Important Tibetan Festivals
- Losar : Losar or the Tibetan New Year holds immense
significance in the lives of the local people. Infact, the importance of
Losar is comparable to the Lunar New Year of the Han People or Christmas
of the west. Preparation for this festival commences from the time the
12th month of Tibetan Calendar begins. Sacrifices are offered to deities
and special occasion foods are cooked. On the New year's Eve, the Ghost
Exorcising Festival is organised. Prior to this, during daytime,
monasteries hold sorcerer's dances, people clean their houses and
beautify them. All this is done with a belief that the cleaning will
wards off evil spirits and bad luck. The Ghost Exorcising Festival
itself sees the lighting up of torches and fireworks to frighten the
ghosts. Family members walk on the road until the time they discover a
crossroad from where they believe the ghost cannot return or find a way
back to home. As the New Year arrives, butter lamps are prepared to be
sacrificed along with grains. Further, good wishes are exchanged with
neighbours and relatives. The celebration for the onset of New Tear
conrinues till the end of the Great prayer Festival.
2007 Date - January 1 as per Tibetan calendar and February 19 as per Gregorian calendar.
2008 Date - January 1 as per Tibetan calendar and February 7 as per Gregorain Calendar.
- Monlam/ The Great Prayer Festival : Monlam or the the Great
Prayer Festival is the most important religious festival of the Tibetan
people. Instituted by the founder of the Gelukpa sect in 1409, the
festival commomorates the victory of Shakyamuni Buddha over six
Brahmanical teachers. On this day, if the Dalai lama is present, he is
welcomed by the Nechung oracle in trance enroute to the Main Cathedral.
In his absence, however, the the head of Ganden Monastery presides over
the ceremony. The festival sees fierce debates on Buddhist scriptures by
scholars and religious examination for learners. Devotees and disciples
from all over the world come over to be part of the festival. The main
attraction of the festival is the unfurling of a giant Buddha thangka.
Furthermore, dramatic performances and dances are also seen in the
festival. The festival concludes with ritual of expelling evil.
The festival date varies, for the three important Gelukpa monasteries - Sera, Drepung and Ganden -it is from 4th to 25th day of the 1st Tibetan month. For Taer, it is from 8th to 15th day of the 1st Tibetan month.
- The Butter Lamp Festival : The Butter Lamp festival is the
last day of the Great Prayer Festival and was first celebrated by an
eminent patron of Tsohgkhapa, Lord of New Dzong in 1409. He lighted
innumerable butter lamps to honour the victory of Buddha over non
Buddhist opponents. In this festival, Tibetans assemble at the Barkhor
Street in Lhasa and pray to Buddha during daytime. As the night falls,
thousands of butter lamps are illuminated, songs are sung and dances
performed throughout the night.
2007 Date - January 15 as per Tibetan calendar and March 4 as per Gregorian calendar.
2008 Date - January 15 as per Tibetan calendar and March 26 as per Gregorain Calendar.
- Saga Dawa Festival
: Saga Dawa Festival is celebrated in 15th day of the 4th Tibetan
month. It marks the day when Buddha Shakyamuni was conceived in the womb
of his mother, Queen Mayadevi, gained victory over demons (35 years
later) and gained complete enlightenment under Bodhi Tree (early 16th
century). It is also said that on this day half a century later, Buddha
passed into parinirvana, the ultimate state of peace, at Kushinagara.
Princess Wencheng, too, is supposed to have arrived in Lhasa post her
marriage to Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo on this day.
On this festival, the government offices of Lhasa remain close. Sutras are recited and sacred chham dances performed in almost every monastery. Individually, people participate in circumambulation of Lhasa city and spend their afternoon on picnic at "Dzongyab Lukhang" park at the foot of Potala. Performance by folk artists that pay respect to Buddha are also organised. Lastly, since it is believed that good deeds performed in this month deserves 300 fold in return, many people generously dontae money, food and other items to monasteries and beggars.
2007 Date - April 15 as per Tibetan calendar and May 31 as per Gregorian calendar.
2008 Date - April 15 as per Tibetan calendar and June 18 as per Gregorain Calendar.
- Shoton Festival : One of the most important festivals in
Tibet, Shoton means the Yoghurt festival. In earlier times, lamas locked
themselves up in the monastery and pious people went into mountain
hermitage perform penance. When they came out of their seclusion, local
people served them yoghurt and danced to welcome them back. The opera
performance, which is a major attraction today, was introduced for the
first time in the 17th century. At that point of time, it was celebrated
around monasteries and in Lhasa and Drepung Monastery, however the
beginning of the 18th century saw the celebration shifting to
Norbulingka. Popular fairs also form part of the festival. Because of
the opera performance, the festival is also known by the name of Tibetan
Opera Festival. In Drepung Monastery, a giant thangka of Buddha is
unveiled during this festival which draws a whole lot of crowd.
2007 Date - June 30 to July 6 as per Tibetan calendar and August 12-18 as per Gregorian calendar.
2008 Date - June 30 to July 6 as per Tibetan calendar and August 30- September 5 as per Gregorain Calendar
- The Bathing Festival :This festival is celebrated for a week,
from 6th ro 12th day of the 7th lunar month. The bathing Festival has
its origin in a legend as per which Avalokitesvara, one of the Buddhist
deities, filled in the Tibetan rivers with holy water so as to eradicate
a pesitilence. A suffering person was instantly cured the moment he took
a bath in the holy water. The custome of bathing in the river water
passed on from one generation to the other till the time it became a
festival. Today, a whole lot of Tibetans take a dip into the river water
believing that it will not only clean the body bur also cure away any
disease. It is also believed that the sacred planet Venus appears in the
sky during this time and fills the river water with curative powers.
2007 Date - Last 10 days of July as per Tibetan calendar and middle 10 days of September as per Gregorian calendar.
2008 Date - June 30 to July 6 as per Tibetan calendar and last 10 days of September as per Gregorain Calendar.
Apart from the above mentioned festivals, there are many more festivals that are celebrated on regional basis. For example, in the Rioche area of Chamdo Prefecture, people worship Buddha on June 15. Ceremonies and prayers are organised by Living Buddha and lamas so as to seek Buddha's blessings. Traditional games like horse racing and wrestling also form part of the festival.