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Culture and tradition


The great majority of the 15,000 Zanskaris are buddhists of Tibetan origin. A 5% Moslem minority is concentrated in the only town, Padum, where it represents about 50% of the population.

According to local tradition two Tibetan masters settled in Zanskar in the 10th-11th century: Naropa in the Dzongkhul monastery and Marpa in the Stongde monastery. This accounts for the presence of two branches of Buddhism: the yellow hat Gelugpas, in the Karsha and Phuktal monasteries, and the red hat Dugpa-kagyupas in the Bardan monastery.

Polyandry (more than one husband at one time, the reverse of polygamy) has become rare since it was outlawed in 1941. It was meant to keep the integrity of tiny farms, lest they be split by inheritance in too small parcels: a family with several sons would select a woman called « Nama » to be shared by the brothers. 



The oldest is her legal husband and the legal father of all her children. He lives in her house and she becomes the head of the family. The inheritance becomes effective at the birth of her first child. Conversely, a family of only girls selects a husband, a « Magpa » who comes to live in the girls' family.

The inheritance includes the fields, the animals, the house and the pérac, a head-dress found only in Zanskar and Ladakh. There is one such heirloom per family, to be worn by the wife of the family head or by the head-woman of a family.



In many families, one child becomes a Buddhist monk or nun. As such the child will learn how to read and count. Monks are not cloistered. They are consulted at every important step of family life ; the astrology-monk declares the most propitious day to start ploughing, seeding, reaping or traveling. Other monks are called upon to bless the seedlings, the yaks, the harvests, and to celebrate a birth, wedding or a cremation.

Religion is omnipresent. Either on the roof or on the top floor, each house has a prayer room with a small altar, seven cups of water, images of divinities, a photo of the Dalai Lama and offerings. Twice a day, morning and evening, in front of the altar, the head of the family prays for the health and happiness of his dear ones.