ajayjain (ajayjain) wrote in india_travels,

When the lamas dance behind the scenes

Many Buddhist monasteries in the Ladakh and Tibetan regions have a tradition of annual festivals, going back hundreds of years. They are usually dance spectacles with colourful costumes and masks adorned by the lamas (monks) for the occasion. Solemn ceremonies in their own way, it borders on the amusing when you see them practicing leading up to the big day. Like I was witness to at the Phiyang Monastery near Leh in July 2008 a few days before their festival.

For one, it was an opportunity to see the lamas let their guard down away from public eye and behave just like lesser mortals; they were practising in an area usually not open to outsiders. Before I witnessed these sessions, the image of a lama came across as someone who smiled but did not laugh, one who spoke but did not talk too much and one who always seemed a bit serious about everything.

But see them in their private habitat, and they have fun just like anyone else. They were dancing with seemingly two left feet, but with the right spirit. They would try to twirl, and when they could not do it properly, a 71 year old would show them how to with an expression to show he was happy with life. Coordination was the least of their achievements: while one would go north, another two would go east and west respectively. They would huddle close like forging a strategy in an American football game, and then almost fall over themselves laughing looking at others clowning around. A young lama – maybe about 10 – was having the most fun, even taking time out to play cricket with a stick and pebble with another young lama.

The music – from their cymbals, drum and what looked like long golden flutes – did not seem very coherent. But hey, they are not professional performers; they are only custodians of the Buddhist faith.

But isn’t this what happens when we also practice for any public performance? Nothing seems to be right, and suddenly on the appointed day it all comes together. I wish I could have stayed long enough in Leh to attend the festival and check this for myself.
Tags: buddhist, festival, kashmir, ladakh, lamas, leh, monastery, phiyang

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