Folk Songs and Dance

Ladakh has a rich cultural heritage. Folk song and dance are one of its testimonies, having its unique features suited to the topography of the region. Little known about the precise origins of folk song and dance, they have been composed during different periods

Ladakh has a rich cultural heritage. Folk song and dance are one of its testimonies, having its unique features suited to the topography of the region. Little known about the precise origins of folk song and dance, they have been composed during different periods, shedding considerable light on prevailing cultural styles, attitudes and personalities of the time in this small western Himalayan Buddhist kingdom. Folk songs and dance were composed in honor of Pious Kings, Rinpoche (holy priest) and popular leaders.

The dance forms are slow and rhythmic, and the songs are usually high pitched yet enchanting, which lend colors to this unique geography and its people. These dances are simple in thought, language and movement of steps Folk artists of male and female, attired in full traditional costumes comprising of multiple jewellery items, especially turquoise head gears (worn by ladies), performs the most exhilarating dances. Every dance starts with homage to the Shakyamumi Buddha, followed by three stages. The first stage start slowly with a salutation to the guest gathered around and after making a round of the dancing ground enters the second stages in which music and movement of dance steps become faster. In the third and final stages the dance reaches its climax with the beat of the drum (rDaman) and Surna.


Daman, Surna and Piwang are the main musical instruments of Ladakh, almost all the folk dance and songs are dependent on these simple instruments.

DAMAN : Is an instrument made of copper and look like a big bowl, with copper side covered with the leather of a cow. There are 360 music tunes evolved and based on Daman and Surna.

SURNA : Is made up of willow and looks very similar to a Shehnai. At the top of the Surna pipe one finds seven holes on the front, with two at a back, duly decorated by laying coral and turquoise stone on it.

PIWANG : A string instrument made from willow or apricot wood and has similarities with the violin. Piwang is very popular among the nomadic people who live with their herds in the high Changthang plateau and is played with their popular dance called Jabro.


Any auspicious occasion begins in Ladakhi culture begins with Lharna to make offering of music to Gods. There are 360 beats in Lharna played with Daman (a pairs of drums) and Surna (pipe)


In eastern Ladakh bordering Tibet, Changpa nomads have their Jabro dance and music characterized by rhythmic thumping of feet on a melodious song and music of Daman. The nomads live in tents at high altitude pastures in vast stretches of Changthang wilderness with their livestock including Yaks, Sheep and goats. The relatively fast movement in their dance helps them warm up during celebration.


This special dance by men with brass jugs filled with Chang (Local brew) balanced on their heads was performed to entertain Kings and ministers. A skillful dancer would pour Chang into the cups without holding the jug while performing the dance with elegance.


Spao dance is dedicated to famous epic hero Gyalam Kesar and other outstanding warriors. Gyalam Kesar was extraordinary and brave mythological hero with his courageous feats protects the Buddhist Kingdoms from invaders. Gyalam Kesar is the best known epic throughout Himalayan Buddhist Kingdoms. In past, the story of Kesar was narrated in every household to while away the long winter night. In between the story tellers, the narrator would sing the songs depicting the brave deeds of Kesar and his eighteen brave's friends. With listeners becoming very excited and even participating in singing and dancing.


Mentok Stanmo dance is one of the popular dances in the Ladakh and dance to celebrate arrival of summer season after a long and harsh winter. In ancient times youth of the villages go to the mountains and collect wild flowers and maidens of the village would welcome the groups of youth upon their arrival, and bunches of flowers are the offer to the monastery with singing and dancing.


In ancient times this dance form used to be performed by "Takshosma", women dancers of the royal court to praise and greet the King and his family. Since then this dance form has been maintained and is now performed by the female artists on every special occasion and during social functions dressed in a uniform traditional dress decorated with heavy sets of jewellery. The dance is a perfect presentation of beauty and elegance.


In Ladakh numerous migratory birds are found. The arrival of migratory birds in highlands of Ladakh is considered auspicious. The dance of Chartses (birds dance) signifies the arrival of migratory birds and is performed in appreciation to these birds. This dance form is performed by females choreographed with movements like birds.


Tashis-pa dance is performed at the end of every social or cultural gathering. The idea of this dance is to include the celebrations on happy note! Tashis-pa or May there be happy. The people want peace for their elders as well as their sons and their daughter. They want peace so that they may be able to work in their fields and to celebrate the marriage of the young ones, so it is song with deep desire of the singer and dancer for peace and happiness of society.