Tags: phiyang

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.

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