In Ladakh every occasion like marriage, birth, harvesting, Losar (New Year) and flowering is marked by feasting, dancing and the singing of folksongs. Most of the festivals are held in winter but some popular festival take place in summer too. The monastic festivals are the heart of all the festivals. They are performed by monks wearing colorful silk garments and different facial mask.
Hemis festival is one of the most famous monastic festivals in June to commemorate birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. The sacred dance drama of the life and mission is performed wearing facial masks and colorful brocades robes. The three-day festival takes place from 9th to 11th. Especially, the monkey year festival, which comes in a cycle of 12 years. During the festival the four-storey thanka of Guru Padma Sambhava is hung in the courtyard and other precious thankas are also exhibited.
Gustors take place at Thiksey, Spituk and Karsha in different months of the year. The festival takes place for two days. The celebration is to mark the victory over evils. The mask worn by the dancers represent the Guardians, Protectors and the Gods and Goddesses. The festival ends with the symbolic assassination of evils and burning of the effigy of evils.
Dosmochey is celebrated in Leh (Leh Palace), Liker (Lower Ladakh) and Deskit (Nubra valley) monasteries in February. The most famous among all is Leh Dosmochey, which is celebrated for two days in the courtyards of the Leh palace. The monks from different monasteries perform the Chams every year turn by turn. The festival takes place in the end and starting of the Tibetan New Year. The monks of Takthok monastery prepares the offering with Thread crosses which binds all the evil, hungry ghosts and guard against natural disaster in the coming year. On the second day of the festival, the offerings are taken out of the town in a procession and burn it while people whistle to chase away the evil spirits.
Matho Nagrang is celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month of Tibetan calander, at Matho monastery, the only monastery of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. During these two days of festival mask dances are performed by monks of the monastery wearing colorful silk brocaded robes and mask in different forms of God and Goddesses. The festival is famous because of appearance of the two oracles during the festival after full month meditation in complete isolation. The two oracles appear in the courtyard accompanying mask dancers and predict future events and people from far and away come to seek advice to perform ritual to tackle with disasters.
The monks of Stok and Spituk monasteries also celebrate Stok Gruru Tsechu for two days with mask dances performed. It is also held in February around a week before the Matho Nagrang. During the festival two oracle appears, but they are laymen from the same village prepared by monks to receive the spirit of the deities.
Phyang Tsedup takes place in July / August. Like other monasteries, monks wearing colorful brocade robes and Mask in the form of different god and goddesses perform mask dances. The huge thanka of Skyoba Giksten Gonbo is hung in the courtyard during the festival.
The 2-day festival takes place in July in Lamayuru monastery around 125 kms from Leh. Monks like other monastic festival perform mask dances. During the festival monks perform prayer and rituals to get rid of disaster and pray for peace in the world.
The Losar (New Year) celebration is followed by Galdan Namchot, the birth anniversary of Tsogkha pa who introduced Gelukpa School of order. During Namchot people illuminate their houses, monasteries and mountains and make offerings in the houses and monasteries.
The Losar festival is celebrated in the eleventh month of Tibetan calendar, two months ahead of Tibetan New Year. In early 17th century, King Jamyang Namgyal decided to lead an expedition against the Baltistan forces in winter; therefore he decided to celebrate the festival two months before. Later it became a tradition and being celebrated in the eleventh month.
The festival lasts for around a month, during which Gods, deities, ancestors and even the animals are fed without fail. Images of Ibex are made as auspicious symbol; walls of the kitchens are dotted and are believed to bring prosperity in coming year. The Metho (procession of fire) is thrown out chanting slogans and chasing hungry ghosts and evil spirits, and they return with rocks of ice as auspicious symbol and these are kept in the store.
Ladakh festival takes place in September 1-15 every year in Leh and villages. The inauguration ceremony takes place in Leh on large scale with the procession of various cultural troupes from different part of Ladakh. It passes through Leh Market dancing, singing with traditional music, in colorful traditional Ladakhi dresses, and finishes at Polo ground after performing their best dances and songs. The festival last for 15 days with regular program in different villages. The program includes Archery, Polo, and Mask Dances from the monasteries, traditional dances by cultural troupes from Villages. There are series of musical concert and dance program in Leh town.
Sindhu Darshan is a three-day festival held from 1st to 3rd June, in Shey Manla around 8 kms from Leh on the bank of Indus river. For the first time it was organized in October 1997, as a symbol of unity and Communal harmony and national integration. Whilst promoting domestic tourism in Ladakh. It is also a symbolic salute to brave soldiers of India who have been fighting not only with enemies in the in the human form but also in the form of nature.
During this festival artists from different parts of the country perform traditional dances and people from all religions, castes and regions participate.