profile dignitaries from across the globe are also expected to arrive. His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, one of the regents of the Drukpa Order, announced the dates of Naropa 2016 at the recently concluded Hemis Festival in Leh.

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Me with his eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche. You saw him in 3 idiots. Pic by Swati Jain 

Naropa is the patron Saint of the Drukpa Order whose life heralded the beginning of a rich tradition in Buddhist philosophy. Himalayan Buddhism and its offshoots across Central Asia are steeped in the teachings of Naropa who played a defining role in shaping the culture and identity of various communities. Saint Naropa resided in Ladakh, where he mastered the “Six Yogas of Naropa.” These are now meditational pillars of Vajrayana Buddhism, and are fundamental to nearly every school and lineage of the greater Himalayas. His message of experiential learning and active compassion continue to be the fundamental principles of the Drukpa Order and have earned the lineage a robust global following.

The most awaited ceremony at the Naropa Festival will be when His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa shall don the Six Bone Ornaments that are the physical legacy of Saint Naropa– left behind after his liberation.  His holiness is the spiritual head of the Drukpa Order who is revered as Naropa’s reincarnation.

 

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You can plan your Ladakh Trip keeping in mind the Naropa Festival

 Key highlights of Naropa 2016:

16th September 2016 ▪     His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa dons the Six Ornaments of Naropa – which are said to provide ‘liberation on sight’ to all those who witness it

▪     A Fashion Parade showcasing the unique culture and tradition of Ladakh and the fusion with modern world

▪     Performance by renowned Bollywood Singer KK

17th September  2016 ▪     Public Display of Six Bone Ornaments

▪     Performances by Bollywood music director & producer Vishal &Shekhar

18th September 2016 ▪     Rare opportunity to learn about the teachings of the Lineage disseminated by Drukpa Masters themselves

▪     Performances by regional celebrities from Ladakh and Kashmir

▪     Performances by Bollywood Choreographer Terence Lewis & his troupes.

19th September 2016 ▪     Unfurling of silk Thangka of Buddha Amitabha – the largest silk brocade in the Himalayas

▪     Traditional archery competition

▪     Musical concert with Music Director Trio Shankar, Ehsaan Loy

20th September 2016 ▪     50 stanzas on Guru Devotion by His Holiness the 12thGyalwang Drukpa

▪     Competitions to engage with Ladakhi youth

▪     Performances by Rahul Kharbanda, Sivamani and Deepak Pandit& Friends

21st September 2016 ▪     Performance by Shakti Mohan (winner, Dance India Dance) with local students

▪     A special tribute Performance by Bollywood Singer Neeti Mohan to Saint Naropa.

22nd September 2016 ▪     Closing ceremony with 1 lakh Ganachakra offering

▪     A grand concert in honour of Saint Naropa by celebrity singer Shreya Ghosal

 

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