Spituk Gustor (JANAURY)
Held in the 27th and 29th days of the 11th month of the Tibetan calendar
Spituk Gustor is an annual winter celebration in Ladakh. It is the perfect occasion to cheer you up in the harsh winters. Gustor in the local language means ‘Sacrifice of the 29th day’ and is a traditional ritual to the monasteries of the reformist Geluk-pa order of Tibetan Buddhism.
The three day festival is to be celebrated in the Spituk Monastery. the festival celebrated since the 11th century symbolizes victory of good over evil. The main purpose of the festival is for world peace, happiness and for the welfare of all beings. Prayers start seven days preceding the festival but dances are performed only during the fiesta. There are also effigies of evil forms are also burnt.
The mask dance, Cham is the highlight of Spituk Gustor. The dance is more like a drama representative with characters that represent the guardian divinities (Dharmapalas) of the Buddhist pantheon, and the patron divinities of the Geluk-pa order. Monks dress up in these beautiful masks made of clay and paper painted with natural colors and polished with gold and silver while the dress is usually silk and brocade. The dance is accompanied by the melodious tunes of long horns, cymbals, conch shells, bells and many other instruments.
During this festival, monks from many monasteries of the world such as Stok, Sankar, Saboo and Spituk congregate at the monastery. A protective amulet treasured in the Spituk monastery is uncovered for the festival where pilgrims take blessings. The serene monastery gets crowded with visitors from all over the world.
Dosmochhey Festival (FEBRUARY)
Held in the 27th and 29th days of the 12th month of the Tibetan. Celebrated with great fervor every year, Dosmochhey is one of the most popular festivals of Ladakh. It is simultaneously celebrated in Leh and Likir monasteries during the month of February. In Leh, the festival is held in the courtyard below the Leh Palace where Lamas adorned with masks from various monasteries perform sacred dances (Chams).
Location: courtyard below Leh Palace & Liker monastery
Stok Guru Tsechu Festival (FEB or MARCH)
Held in the 08th and 10th days of the 01th month of the Tibetan calendar
Along with Matho Nagrang festival, the Stok Guru Tsechu is the festival of oracles. But unlike the one in Matho, the oracles of Stok are lay persons who are prepared by the monks so that they can invoke the spirit of deities and predict the future of the village.
Matho Nagrang Festival (MARCH)
Held in the 13th and 15th days of the 01th month of the Tibetan calendar
This festival taking place in the Matho gompa is well-known for oracles. The two monks chosen to be oracles need to meditate for months for the preparation so that they can be ready for the festival and tell the future of the people.
Location: Matho Gompa
Saka Dawa, Buddha Purnima (MAY)
Held in the 15th days of the 03th and 04th month of the Tibetan calendar This festival marks the birth of Lord Buddha, his enlightenment and death. This festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and fervor by people of Ladakh. Cultural programs and speech on life of Lord Buddha are organized at Leh polo ground .
Location: all over Ladakh
Yuru Kabgyat (JUNE )
Held in the 26th and 28th days of the 04th month of the Tibetan calendar
Around 125 km away from Leh, the very popular Lamayuru monastery becomes the venue of the 2-day Yuru Kabgyat festival in the month of July. In the same manner as the other monastic festival, the celebrations in this case are also marked by mask dances by monks who also organize prayers and some other rituals in order to get riddance from disasters and bring peace on earth
Sindhu Darshan Festival (JUNE)
This festival is celebrated to mark the importance of the river Sindhu (Indus). The river is considered as the birthplace of Indian civilization, the symbol of India’s unity. People from different parts of the country converge to Ladakh and showcase cultural programs during the festival. Tributes are also paid to soldiers who gave their lives in the line of duty.
Hemis Tsechu Festival (JUNE)
Held in the 08th and 10th days of the 05th month of the Tibetan calendar
This festival is held to celebrate the birthday of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Sacred mask dances are performed by the resident monks of the monastery in the courtyard. The monastery is home to the world’s largest thangka or Tibetan scroll painting. This two-storey high thangka is unveiled once every 12 years. The thangka was displayed in the year 2016 and it will be shown again in 2028.
Location: Hemis Gompa
Phyang Tsedup Festival (JUNE or JULY)
Held in the 26th and 28th days of the 05th month of the Tibetan calendar
During the festival, sacred mask dances are performed by monks. A huge thangka of Skyoba Jigten Gombo, the founder of the Drikungpa order, is displayed.
This festival is organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department. Various cultural programs are held such as folk dances, traditional music, archery competitions and polo matches. Mask dances are one of the highlights of the festival. This festival is a perfect opportunity for the tourists to discover the culture and lifestyle of the Ladakhi people.
Thiksey Gustor (OCT or NOV)
Thiksey Gustor is held on the 17th, 18th and 19th day of the 9th month of Tibetan lunar calendar every year. It is a traditional ceremony conducted in the monasteries of Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism.
During these days of festival mask dances are performed by monks of the monastery wearing colorful silk brocaded robes and mask in different forms of Gods and Goddesses
Sand mandalas of Guyusamaja, Chakrasamvara, Vajravairava are made every year.
Sand mandalas are made inside the Main Temple in the Fourth, Sixth and Eight months of the Tibetan calendar representing the abodes of these deities. Sand Mandalas are made using millions of grains of coloured ‘sand’ made from powdered stone placed painstakingly into intricate designs using hollow metal funnels called chagpurs. Mandalas are used as an aid to meditation, during which the monks visualise transforming themselves into the deities represented in the design. Once the initiation and meditation is complete, the mandala is destroyed illustrating the principle of the impermanence of all things.
Ga-dan Nya-chot (NOV or DEC)
Celebrates on 25th of 09th month of the Tibetan calendar
What is now referred to as “Tsongkhapa Day” is actually the celebration of the ‘Maha Parinirvana’ of the great Lama Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) whose birth and enlightens activity was prophesized by the Buddha himself. In the root Tantra of Manjushri, Buddha mentions that ‘after my teachings become diluted, you, Manjushri, will appear in the land of Snow and perform the deeds of an enlightened one’.
Lama Tsongkhapa’s Annual Maha Parinirvana is observed on the 25th instance of the 10th lunar month of the Tibetan calendar. Therefore, the day is also referred to as “Ga-dan Nya chot” in Tibetan which means the “Offering Practices of the 5th”, the “5th” deriving from “25th”.
From the spiritual practice point of view, Tsongkhapa Day is extremely significant. Since Guru Yoga practice is the heart and soul of path towards enlightenment, the celebration acts as a reminder for all of us to engage in Guru Devotion and seek the blessings of all the direct and lineage masters. On this day devotees (both lay people and monks) make extensive offerings and engage in Guru Puja practices. The fundamental reason is that there are no holier objects of worship and offering than the Guru/Gurus when it comes to accumulation of merit! In the great monasteries of Sera, Gaden, and Drepung, the monks make extensive offerings of lamps and then engage in Guru Puja Tsog practice.
On the 24th instance of the 10th Tibetan Lunar month, the day just before the Lama Tsongkhapa Day, another important celebration takes place: the celebration of the Parinirvana of Jamchen Choeje, one of Tsongkhapa’s foremost disciples and the founder of Sera Monastery. The Day is usually known among the Tibetans as “Dzi choed” or the “offering practices of the 4th” as it is celebrated on the “24th” instance of the month.
In Ladakh and many parts of Himalayas both these days are celebrated with great devotion ,offerings and aslo all the monasteries, public and residential buildings are lit up. This day also mark the starting of the New Year (losar) celebrations in Ladakh that goes on till the 8th of 10th month.
Location: all over Ladakh
Losar Festival (DECEMBER)
Celebrates on 1st of 10th month of the Tibetan calendar
The Losar festival marks the start of the New Year in Ladakh, it is one of the most important socio-religious events. It lasts about two weeks but the first three days are the most important ones. During this time, Ladakhi people go to the monasteries to make offerings and they visit their relatives and friends.
Location: all over Ladakh