61 moments and moods from Padamasambhava dance drama performed during Hemis Festival (Part 1 of 3)

Every summer the colorful dance drama like vajra cuts through the stillness of Hemis village, located in barren craggy mountains of Ladakh, during Hemis Festival. The drama includes various performances by monks who represent different divine figures, heroes, and heroines of Buddhism.


The theme of the performance is Guru Padamasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), a famous preacher of the religion. The sacred drama presents eight different aspects of the preacher, including seven incarnations.




In Sanskrit, word vajra means diamond and thunderbolt. This ritual object generally has five long sharp points. The arrangement of these points make the shape of a bud of lotus. The object, a symbol of the Tantric (Vajrayana) school of Buddhism, is used in the rituals to eradicate ignorance.


The vajra is in fact a symbol of Indra, the rain god of Hinduism. Like diamond it cannot be destroyed but it can destroy evils. The vajra is used with other ritual objects to convey different meanings. For example, vajra in the right hand and the bell in the left hand represent masculine (action) and feminine (intelligence) qualities respectively.


Meaning of word Padamasambhava


The word Padamasambhava means “born in lotus.” The lotus symbolizes a perfect stage of spiritualism.  “Sambhava” means essence.


8 aspects of Guru Padamasambhava during Hemis Festival in Ladakh


  1. Guru Padmavajra
  2. Guru Padma Gyalpo
  3. Guru Nyima Ozer
  4. Guru Lolden Mcchog
  5. Guru Padamsambhava
  6. Guru Shakya Senge
  7. Guru Senge Dradok
  8. Guru Dorje Drolo

Photo story


This 3-part photo story will show you 61 moments and moods from the performance held in the July 2014 edition of the festival.


A pair of lamas blows wind-pipes during Hemis Festival, Ladakh


A pair of lamas blowing wind-pipes come out of the Hemis Monastery temple to set the stage for the arrival of the guru and his entourage. They walk in a row.


Dorje Tolod and Padma Gyalpo, Hemis Festival, Ladakh


(L to R) Dorje Tolod and Padmar Gyalpo, two incarnates, enter the arena.

Dorje Tolod wears a reddish-brown mask and holds vajra (scepter / thunderbolt) in the right hand and dagger in the left hand. This incarnation crushes evil spirits residing in Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet and reveals the truth.

Padmar Gyalpo wears a flesh-color (reddish-pink) mask. The great teacher holds his attributes: a damru (a hand-held drum) and an incense pot. He dresses in orange robe in which red dominates over yellow. The hairs are decorated with a 5-jewel tiara.


Padma Gyalpo performs during Hemis Festival, Ladakh


(L to R) Padma Gyalpo, the guru with pointed red cap, and two white masked monks playing long trumpets enter the arena. Both the incarnations of the guru are great teachers.


Guru Padmavajra, Hemis Festival, Ladakh


Wearing a golden-color mask, Guru Padmavajra with his entourage enters the arena. His attributes are a vajra and bowl. Two dakinis holding bells and damrus accompany the guru.


Guru Padmavajra and the entourage during Hemis Festival, Ladakh


Guru Padmavajra, his various incarnations, and the disciples arrive at the arena. The guru dominates the entourage visually as well because he is almost one and a half times taller than his seven personifications.


  1. Excellent pictures capturing dance moves…as if I was watching the festival live.

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