Other than its beautiful landscape Ladakh also offers the most mystical and colourful annual festivals. Some festivals that are associated specifically with some Buddhist monasteries of the region are known as "gustors".
Among the gustors celebrated in the region, the Spituk gustor, in particular, has a special place in the hearts of many locals. It is believed that this festival, celebrated from the 25th to the 29th of the 11th month (of the Tibetan lunar calendar) signifies the end of winter. Monks from across different monasteries come together to chant and go on a reflective spiritual journey at the end of the year. Many believe that the festival cleanses the energy of the region so that the new year gives people a fresher start.
The most visually stunning aspect of this festival, however, is the "cham" or the Tibetan masked dance- a ritualistic dance form that is said to have originated in Tibet over eight hundred years ago and much like most other traditional dance forms is an expression of a narrative. These masked dances are also probably one of the most nuanced manifestations of Buddhist symbolism.
Over the three final days, a variety of dances are performed but dances such as the "skeleton cham" or the "black hat cham" are probably among our personal favourites. The "skeleton cham" for instance, is a representation of "the disintegration of phenomena, including the body itself as well as the impermanent nature of various states of mind" and the "black hat cham" is a dance that represents the story of how a Buddhist monk by the name of Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje performed a cham in front of the tyrannical king of Tibet, Langdarma, before striking him with an arrow.
While doing some research on this festival we got the opportunity to talk to Gen ley (senior monk) at the Spituk Monastery. Gen ley shared that the word "gustor" is an amalgamation of two words "gu" and "stor". "Gu" in Ladakhi translates to the number 9 which is considered to be very auspicious and therefore, the festival always ends on a date that has the number "9" on it. "Stor" or "storma", according to Get ly is a representation of the "destruction of evil". Therefore, the auspicious day on which "mankind is cleansed off of all its negativity" is the day of the gustor!
People come together in hopes of fewer natural disasters and diseases and better crop yield. The gustor may seem like a very religious ceremony and although religion is a component of this celebration it is also evident that regardless of whether people are staunch believers or not they come together, in the freezing cold and celebrate and that spirit is really what a festival is all about…