From the launch of Ladakh’s first EDM album and a fellowship in the Himalayas to new Guinness records, this year’s Naropa Festival marked the rise of a new wave of modernism in the land of high passes. By Rashima Nagpal

Ladakh’s Naropa Festival moves past its tradition of happening once in 12 years; after the grand celebrations in 2016, another edition of the festival just concluded at the Hemis Monastery. There’s a chance that the festival will now take place annually.

Naropa Festival
Naro Photang, the venue of the festival, at night

Over five days of celebration, we saw a vibrant mix of traditional and contemporary events take center stage. Little monks marked the beginning of the festival with the National Anthem, and Bollywood singers Kailash Kher, Sonu Nigam, Papon, Aditi Singh Sharma and Akriti Kakar wooed many a local fans at their respective evening concerts.

Naropa Festival
Little monks excited to perform at the festival.

The festival with its wide range of events – from spiritual processions and folk performances to archery and the launch of an EDM album – was constantly buzzing. The EDM album, Rhythm of the Stars, is a first from Ladakh, produced by young Ladakhi music enthusiasts, and features a beautiful mix of electronica and the traditional music of Ladakh.

In one of the events, the Kung Fu Nuns of the Drukpa lineage of Buddhism performed a self-choreographed ‘Dharma Dance’ with zeal. It might be interesting to note that it was only in 2008 that the nuns or women in the Drupka Lineage were encouraged to participate in conventionally male-dominated practice of Kung Fu. But ever since, the Kung Fu Nuns have carved a niche for themselves on a global platform. They performed at Olympic Park before the Olympics in the United Kingdom in 2012, and each year they do “Eco-Pad Yatras” (usually 400+ miles long) on foot to pick up plastic litter, and educate locals on environmentally-friendly ways of living across the Himalayas, among other things.

Naropa Festival
Monks and nuns prepping for the grand procession.

Another significant highlight of this year’s Naropa Festival has been the launch of the Naropa Fellowship. It is a one-year, post-graduate academic programme designed to support the next generation of leaders in India and the greater Himalayas. To create opportunities for the young, His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche and scholar-author Dr. Pramath Raj Sinha have co-founded the fellowship programme that begins this year.

The women of Ladakh once again took lead by earning a new Guinness World Record of “Largest Ladakhi Dance”. Two hundred ninety-nine Ladakhi women gracefully performed the traditional dance Shondol.

Naropa Festival
Ladakhi women performing Shondol

With the backdrop of the mighty Himalayas surrounding the Hemis Monastery, the Naropa Festival has been a one-of-a-kind experience.