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Tibet Festivals

The various festivals in Tibet are celebrated according to the lunar calendar. These festivals are Butter Lamp Festival, Saga Dawa Festival, Horse Racing Festival, Yarlong Cultural Festival, Ganden Festival, Harvest Festival, Ongkor Festival, Bathing Festival, Losar Festival or Tibetan New Year and Shoton Festival.


Butter Lamp Festival
The Butter Lamp Festival is also known as the Lantern Festival or Chunga Choepa festival. The last day of the Great Prayer Festival or January 15 of the Tibetan calendar is celebrated as Butter Lamp festival. This festival originated when a noted patron of Tsong Khapa, illuminated numerous butter- lamps in 1409 to honor the victory of Sakyamuni in a debate over a non- Buddhist opponents. According to Tibetan literature, Tsong Khapa, dreamed that he arrived at a hillside full of withered grasses and thorns, but suddenly all the withered grasses became flowers and all the thorns

Butter Lamp Festival Tibet

became bright lamps, among which all kinds of jewelleries were shining brilliantly. Such a wonderful picture mystified him and he commissioned monks to light butter lamps before the sculpture of Sakyamuni and shape all kinds of flowers and trees with colored butter and decorated with jewelries to create a scene similar to his dream. This tradition has been maintained to this day. Large scale butter sculptures about stories of Buddha, figures, flowers, birds, and animals are displayed and people sing and dance in great joy throughout the night. The Barkhor street of Lhasa turns into a grand exhibition site on the night of this festival.

Saga Dawa Festival
The Saga Dawa Festival is one of the most important festivals for Tibetan Buddhism which is celebrated to commemorates Shakyamuni's Buddhahood and the death of his mortal body. It is celebrated on 15th day of the 4th lunar month of Tibetan calendar. This day is considered holiest in Tibet as various memorable occasions like Buddha's birth, enlightenment and Nirvana took place on the same day. It is also believed that on this day, the gods in heaven descended to the mortal world.

Pilgrims and secular folks visit Lhasa and the festival is observed by turning prayer wheels, having vegetarian lunch and a picnic by the Dragon King Pond. As the incense sticks are also lit in large numbers, the day is also known as the World's Incense Day. Folk entertainers perform Tibetan tradition and pay their homage to Buddha. People observe a vegetarian rule, refrain from killing domestic animals and give out alms during the month. At every monastery sutras are recited and 'Cham' dances are performed. It is said that good deeds in the month of this festival deserve 300 fold in return and this leads many people to donate large sums to the religious orders, monasteries and to the beggars that gather at this time of year.

Ganden Festival
On the 15th day of the 6th Tibetan month, during the Ganden Festival, 25 precious articles belonging to Ganden monastery, which are normally locked in their treasure house, are displayed in the main shrine hall. A grand offering ceremony accompanies the display. These articles consist of the images of the sixteen arhats, akshobhya, the secret assembly, the four great kings, the upasaka and hashang image.


Horse Racing Festival
Horse Racing Festival is celebrated in Gyantse in the month of July. Horse racing and archery were first started in Gyantse in 1408. During the festival, horse races, archery, and shooting on galloping horseback were followed by a few days of entertainment and picnicking. Ball games, track and field events, folk songs and dances, and barter trade were later added to it.

Yarlong Cultural Festival
Yarlong Cultural Festival plays an important part in the Tibetan and whole world's culture.

Horse Racing Festival Tibet

The festival is a combination of both art and economy, which displays the old brilliance and the new expectations at the same time. There are colorful activities like national sports contests, singing, dancing, Tibetan opera, ethnic costume shows and trade fairs.

Harvest Festival
The farmers in Lhasa, Gyantse and Shangnan celebrate the harvest festival. During this festival, the people enjoy with horse racing, games, costume fashion show, songs and dance, archery and picnic etc.

Ongkor Festival

The Ongkor Festival is an old festival in farming areas of Tibet. In Tibetan language “Ong” means field and “kor” means rotating. So, “ongkor” means walking round the field or surrounding the farmland. This festival is celebrated by Tibetans to celebrate agricultural harvest. The festival is held in each August according to Tibetan calendar when all crops are waiting for harvest. The “Ongkor” not only shows people’s wish for a good harvest, but also a good time for them to rest. The Festival lasts for three days, which entertain not only gods but also common human beings. Farmers are plunged into a carnival at these days. On the day, Tibetans dress themselves in holiday best and walk around their fields, some carrying colorful flags, some lifting barley and harvest pagoda made of ear of wheat with white hada hanging around, some beating drums and gongs, singing songs and Tibetan operas, some holding the portrait of Chairman Mao. After that, people set up tents and take barley wines. They also hold traditional activities and contests such as horse racing, yak racing, shooting, riding to pick up hada, singing and dancing contest and Tibetan opera contest, stone holding and wrestling.

Bathing Festival
The Bathing Festival is celebrated in Lhasa. When Venus rises over the Holy Bottle Mountain in the southeast, the Lhasans tell one another: "The Bathing Festival begins." The Star appears only for seven nights a year, and correspondingly the Bathing Festival lasts for seven nights, too. This festival is held from the 6th to the 12th day of the 7th Tibetan month. It is believed when the sacred planet Venus appears in the sky; the water in the river becomes purest and cures diseases. During its appearance for one week in the sky, all the people in Tibet take a ceremonial bath in the waters of their local rivers or natural springs. Everybody, the young in particular, go to rivers to take a holy bath. Tibetans have the strong belief that bathing for the consecutive seven nights will enable them to keep off cold and plague, and therefore enjoy good health and long life. Having dipped in water for some time, they gather around the bonfires that dot the world of willow trees, to dine and wine to their heart's content. Then, they play six-stringed musical instrument, sing folk songs and dance merrily.


Losar Festival
Losar is the most important Tibetan festival. In Tibetan language lo means year and sar means new thus the word losar means "new year” and losar festival is celebrated to commemorate the advent of new year. It is the Ladakhi or Tibetan new year. Losar is celebrated for 15 days during the month of December and January as per the Tibetan lunar calendar. The main celebrations are held on the first three days. On the first day of Losar, a beverage called changkol, the Tibetan rice wine is served which is made from chhaang. The second day of Losar is 

Losar Festival Tibet

known as King's Losar. Losar is traditionally preceded by the five day practice of Vajrakilaya. In ancient times, when the peach trees were in blossom, it was considered as the starting of a new year. Since the systematization of the Tibetan calendar in 1027 AD, the first day of the first month was fixed as the New Year. The losar is a colorful festival marked with number of activities including ancient rituals, Tibetan drama, making incense offerings, olk activities like, wrestling, weight throwing, tug-of-war and horse-racing, the stage fights between good and evil. The dance of the Ibex deer and the dramatic battles between the King & his ministers add to the joyous atmosphere. On the New Year's Day, families unite, an "auspicious dipper" is offered, and the auspicious words "Tashi Delek" are greeted. Tibetans dress in their finest, meet their friends and relatives and indulge in prayer and celebration. This festival is full of music, dancing and merry-making.


Shoton Festival
Shoton Festival is also known as Yoghurt Festival. This opera festival is one of the greatest festivals in Tibet. Shoton is the transliteration of two Tibetan words which mean 'Yoghurt Banquet'. In ancient times, folks went into mountain hermitages to do penance. On the last day of the festival, Yoghurt is served as meal followed by folk song and dances. The festival originated at

Shoton Festival Tibet

Drepung Monastery, when monks were served with yoghurt at the completion of their hundred day summer retreat. Legend also said that Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Yellow Seat made it a rule that all the Lamas must keep the mind on meditation from the fourth month to the sixth month of Tibetan year. Abstinence is broken by the end of sixth month. Then they may go out and ordinary people would give them yoghurt in charity. Later it became theatrical festival of Tibetan opera. Prior to the 17th century, Shoton had been an exclusively religious observance. From around the mid-17th century, Tibetan local operas were added to festival celebrations which were held around monasteries in Lhasa. From the beginning of the 18th century, the main site of the festival was moved to Norbu Lingka and celebrations became formalized which include shining of the Buddha's portrait, folk amusement at the local park and performances of Tibetan operas. Popular fairs are also organized during the festival. Today this is the grandest festival in Tibet. This festival begins on the new moon marking the end of the sixth Tibetan month. At Drepung Monastery there are 'Cham' dances and the grand Thangka is unveiled early in the morning. After devoutly viewing the Thangka, the people go onto the Norbulingka and other popular spots for a lingka (picnic). Since 7th century, opera performances were held for days in Norbu Lingka. Presently, opera contests and distribution of prizes are held for seven days. The performances include the musical dance dramas known as Ache Lhamo (Tibetan Opera). During the festival all the people of Lhasa go out and gather in the Norbulingka Park. They set up beautiful tents and hang curtains there. They bring cakes, sweets, dairy products, yak-butter tea and have wonderful picnics. Professional and amateur Tibetan opera troupes gather in the Norbulingka Park and perform various Tibetan operas. A trade fair is also held during the festival.


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