Folk Songs and Dance

The religious beliefs and practices in Ladakh region are completely different to those of the mainland India. The reason is not far to seek as most of the people in the Ladakh region have a distinct cultural descent.

Travelling monks and scholars ensured that the land never lacked in its cultural and religious dimensions. The Vajrayana sect of Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant form of the religion, with a mixture of the animistic Bon faith and ancient Hindu tantric practices. Both Central and Eastern Ladakh are predominantly Buddhist while Western Ladakh is mainly Shia Muslim. Ruling Muslim priests are known as Aghas who combine the secular and religious functions in their hereditary duties. The mosques and Imambaras here are attractive examples of Iranian and Saracenic architecture, but due to the strong Islamic injunction against any form of gaeity and celebration in all aspects of life, western Ladakh is sombre and subdued, though not lacking in any of the deeper human qualities.

The predominant religion in Ladakh is the Tibetan form of Buddhism, although Islamic influences are found from the Kashmir Valley as far as Kargil, and there are some Christian families in Leh.

Ladakh ReligionThe Tibetan influence in Ladakh is manifest: all religious books and prayers are in the Tibetan language, the monastic orders in the gompas are those developed in Tibet and the gompa artwork is clearly Tibetan in origin. Even the architectural design of Leh Palace is very similar to that of Lhasa's Potala Palace. Tibetan Buddhism is built on an earlier Tibetan religion - Bon or Bon-Shamanism - and it incorporated many of Bon's demons and gods. It similarly incorporated many of the gods in the Hindu pantheon, transforming them into Bodhisattavas or different incarnations or manifestations of various personalities.

The walls of Ladakh's gompas are covered with illustrations of the Lord Buddha, his manifestations and followers, and the incorporated Bon and Hindu guardian deities in their various incarnations. It all makes for colourful and varied wall murals in every Ladakh gompa.

The monasteries follow each of the two main sects of Buddhism that developed in Tibet: the Karyu pa or red-hat sect and the Gelug pa or yellow-hat sect. The Dalai Lama, believed to be a reincarnation of the Boddhisattva Avalokitesvara, is the head of the Gelug-pa sect.

The gompas represent the monastic side of Buddhism, or lamaism. The lamaist side of Buddhism, requiring lon tation, contrasts with the everyday practice of Buddhism by Ladakhi lay people.

For Ladakhis, religion is a daily affair with visible rituals that are frequently observed. These include spinning prayer wheels, making pilgrimages to gompas, chortens, mani walls and holy tombs, chanting mantras and reciting prayers in the area of the home set aside as a chapel.

Buddhism in Ladakh

Buddhism is of critical importance for about half the Ladakhis. It is certain that Buddhism first entered the western parts of the contemporary Ladakh from Kashmir, perhaps as early as the first or second century AD, when there are indications that parts of the country may have been incorporated in the Kushana Empire. The Buddhist influence continued to filter in from Kashmir, which was one of its important centres. In its first and Second Spreadings, Buddhism reached Tibet from India and in the case of the latter Ladakh played a major role. In fact, Central Ladakh was the stronghold of Buddhism.

The influence of Buddhism on Ladakh has been quite immense, and for a long time the Ladakhi life and ways of thought have been shaped by Buddhism. Infact, at the approach to every village, there can be seen a number of Chorten, the Stupas of ancient Indian Buddhism, referring in their origin to the grave-mounds erected over the divided ashes of Gautama Buddha. The popularly practiced form of Buddhism here is Vajrayana Buddhism which was prevalent in Tibet.

Religion of Ladakh Muslims in Ladakh

The majority of Muslims in Ladakh can be found in Kargil town, Drass, the Suru valley comprising Parkachik, Pashkyum and Shagkar-Chigtan. Mulbekh and Bodh Kharbu have mixed populations, with a distinct Buddhist majority. Zanskar, too, is basically a Buddhist area but there is a small Muslim community there. The Muslims here are the descendants of immigrants from the Jammu region who came in the wake of Zorawar Singh's invasion.

The Muslim community is also found in Leh as well as a few of the surrounding villages. They are said to have descended either from immigrants, or from marriages contracted by local women with Muslim merchants from Kashmir and Yarkand settled in Leh. This mixed community, the Arghons, Sunnis by belief, have an influence in the town out of all proportion to their fairly small numbers.

Some members of the Muslim community are also present in the remote villages of Turtuk and Bogdang.

Christians in Ladakh

The Christian community can be seen centred in Leh and some of the surrounding villages. The Christians belong to the upper classes of society.