Hundreds of Buddhists in Ladakh recently performed mass prostrations to mark the first sermon by Lord Buddha.
Gochak, a tantric Buddhist ritual commonly practised by Tibetan Buddhists, was performed as part of a religious ritual of penance.
Tantrism, a form of Hindu mystical ritual with ancient yogic techniques, focuses on attaining the sublime.
Gochak is celebrated during the first fifteen days of the Tibetan lunar calendar, which Buddhists in Ladakh follow. Lord Buddha is believed to have turned the first wheel of his sermons around this time.
Considered one of the most sacred fortnights of the year, it sees Buddhists moving from village to village, traversing nearly 50 miles by prostrating at every few steps.
“Gochak prostration is of the body laying on the ground and with triple refuge mantra recitation. It is started with 100 prostration at one place and performed till late evening to be started early in the morning. This ritual has been taking place since ancient times,” said Changchuk Rabstan, a performer.
Devouts leave their homes in sub zero temperature and begin the journey early in the morning. On the way there are others who play their part in the ritual by serving steaming cups of butter tea to the participants in the procession.
The ritual is practiced to consciously make an effort towards subjugating the ego in an effort to realise the self.
The Gochak fortnight ends with a festival at the Matho monastery situated about 18 miles from Leh.
Over 700 monks practice tantrism at the 15th century Matho monastery which belongs to the Sankya sect of Mahayana Buddhists. Here the monks deliver oracles at the end of the fortnight-long mass ritual.
Buddhism a 6th century B.C. religion, which essentially developed in protest against the caste system of Hinduism, later absorbed some tantric Hindu rituals.
Besides Hindu rituals, tantric Buddhism also includes Chinese influences and elements of a third century Tibetan religion called Bon.
Unlike other sects of Buddhism, which condemn ritualism and worldliness, the tantric sect revolves around rituals and magical traditions. By Jigmet Vangchuk.