This post is a continuation from a previous post titled “Photo Essay | Reminiscing Ladakh.” It takes you to a first-hand dip into Ladakh, through the lens of a photographer who, fueled by interest, perceived by passion, and pushed by curiosity spent days exploring and probing the land of mysteries. Read the first issue in the series here.”
History says, once upon a time Ladakh was the capital of Tibet. This capital was established by the last emperor of Tibet- Langadharma. In the first century, Ladakh was included in the empire of Khushuna. Baltistan and Aksai Chin were also included in Ladakh. The then Baltistan is now under Pakistan and Aksai Chin is a part of China today.
Ladakh, being the crown-holder of diverse commercial activities throughout many centuries, had adopted the culture of various countries of the Middle East. Out of those nations, undoubtedly Tibet had influenced Ladakh to a great extent. The Tibetan culture got mixed with various local rituals, customs of other countries. Buddhism came to Ladakh from Kashmir; Kashmir was a Buddhist majority region at that time.
In fact, Buddhism was spread to Tibet in the second century from Kashmir via Ladakh. Right from that era, Ladakh was considered to be one of the most important centers to cultivate Buddhism. When the adjacent places of Ladakh like Kargil, Baltistan, Afghanistan, etc. were gradually turning towards the Islamic religion, only Tibet remained as the most faithful friend of Ladakh, in terms of exchange of Buddhist culture.
Today, also the influence of Tibetan culture is predominantly evident in the civil societal structures – be it a dwelling house or Buddhist Monastery. One would also find the resonance of Tibetan tunes in Ladakhi music, even in the chanting of musical Mantras by the Lamas (Buddhist monks).
That is the reason why Ladakhis take pride in calling Ladakh as “Little Tibet”. Racism does not exist among the Ladakhis, exactly like the Tibetans. You will not find upper-caste – lower caste discrimination in Tibetan social culture. The females in Ladakh also enjoy the same social status as males which is extremely unusual in other parts of India, especially in underdeveloped regions.
The Buddhist Monasteries of Ladakh are predominantly different in shape-size-culture-custom from the other Buddhist study centers of the world. Mostly these monasteries are isolated from the world on the top of the hill in a beautiful serene place amidst Mother Nature.
One has to climb up the hill a little to get into these monasteries, made of bricks, stones, and woods. The main house for prayer and the resting place for the Lamas – mostly the monasteries are constructed along these lines. The inner apartments of the monasteries are in some way mystery-clad. The main entrances of the monasteries are generally low in height so that one has to bend his head before the almighty while entering.
Once you enter the premises you are struck with the mysterious environment in the semi-darkness. Nothing is apparently visible as it should be. On top of this, there has been a strong smell of resin, paraffin, or something of that sort. Once your eyes get accustomed to the thin ray of light trespassing from the skylight, you would see all the walls are covered by the strange and vibrant images of god and goddess. Most of these images are made of the mural. In the closet made of semi-transparent glasses, there exist candle-dolls, crafted by Lamas, utensils, bells, old and faded manuscripts worn to shreds.
In the front, on a tall platform Gyani Buddha (Maitraya) conspicuously exists. In Ladakhi language the “Maitreya” image of Lord Buddha is called Chamba. Most of the time, chanting of mantras by the Lamas or the beats of deep-toned musical instruments are heard from the interior apartments of the monasteries.
Interior apartments are called Dokhang. These are basically prayer halls of a monastery. Generally, in all the monasteries there exist another room adjacent to Dokhang – In this room, they usually keep the idols of death’s god and strange masks that will surely make one terrified.
At the time of mask-festival, the Lamas wear these staff while performing mask-dance. Outside there are Chortens in rows (temple shaped constructions made of bricks) and series of prayer wheels. Lamas of all ages with their simple and innocent faces, always roam around in various corners of the monasteries.
This is the second issue of an ongoing series under the banner of “Beyond The Lens, from the desk of Deb Lahiri.” The Author is a self-made photographer whose work has been featured in a number of pro-photography outlets including National Geographic.
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