Naropa Festival: Spectacular display of Ladakh culture

The five-day Naropa Festival, one of the Himalayan region’s biggest, included a wide range of events from traditional dance performances to pop concerts by prominent artistes

Naropa Festival: Spectacular display of Ladakh culture

The five-day festival concluded with a new Guinness World Record for Ladakh and India as 299 Ladakhi women gracefully performed the famous Shondol dance, earning the title of “Largest Ladakhi Dance”

The Naropa Festival, which is held over five days, is one of the biggest carnivals in the Himalayan region. It ended recently with a spectacular display of cultural events ranging from traditional dance performances to pop concerts by prominent artists. Headlining the festival were Bollywood singers Sonu Nigam, Kailash Kher, Papon, Aditi Singh Sharma and Akriti Kakar, who performed before a huge gathering in one of the highest altitude concert venues in the world.

The programme included a wide range of events. Setting the tone of the festival, Ladakh native His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche led prayers for the wellness of all living beings on the opening day. This was followed by cultural presentations, an archery competition, fashion shows, and concert performances by both Himalayan and Bollywood artists as a tribute to the Indian scholar-saint Naropa who ushered in several cherished pillars of Buddhist philosophy. Naropa emphasised the importance of experiential knowledge in one’s journey through life.

The festival officially kicked off on 16 September with the unveiling of Naropa’s “Crown Ornament” along with a set of ancient spiritual relics of the Buddhist tradition. These rarely-seen holy artefacts were on display for all five days of the festival, drawing large crowds and pilgrims. The Crown Ornament on display was one of Naropa’s famed Six Bone Ornaments which include crown, necklace, earrings, bracelets, seralkha and apron. It is one of the most revered Buddhist relics, and it is believed to be an offering to Naropa by the Dakinis at the time of his enlightenment in Ladakh.


Attendees of this formal affair included the chief executive councillor LAHDC Dorjey Motup who was the chief guest, as well as His Eminences Gyalwa Dokhampa, Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, Khamdrak Rinpoche, and a procession of venerable masters, monks and nuns from across the Himalayas and beyond. There were also other attendees, including the international ambassadors.

The festival stage also introduced the inaugural class of the Naropa Fellowship, a new one-year, post-graduate academic programme designed to support the next generation of leaders in India and the greater Himalayas. The co-founder of the Naropa Fellowship, His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, gave a speech on the importance of Ladakh and its future, congratulating over 70 fellows that competed rigorously for their opportunity to learn and pioneer ethical development in their communities, while preserving and utilising their cultural heritage.

Ladakh’s first EDM Album Rhythm of the Stars also debuted during the Naropa Festival. Produced by young Ladakhi musical talents, the ground-breaking album is a beautiful mix of electronica and the traditional sounds of the region. The proceeds from the album will be donated to Kerala flood survivors’ fund.

The world-famous “Kung Fu Nuns” of the Drukpa lineage of Buddhism made an appearance on the stage as well. They performed a self-choreographed Dharma Dance while Ladakhi students showcased an indigenous fashion show titled Incredible Ladakh. The participants displayed intricate Ladakhi clothing, and their various tradition-inspired looks. A cultural highlight of the festival was the unfurling of a great Himalayan treasure — the largest silk embroidery of Buddha Amitabha. This immense work of craftsmanship and art stretches up to 70 foot in height, and exposure is limited only to special events.

The five-day festival concluded with a new Guinness World Record for Ladakh, India. Earning the title of “Largest Ladakhi Dance,” around 299 Ladakhi women gracefully performed the famous dance of Shondol. Guinness World Records official Swapnil Dangarikar presented the record certificate to His Eminence Khamtak Rinpoche, the chairman of the Organizing Committee for Naropa Festival 2018. Former ambassador Phunchok Stobdan presided as the chief guest of the closing ceremony, which culminated in a featured performance by Sonu Nigam.

Representatives and ambassadors from around the world participated in the Naropa Festival 2018, including the Ambassador of South Korea, His Excellency Shin Bong Kil; deputy head of Mission, Embassy of Italy His Excellency Luigi Estero; Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the Republic of Poland, His Excellency Robert Dziedzic;  deputy head of mission, the US Embassy; Her Excellency Marykay Carlson; First Secretary from Embassy of Brazil, Daniel Machado da Fonseca; Representatives of His Holiness Je Khenpo of Bhutan, the Government of Kingdom of Bhutan, and more.

Additional attendees included MP Ladakh Thupstan Tsewang, MLA Leh Nawang Rigzin Jora, EC LAHDC Gyal P Wangyal, EC Agriculture Tsering Wangdus, EC Tourism Tsering Wangdus, SSP T Gyalpo, former CEC Rigzin Spalbar, several councillors, and religious and political heads.

About Drukpa Lineage

The Drukpa Lineage (also called the “Dragon Lineage”) is an integral part of Indian, Himalayan, and Central Asian legacy and culture, dating back to the Indian scholar-saint Naropa who established many of the foundational pillars of Buddhism.

The Drukpas are best known for taking its meditation practice off the mat and into the world – converting compassion into action to tackle real world challenges.

They are known for extensive hands-on environmental work, fighting against human trafficking, animal rescue missions, and promoting gender equality, among other humanitarian efforts. The revolutionary “Kung Fu Nuns” of recent acclaim are female monastics of the Drukpa Lineage.

Historically, the Drukpa Lineage follows the Mahayana Buddhist tradition of pursuing “enlightenment for the benefit of others,” in addition to the Tantrayana teachings passed down from the great Indian saint Naropa. It acquired the name “Drukpa” in the 12th century when the reincarnation of Naropa, Tsangpa Gyare, saw nine dragons miraculously fly into the sky from the grounds of Namdruk. The present His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, spiritual head of the lineage, is the 12th incarnation.

Because the Lineage makes its home along the most important ancient trading routes, its core values of acceptance and service nurtured great civilisations throughout history, including modern day Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, China, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Today, the Drukpa Lineage continues to thrive throughout the Himalayas, especially in Ladakh, Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti in India, as well as Bhutan and Nepal. Bhutan, also known as “Druk Yul” or “Land of Thunder Dragons”, honours the Drukpa Lineage as its state religion.