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Fairs, Festivals, Melas

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Ladakh celebrates winter festival of 'Dosmoche'
by Jigmet Vangchuk

     Leh: Hundreds of Buddhist followers converged here to witness the spectacular mask dances performed by Buddhist monks on the occasion of the winter festival of "Dosmoche". The hills surrounding the courtyard of the main monastery of Leh, situated below the palace gates, came alive with activity as people dotted the slopes for the two-day annual festival, which recently concluded. Buddhists believe the annual ritual could ward off evil spirits and natural calamities. During the festival, the monks and the followers the cold desert region come together to chant away evil spirits. The rhythmic beats of the drum accompanying the high drawl of the trumpet like instruments called 'gyaling' with the occasional clashes of the cymbals resonated off the rocky bare slopes as monks adorned in multi-hued robes and vivid masks representing wrathful forms of various deities considered the manifestations of Buddha himself, danced to the beats with gay abandon to ward off evil and welcome universal peace and happiness. An ancient tradition, the festival was started by the Kings of Ladakh and used to be sponsored by the royal Namgyal family of Ladakh whose palace still stands as an imposing backdrop and is today celebrated by the monks of various monasteries in turns every year. The festival was started during the reign of King Lhachen Gongdup (1295-1320) who fought two battles with Nyungti (Kullu of Himachal Pradesh) to subdue the destructive forces of the battles. "I have been staying in Leh for the past 30-35 years. I have been seeing this fair since then. This has been going on since the time the King of Ladakh ruled," said Tenzing Norphel, a resident. The main ritual of the festival is the burning of a colourful structure, basically made of thread. This ritual is accompanied by another minor ritual and mask dances in the courtyard. Monks of various monasteries alternately perform these dances. This year the monks of the Hemis monastery performed the spectacular mask dances. Though Ladakh has a host of festivals sprinkled around the year, "Dosmoche" is the only festival celebrated by all the monasteries. The two-day festival is also a huge draw for visitors to the area, who alongwith the locals celebrate it with much devotion and excitement.
-Feb 25, 2009

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