There are a number of gompas (Buddhist monasteries) in Ladakh that hold religious festivals. Like the other monastic festivals in Ladakh, the Chams, which is a sacred drama/dance, forms the core of this festival. For many devotees, however, the main attraction is the the huge thangka of Skyabje Jigten Gombo, who was the founder of the Dringungpa monastic order, which is displayed during the festival. Like most gompas, this one is perched up on a hill above a small village. I decided to go at the last minute, but it was easy to hop on a bus to get there, as it’s very near to Leh.
An elaborately-dressed dancer entering the courtyard.
It is a common practice for each family to send one child in each generation to the monastery, so they may go at a very young age, like these children, the youngest at Phyang. However, unlike in some other traditions, they generally maintain contact with their families, especially if they live in the village near the gompa. These boys have just had their heads shaved, by someone who is evidently not very proficient at the art.
In the West, the idea of sending such young children off to a monastery would be regarded with something akin to horror. However, here, it is considered entirely normal, and the children tend to grow up quite content with their lot.
Given leave to go to their families, these three young monks race across the courtyard with boundless enthusiasm.
These two young monks are happily reunited with their grandfather and other family members for a little while.
I have to admit that I enjoyed watching the children quite as much as I enjoyed watching the Chams dance, although that was also quite a special experience.