Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Culture Of Ladakh


When one talks of Ladakh’s culture, it is the West Tibetan influence – dominant up to the late medieval period – that comes immediately to mind, after we see the influx of Islamic and Hindu traditions. Ladakh is divided into clearly defined cultural zones.  West of Mulbekh lays the Islamic centre of Kargil. It incorporates many aspects of the lifestyle of the Kashmir valley and some of the Indus valley; east of Mulbekh is the Buddhist citadel, Leh, with its treasured monasteries and murals, vast altars and gilded icons, brocaded fabrics, illuminated manuscripts and masterpieces in metal-work.

Ladakhi crafts reflect the splendor of nature’s tints, using rust-red, ochre and umber from the fossil-rich rocks, amethyst, lapis and turquoise to embellish these tones, and the gold of the sunrise or the smoky purple of twilight to reflect the life-giving forces. Spinning and weaving of wool, metal work, wood carving and thangka paintings have been the favored crafts. The arts of Ladakh are closely related to Buddhism and its precursor Bon Chos. This is the sacred backdrop to what we now consider a secular tradition.

Read more about Leh and Zanskar

Manali - Zanskar - Leh: Hot Potatoes on the way

Music and Dance in Ladakh


Ladakh’s religious dance remains within the Tibetan tradition whereas the social dances, Pome-chas, danced by women, and Pu-che-chas, danced by men, are being developed for the stage. But they are seen best in their natural setting at a village wedding or an archery contest. Buddhist society, though open and free does not have a strong formal educational system because the monastic tradition dominates. Dance has traditionally filled this hiatus, offering an informal avenue for teaching social norms.

music and dance ladakh
Music and dance festival of local Ladakhi
Music in the mountains arises from nature like plaintive sigh; it’s not the structured achievement of a formal system evolved by societies with a long urban history. No social event or activity – sowing or harvesting, a wedding or a festival – is complete without music. In the past, music was not a form of entertainment; it was either part of a religious ceremony or related to the life of the people. But musicians who earlier had easy access to local patronage, are entertainers today, having joined the stream of migrants to the township after the closure of the old trade routes interrupted the dispersal of goods and services.

Traveling Thangkas

artist creating thangkas
Artist creating thangkas
Rare and beautiful thangkas from the Lamaseries of Ladakh are being sent around the country at the initiative of the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh. The exhibition will end up at the Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath. The exhibit has benefited the paintings as they have been restored. Yet, some thangkas are more than 300 years old and their colors are fading and the paint is cracking.

Thangkas narrate incidents from the life of Buddha, the Bodhisattavas or illustrate the Sakyamuni’s teachings and sermons. Earlier, only experts appreciated this art. But, their visual appeal has attracted the layperson and many countries in the Himalayas are using thangkas as souvenirs. These silken masterpieces attract the attention of the faithful because they are rich with meaning. The use of natural colors made from stone ensures that the color lasts. The thangka is a religious object, which has a strict code of representation and needs consecration by lamas to infuse it with a divine spirit.

Family tradition in Ladakh


Marriages are occasions for revelry and everyone participates with gaiety. A Ladakhi marriage is generally initiated by the groom’s family with an offering of chang to the bride’s family. Often the go-between is the lama. If the match is accepted, the lama is consulted and the date fixed. Although in towns, the families share the cost incurred, the community bears most of the expenditure of the marriage feast. Each family contributes something: wheat, barley, sugar, apricots, butter or milk.


Muslim weddings are similar except for the segregation of male and female guests and drinking of tea instead of chang. Often the groom returns to the bride’s house if her family does not have a son. Divorced individuals and poorer families have the sanction to celebrate a marriage ‘by theft’. Where the bride is brought home quietly and only relatives and close friends are invited to a meal after a few days.

Read More about Travel Tips in Ladakh

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The birth of child is also an occasion for the community to come close. The infant is taken to blacksmith’s shop to inhale odors which keep away evil spirits. When a grandson is old enough to work in the field, the grandparents may sometimes move to a cottage and cultivate a small plot to make way for the new generation. The joint family is still the norm in Ladakh with the elder son assuming a patriarchal role and caring for the family’s well-being. Often the eldest daughter of a Buddhist family that has no sons takes on the same role.

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