The Bauddh Mahotsav in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, was the perfect blend of religion and culture. It was also a time to spread harmony.
Rekong Peo, the district headquarters of Kinnaur, is located in the deeper reaches of the Himalayas. It is 11 kilometres below Kalpa, near the Spiti subdivision of Lahaul district. The village of Kalpa is well-known for the Ha-Bu-Ian-Car Gompa monastery founded around 950-1055 AD. There is a strong Buddhist influence in the region as evident in the dress of the local people.
Rekong Peo was the venue of one of the four Buddha Mahotsav festivals that are being organised by the government of Himachal Pradesh with support from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The others will be held in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh and Jaigaon in West Bengal. Another festival was organised at Deskit, Nubra in Jammu and Kashmir prior to the one in Rekong. The festivals are part of the respective state governments’ efforts to promote the locations as centres of Buddhist culture and teachings. Not only that, by highlighting the natural beauty of these regions they can become tourist destinations.
It took me two days to reach Rekong Peo. The two-day Bauddh Mahotsav started at around 10:30 a.m on September 15. Local inhabitants had turned up in large numbers from Rekong and its neighbouring villages to witness what was for them a day of festivity and enjoyment. The programme commenced with chantings by Buddhist lamas. They sat in prayer on a dais specially erected for them on one side of the playing ground where the festival was held. Dressed in their traditional robes, villagers talked amongst themselves. A group of Kinnauri women was wearing a pahari type of topi, probably typical of the region.
The Mahotsav was marked by the presence of some important dignitaries. Among those present on the occasion was Farooque Abdullah, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and P.K. Dhumal, chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. Besides, there were politicians and spiritual heads, along with Lamas and monks from the adjoining monasteries.
After the speeches were over, it was time for the Mahotsav to begin. Local dances marked by an amazing degree of synchronisation of movement and vitality were the highlight of the evening. Clad in colourful attire, the dancers presented a pretty picture against the backdrop of Mount Kailash. Their striking robes in red, green and yellow stood out against the snowy whiteness of the legendary mountain peak. On the next day there were masked dances by artistes from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala. The masks added a mythical quality to the dances.
The festival was a perfect blend of culture and religion. It was a great effort on the part of the state governments to spread the message of harmony and culture.