Ladakh, the Land of high passes is no doubt famous for its serene and tranquil natural beauty. It is also the land of colorful fairs and vibrant festivities and a trip to Ladakh is incomplete without attending at least one of these traditional feats in the form of festivals in various monasteries. Starting from Losar, the new year of Ladakh, every significant occasion for the local is transformed into a huge celebration making it a festival. Marriage ceremony, flowering season, harvesting season, Ladakh festival and annual festivals of the different monasteries are some of the important fairs and festivities of Ladakh.
Of all these, Chhams or Religious mask dances performed during annual festivals of monasteries is an important part of Ladakh’s cultural and religious life. All major Ladakhi monasteries hold annual dance festivals. The most famous among them is the world-famous festival at the Hemis monastery, a leading centre of the Drukpa tradition of Buddhism as well as the festivals of Phyang and Lamayuru monasteries,which belong to the Drikung Kargyu School.
Chhams or mask dances provides a spectacular show, performed by lamas in the Monastery courtyard to celebrate religious festivals, demonstrating perfect foot work and grace. The performers or costumed Lamas with gaily painted masks, ceremonial swords and sparkling jewels, leap and swing to the rhythm of resounding drums, trumpeting of horns and chanting of monks enacting a story of good winning over evil. The masks often resemble legendary creatures or illustrate the various moods of the gods. This dance which is accompanied by music played by monks using traditional Tibetan instruments is usually performed by a few selected sects of Buddhism. There are at times as many as 15-20 performers on the open-air stage with the audience sitting as close as possible. The performers mix with the crowd and bless the onlookers. Villagers from the surrounding district gather at a common place to contribute auspicious offerings to the lama or monastery and to witness the Chhams and festivities that last for several days. Another special feature during this festival is the trade fair held at the base of monasteries, in which villagers from all over Ladakh as well as the tourists assemble to shop and trade items and socialize.