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Ladakh - Culture & Religion
 
 
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Culture

The people of Ladakh, by and large, exhibit a natural joie-de-vivre, which is given free rein by the region's ancient traditions. Socio-religious festivals, including the annual festivals held in the monasteries, provide the excuse for convivial gatherings. Archery is a pastime for all in summer. Among the Buddhists this sport often takes the form of open-air parties accompanied by dance and song. The game of polo is yet nother proud element of the popular culture.

Ladakh - People

 

Ladakh - Achary

Archery and Polo

Archery is an ancestral sport of Ladakh, which is part of the culture. In Leh and its surrounding villages, archery festivals are held during the summer months, with a lot of fun and fanfare. They are competitive events, to which all the surrounding villages send their teams. The sport itself is conducted with strict etiquette, to the accompaniment of the music of surna and daman (oboe and drum). As important as the sport itself are the interludes of dancing and other entertainment. Chang, the local barley beer, flows freely, but there is rarely any rowdiness. The crowds attend in their Sunday best, the men invariably in traditional dress and the women wearing their brightest brocade mantles and their heaviest jewellery. Archery may be the pretext for the gathering, but partying is the thing. In Kargil area, on the other hand, the archery competitions are more serious and bereft of the dancing and music, and these are held in early spring, at the time of the thawing of the winter snow and frost.

 

Polo, the other traditional sport of Ladakh is indigenous to the western Himalayas, especially to Baltistan and Gilgit. It was probably introduced into Ladakh in the mid-17th century by King Singge Namgyal, whose mother was a Balti princess. The game played here differs in many respects from the international game, which is adapted from what British travellers saw in the western Himalayas and Manipur in the 19th century. Each team consists of six players, and the game lasts for an hour with a ten-minute break. Altitude notwithstanding, the hardy local ponies - the best of which come from Zanskar – scarcely seem to suffer, though play can be fast and furious. Each goal is greeted by a burst of music from surna and daman, and the players often show extraordinary skill. Unlike the international game, polo in Ladakh is not exclusively for the rich.

Ladakh - Polo

 

Ladakh - Religion

Religion

Ladakh was the conduit through which Buddhism reached Tibet from India and in the process it got deeply entrenched in the region from the very beginning. There are ancient Buddhist rock engravings all over the region, even in the areas like Dras and the lower Suru Valley which today are inhabited by an exclusively Muslim population. The divide between Muslim and Buddhist Ladakh passes through Mulbekh (on the Kargil-Leh road) and between the villages of Parkachik and Rangdum in the Suru Valley, though there are pockets of Muslim population further east, in Padum (Zanskar), in Nubra Valley and in and around Leh. The approach to a Buddhist village is invariably marked by mani walls which are long, chest-high structures faced with engraved stones bearing Buddhist mantra, and by chorten (commemorative cairns)

Many villages are crowned with a Gompa or monastery, which may be anything from an imposing complex of temples, prayer halls and monks' dwellings, to a tiny heritage housing a single image and home to a solitary lama.

 

Islam too came from the west. A peaceful penetration of mainly the Shia sect spearheaded by Islamic missionaries, its success can be attributed to the early conversion of the chieftains of Dras, Kargil and the Suru Valley. In these areas, mani walls and chorten are replaced by mosques, small unpretentious buildings, or Imambaras, which are imposing structures with a quaint blend of Islamic and Tibetan styles, surmounted by domes of metal sheet that gleam cheerfully in the sun. There are also pockets of Sunni Muslims among which the Dardsof Drass and the Arghons of Leh are the largest groups.

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