Hemis gompa was our next stop destination when we embarked into the hired taxis. Situated at an altitude of 12000 ft it was about 45 kms from our hotel in Leh. With the thought of yet another journey floating in my mind, I wasn’t too energized but set out to visit this structure.
Besides having heard interesting facts about Hemis Monastery that it holds the distinction of being the biggest as well as the wealthiest monastery of Ladakh, I wasn’t really looking forward to this monument. I guess this was the effect of ‘other’ monasteries, which bore a testimony of neglect and apathy, have had on me.
And the fact that Hemis gompa dates back to the year 1630, it’s visualisation as a remnant of a distinct culture and history was something that bothered me.
Once we reached the site I realised that my fascination and enticement towards this visit was at its low. I believe it had to do with the fact that both my body and soul wasn’t in sync with the exhaustive travelling that we had undertaken this fortnight.
And while I walked carelessly towards this structure a distant chant caught me anxious. I could hear the beating of drums from the other side of the wall. Synchronised with humming voices it had a captivating effect on me. I walked with hurried steps to locate the source as if I was being drawn towards it.
Once I entered the court of the gompa, I saw a huddle of monks dancing to the tunes of some ancient chants. There were three elderly monks reciting chants from an old manuscript, while the younger ones were following the experienced steps of a monk, who was leading the dance in a circular motion around a flagpole in the yard.
The mesmerising music was a mixture of chants and the sounds, emanating from some unfamiliar instruments, played by these three monks who were closely observing the steps with skilful eyes.
I watched the young monks following every step performed by the monk in the front, who was choreographing his steps to the tune of this tender music. With every movement each word and note seemed to have a greater meaning. The soft and tender chants were so rich in compassionate overtones that their slow movements in accord with the tune seemed soothing.
I saw some other elderly monks amused over the utilities of mobile phones, that the younger monks were carrying, suggesting me of their interaction with the technologically driven, outside world. I was wondering how they have managed to preserve and nurture this 200 yr old tradition. But as I watched them rehearse, I sensed their faithfulness and commitment towards their customs and their daily chores which has become a way of life for them.
Hemis serves as the venue of an annual festival, known as the festival of Tso Chu. It is celebrated every year to commemorate the birth of Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rimpoche.
And during the festival a sacred mask dance is performed by the monks, dressed in colourful robes and wearing masks depicting various characters, who dance around the main tarchen(flagpole) in the main courtyard. The dance takes place on 9th and 10th day of the fifth month of the Tibetan calendar. Like many other religious beliefs it celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
This monastic festival is special during the year of the monkey, which comes once in 12 yrs, as it marks the birth year of Guru Rimpoche, the founder of Tantrik Buddhism in Tibet.
Unaffected and unconscious of the enthusiastic spectators and visitors, clicking pictures up-close, many without a sense of courtesy, the monks continued to practise for this year’s festival. Till one over-excited visitor decided to join them, to dance, for a picture, the monk leading the dance made offensive gestures to express his annoyance!
There was something in the air that enthralled me. I was getting captivated by the soulful music that hummed into my ears. While I walked sheepishly, close up to the monks who were undisturbed by the presence of the strangers, I realised their attentiveness was too high to be bothered by this intrusion into their space and time.
I walked as if I was hypnotised under their spell.
With calculated steps and moves I went and sat right beside the monks who were creating this magical harmony.
Their chants put me at comfort.
The tune was joyous and resonant to my inner being.
My eyes closed and with a sense of unawareness of the environment I was in, the people around me, the place I was in.. I sat quietly to listen to and feel the tones, the vibrancy and rhythms of the chants.
The melodious tune transported me to a place where I felt emotion without having to 'think' new thoughts. For a moment I realised that I was blank. There were no thoughts of the past or future. I was in the present.
It took my mind away from redundant or negative thinking to joyfulness.
This tender, calming and refreshing music seemed to have a healing effect on my body, mind and soul. I felt as if it broke my cycle of thought, enough to allow my natural energy to flow freely again; my body felt warmer; energized.
I felt I was closer to the ‘One’ than I have ever been. I felt I touched onto something, something unknown yet familiar; and it touched me.
I do not know if it was for real.
All I know for sure is that it gave me a rest; uplifted me when I was feeling out of sorts.
It felt as if I sat there for hours.
There was something about this place that made me feel at peace with myself.
Now I appreciate why music has been an integral part of meditation since the very dawn of civilisation.
I have read that ‘Buddha’ simply meant “one who is awakened”. Even though I have not become a Buddha but I guess I understand what it means to be Buddha. With these worthy rewards, the few minutes I spent in this abode were worth enjoying!
Energized and inspired, I moved on.