The organization of Lamayuru village

The physical organisation of the villages is typically agricultural fields in the relatively flat lands next to the local stream, with houses clambering up the slope and the whole settlement culminating in a monastery perched on a crag overlooking the whole community.

Lamas watching the dance drama at Hemis

Lamas, or monks, looking after the monastery function, as astrologers decide the appropriate dates for sowing, harvesting or commencing a long journey, preside over functions associated with birth, death or marriage and, in general, ensure the spiritual well being of the community.

Almost every family contributes a son or a daughter to the religious order who, thereafter, becomes a monk or a nun, leads a life of celibacy and spiritual training pursued, often, in the earlier days, at religious centres in Tibet.

Kids will be kids even if they are monks ! Cricket involving one bowler and three batsmen

The celibate religious order taking away almost a tenth of the population, combined with, a loosely practised polyandry, whereby only one son or daughter, in any particular generation got married served to prevent division of agricultural land into economically unviable units and also managed to keep the population in check and in tune with the low carrying capacity of the resources of the region.

Festival held in the courtyard of Hemis Monastery

During the winter months, when the agricultural operations are at a standstill, most monasteries have their own two day festival based on specific dates of the Tibetan calendar. Hemis, near Leh and one of the richest monasteries, modified this and holds its festival in summer and has, accordingly, become famous with the tourists. Some other monasteries appear to be following suit.

Performers with their masks still on resting in between their dance

These festivals, where typically monks attired in rich brocade gowns and fearful masks enact an elaborate dance drama; narrating the age-old story of the victory of good over evil.


The symbolism, typical of the tantrik version of Vajrayana Buddhism practised in Ladakh, has made the actual story secondary to the stylised rythmic movements to the accompaniment of the droning sound of chanting of hymns, drums, cymbals and long horns.


The vestiges of the pre-Buddhist shamanistic Bon faith make their appearance as grotesque masks worn by the performers, leading the early Western explorers to describe these festival as ‘devil dances’.