By Shyamal Sinha
Hemis Monastery existed before the 11th century. Naropa, the pupil of the yogi Tilopa, and teacher of the translator Marpa is connected with this monastery. A translation was made by A. Grünwedel (Năro und Tilo,: Festschrift Ernst Kuhn, München 1916) of Naropa’s biography that was found in Hemis monastery.
The five-day Naropa Festival, one of the biggest festivals in the Himalayas that celebrates the life and legacy of the scholar and is also known as the “Kumbh Mela of the Himalayas,” was held at Hemis Monastery, in Leh, India, from 16-20 September. The festival concluded with a “Shondol” dance that earned a Guinness World Record as the “Largest Ladakhi Dance”. 299 Ladakhi women, aged between 18 and 60 and dressed in the traditional Ladakhi attire of coat-like ‘gongchas’ with ‘perak’ headgear, performed the famous “Shondol” dance to celebrate the closing day of the festival. Swapnil Dangarikar, Guinness World Records official adjudicator, presented the record certificate to the Chairman of the Organising Committee for the Naropa Festival 2018.
“They have broken the record with 299 successful participants. This is a new Guinness World Record title… With this I declare that all of you are officially amazing,” said Dangarikar, who looks after the world records and world-record attempts in India and Southeast Asia. (News18)
The festival is held every twelve years according to the Tibetan calendar and celebrates the life of Naropa, a Buddhist scholar and philosopher, who lived from 1016 to 1100. The last festival was held in 2016, when the 1000 anniversary of Naropa’s birth was celebrated. Many devotees, however, could not attend the celebrations that year, so a second festival was organized in 2018. The celebrations started with the unveiling of Naropa’s “Crown Ornament,” along with a set of ancient Buddhist spiritual relics. The “Crown Ornament” is one of Naropa’s famed Six Bone Ornaments (Crown, Necklace, Earrings, Bracelets, Seralkha and Apron). It is a highly revered Buddhist relic that is said to have been offered to Naropa by the Dakinis, Tantric priestesses of Vajrayana Buddhism, when he attained enlightenment in the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh (Leh was the former capital of the Himalayan kingdom).
The festival also featured various cultural events such as chanting lamas, Buddhist dance performances, and a variety of other art forms integral to Tibetan Buddhism, including the making of a coloured sand mandala and thangka painting demonstrations. Other highlights included public talks, a traditional Ladakhi archery competition, a fashion show, and concert by Bollywood singers Sonu Nigam, Kailash Kher, Papon, Aditi Singh Sharma, and Akriti Kakar.
“[The festival] is a platform for all to come together and to encourage our people and artists,” said one of the members of the organising committee, adding that “It is a platform to meet and interact with the followers of the Drupka Lineage from India, Tibet, and other parts of the world. It is also a platform to exchange the teachings of the Buddha dharma. It is also a platform to learn the culture of Ladakh.” (News 18)
The festival also featured the launch of the Naropa Fellowship program, which was founded by the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa. The Naropa Fellowship program is a one-year, post-graduate program aimed at encouraging and shaping the next generation of leaders in India and the Himalayas. The curriculum is being devised by experts from Indian School of Business and the founders of Young India Fellowship and will have guest lectures by faculty members from ISB, UPenn, Cape Town University, Harvard, Oxford and other universities. The Naropa Fellowship aims to stimulate the program fellows to start local enterprises in Ladakhthat can create employment opportunities for youngsters who come back after completing their studies.
“We want them to be a good human being, by educating them we also want them to preserve the Himalayan culture which they will understand here. The teachings will include love and compassion. Instead of class lessons, the students will get a chance to learn through examples and not just through class lessons,” explained Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche. (News 18) “With one year of teaching, knowledge and experience about love, compassion, peace and also living in a place like Ladakh, I am sure people will learn to survive mentally and physically amidst challenges, like no internet or shower. It will make them more aware of the region’s specific difficulties,” he added. (The Week)