Leh gears up for Buddhist 'Kumbh of Himalayas'

Leh, Sep 14 A once-in-12-years carnival of Buddhist spirituality, culture and tradition -- and a grand congregation of Drukpa masters -- is set to begin this week at the 17th century Hemis monastery of Drukpa lineage, the largest such in the Himalayas.


Organisers say the fourth edition of the Naropa festival, a celebration of the 1,000th birth anniversary of the great Indian saint Naropa, is likely to see more than 200,000 devotees, mainly from Ladakh, Bhutan and Nepal, during the week-long celebrations, beginning September 16. It's rightly called the Kumbh of the Himalayas.

The festival also attracts people from across the globe, including celebrities. This time, Hollywood stars Michelle Yeoh and Robert Kennedy Junior will be attending, among others.

The rare public display of six bone ornaments and the unfurling of the ancient silk Thangka of Buddha Amitabha, the largest silk brocade in the Himalayas, are among the main highlights of the Naropa festival.

Explaining the display of six sacred ornaments, spiritual leader Thuksey Rinpoche told IANS: "It's rare indeed since this opportunity comes only once in 12 years." He said the moment saint Naropa achieved enlightenment he was offered the six bone ornaments by Dakinis.

"These ornaments are revered relics of Buddhism and historic symbols of a great Himalayan odyssey. From Naropa, several Buddhist traditions flourished throughout India, Central Asia and beyond. For close to 1,000 years, the six bone ornaments have been used as a relic of devotional support," said the 30-year-old Rinpoche, the spiritual regent to the Gyalwang Drukpa, the 54-year-old spiritual head of the Drukpa Order with over 1,000 monasteries across the Himalayas.

On the millennial birth anniversary of saint Naropa, the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa will don the six ornaments to grant the grand Chakrasamvara empowerment.

Believers say the devotees can attain "liberation on sight" on seeing the six ornaments.

Naropa festival authorities say a Guinness World Record will be broken on September 16 for the largest projected image on to the famed Hemis monastery, 40 km from Leh.

The last record was achieved by the Moscow International Festival "Circle of Light" on October 4, 2015, with a dazzling video animation projected on to the famous Ministry of Defence building.

Over 200 kung fu nuns belonging to various nunneries of the Drukpa sect, who reached Leh this month after traversing 2,500 km on cycles from Kathmandu, will also give drum as well as theatrical performances during the festival.

En route to the expedition, led by the Gyalwang Drukpa, they talked about women's empowerment, gender equality and climate change.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi attended the first Naropa festival in June 1980. At that time, 50,000 devotees had attended the festival.

The Naropa festival was earlier to be held, as in the past, in July but was postponed at the last minute as it was coinciding with the visit of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to Leh in August.


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