Festivals in Tibet
In Tibet there are many big and small traditional festivals held each year. These festivals have their origins rooted in long history, folk customs and all are related with religion. The dates vary according to the lunar calendar and have their own importance. Each festive event reflects the historical roots of the Tibetan ethnic people, their religious belief and closeness to nature. The Tibetan people rejoice rituals, farming events, social gathering, singing and dancing around the monasteries. During your visit in Tibet, you will have a memorable experience of some festivities, ceremonial observances or pilgrimages occurring in some part of the region or elsewhere.
Tibetan New Year
It is the greatest festival in Tibet. It falls in the month of February or March. In ancient times when the peach tree was 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 became fixed as the New Year In early morning of the first day of the New year the Tibetan people in their rich dresses, with Droso-chema in their hands, visit their relatives and friends and exchange greetings "Tashi Delek". In the following few days, they sing and dance, drink wines together with their relatives and friends or go to the nearby monastery to pay their respects to the Buddha. Festival atmosphere is everywhere.
Wangkor Festival falls in the eighth month of the Tibetan year. It lasts for one or three days. The people in splendid attire and holding colorful flags in their hands tie highland barley and wheat ears into a bumper-harvest pagoda with khata scarves. Then, the people circle their fields while beating their drums and gongs and singing their songs. After that they will have a horse race and begin to harvest their crops.
It is one of the major festivals in Tibet, also known as the Tibetan Opera Festival held in the first day of the seventh month of the Tibetan Year. The founder of the Gelugpa (Yellow Sect of Buddhism), Tsongkhapa set the rule that Buddhists can cultivate themselves only indoor in summer, to avoid killing other creatures carelessly. This rule must be carried out till the seventh lunar month. Then, Buddhists go outdoors, accept yoghurt served by local people, and have fun. Since the middle of 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama added opera performance to this festival. Famous Tibetan opera troupes perform in Norbulingka (Dalai Lama's summer palace).
Saga Dawa Festival
It is the holiest festival celebrated in Tibet on the 15th day of the 4th Tibetan month. During the fourth month, many people refrain from killing animals and give out alms to everyone who comes asking for it. This auspicious occasion coincides with three important events in Buddha's life- his birth, enlightenment and Parinirvana (death). Since the Saga Dawa festival falls on the holiest month of the Tibetan calendar, it is believed that good deeds and prayers are multiplied thousand fold during this event. So we can see everyone immersed in prayers and trying to appease the gods. Almost every person within Lhasa joins in circumambulations round the city. If you are in Tibet around this time, don't forget to be a part of the huge crowd that visits the Dzongyab Lukhang Park at the foot of Potala for a late afternoon picnic. The Tarboche flagpole replacing exercise is also an interesting event that takes place during the Saga Dawa festival. As people from all parts of Tibet gather here for this annual event, they bring small prayer flags to attach to the big flag that comes up with the combined help of the onlookers that come to witness the event. It is really fascinating to watch this event that is presided over by a Lama from the nearby monastery.
Grand Summons Ceremony
The Great Prayer Festival is celebrated every parts of Tibet from the fourth up to the eleventh day of the first Tibetan month. The event was introduced in 1049 by Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama's order. It is the grandest religious festival in Tibet. Religious dances are performed and thousands of monks gather for chanting in front of the Jokhang Temple. Examinations take the form of debates for the Geshe degree, the highest degree in Buddhist theology. Pilgrims crowd to listen to the sermons and give religious donations.
This agriculturally based festival is celebrated when the crops ripen, usually around August. The festival is observed only in farming villages. People walk around their fields to thank the gods and deities for a good year's harvest. Singing, dancing, and horse racing are indispensable folk activities. Each family sends out a representative, mostly woman, to form a 100-member team. They are dressed in grand Tibetan robes, wear their gold and silver jewels, carry dou (a measure for grain) and scripture book showing a good harvest on their back and hold colourful arrows. Under the leadership of a revered man and accompanied by the sounds of ritual trumpets and drums, they move round the farmland outside the village, shouting: "Come back, the soul of the earth".
Ghost-Beating Festival is held in the Potala Palace or various monasteries on the 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan year to drive off devils for the coming new year. About 80 lamas in Tsangdain Monastery will sing their chants, praying to Buddha all day long, praying for God's blessing for everyone. At night, in every household, traditional means of driving off evil spirits are carried out by burning bundles of straw and throwing rubbish in the crossroads. The dumpling is served for supper.
Butter Oil Lantern Festival
It is held on the 15th of the first lunar month. Huge yak-butter sculptures are placed around Lhasa's Barkhor circuit. On this day people go to temples to burn incense to worship Buddha. As darkness falls, they will put up many stands to display the butter lanterns they made themselves. The lanterns are in forms of gods, figures, flowers and trees, birds and beasts, and can be burnt. The stands go as high as three-storey building; even the lower ones are two-storey high. The lanterns are either grand or small. The lights make the whole street bright as in the day. People sing and dance while enjoying the lanterns. The Butter Oil Lantern Festival is also called Lantern Festival.
The Bathing Festival usually falls on the first ten days of July according to Tibetan calendar. 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, usually the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth lunar months, tens of thousands of Tibetan men and women go into the river to wash away the crime of the previous year. The tents dot the beach and look colorful. Gyantse Horse Race & Archery Horse race and archery are generally popular in Tibet, and Gyantse enjoys prestige of being the earliest in history by starting in 1408. Contests in early times included horse race, archery, and shooting on gallop followed by a few days' entertainment or picnicking. Presently, ball games, track and field events, folk songs and dances, barter trade are in addition to the above.