Key Tibetan Festivals
Tibetan Festivals are closely associated with our religion and spiritual life. Majority of the Tibetan festivals are celebrated in the monastery and religious institutions. Here are some of the Main festivals of Tibet celebrated in Tibet in every year.
Major Tibet Festivals
Tibetan New Year
The Tibetan New Year – namely Losar in Tibetan language – is based on Tibetan astrology, a synthesis of Indian and Chinese astrology so the New Year begins on a new moon. Losar usually falls in late January or February and lasts 15 days, but the first three days are most important. On the eve of Losar, monasteries hold special prayers in preparation for the Losar celebrations.
A special noodle called Guthuk, which resembles a thick soup with little mini-dough balls, served as family reunion dinner on the day prior to Losar’s Eve, marks the informal start of the celebration. The soup has nine different ingredients added to it. People place various tokenistic items such as chilies, salt, wool, rice and coal in dough balls, which are then handed out. The ingredients that one finds hidden in one’s mini-dough ball are supposed to be a light-hearted comment on one’s character. For example, if a person finds chilies in his dough, that means he or she is sharp-tongued. If white-colored ingredients such as salt or rice are found in the dough balls, it is believed as a good benign sign. If someone finds coal in his dough, it has the same meaning as finding coal in the Christmas stocking; it means that one has a “black heart”.
First Day of the Tibetan New Year:
Traditionally, on the first day of the New Year, the housewife will get up very early. After preparing a pot of barley wine for the family, she will sit beside the window awaiting the sunrise. As the first ray of sunshine of the New Year shoots the sky and the earth, the housewife takes a bucket and heads to a river, stream or a well, to fetch the year’s first bucket of water, which is seen as the most sacred, freshest water of the coming year. This first fetch of water is believed to be blessed with good luck for the coming year.
On the first day of Losar the monasteries and temples hold religious celebrations, which include worshiping the god, chanting Buddhist scriptures and having a very elaborate meal. On the second day, people visit friends and relatives. The third day of Losar is for visiting local monasteries, where Tibetans pay homage and make offerings. In Shigatse and Kongbo regions, the dates for Losar celebration are slightly different from how central south Tibet. Losar is considered the most important Tibetan festival in the entire year.
Saga Dawa Festival
Occurring in the 4th month of Tibetan lunar calendar, Saga Dawa is called the “month of merits”. It is the most important month. All the Buddhists believe that the result of positive and negative thoughts and actions in this month are multiplied 100,000 times. It is one of the important Tibetan festivals.
Buddha Shakyamuni was born, attained enlightenment and passed into Nirvana this month. During this month, everyone does their best to carry out as many meritorious actions possible. Large shoals of pilgrims around the Potala Palace, Bakhor street and the wider circumambulation route around Lhasa town is a common sight.
Meritorious acts include pilgrimages to sacred places such as monasteries, temples and stupas. People set animals free, give cash, food and drinks to the beggars and the disadvantaged group. Many Tibetans also abstain from taking life, stealing things that are not given and eating meat. Instead, they make offerings to the three jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Parents advise their children not to harm any beings and to be kind to animals in general and especially during this month.
Shoton Festival, which literally means “Yoghurt Banquet Festival”, is one of the most important Tibetan festivals. This Tibetan festival dates back to the 11th century when it was initially introduced as a religious occasion. Back then, local residents would offer yogurt to monks who would disembark from their summer meditation retreats. The festival falls in the late part of the sixth month or early part of the seventh month of the Tibetan almanac – usually towards the end of August.
During the festival, the main part of the celebration – watching the Tibetan opera performance – takes place in Norbulingka Palace in Lhasa. The performances are much sought after and are always a regular part of the official festivals at Norbu Lhingkha.
On the first day of the festival, the unveiling of Thangka at Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery is a major highlight visited by many local Tibetans and tourists. Then, the celebrations begin at Norbulingka. The residents of Lhasa gather in the park and celebrate the occasion by eating yogurt and watching the Tibetan opera. Professional and amateur Tibetan opera troupes perform operas, which basically narrate folk tales, the lives of important people and historical events from Tibetan civilization.
The Bathing Festival usually falls on the first ten days of July according to Tibetan calendar. Lasting a week, it is also known as the Bathing Week. The bathing practice has at least eight hundred year history.
In Tibetan, it is called “Gamariji,” meaning Golden Star, or Venus. As the star rises to the sky, the mass bathing starts. As the star sets, the bathing ends. The legend goes that bathing at this period is beneficial to health and according to Tibetan Buddhism, the water in Tibet at this time has eight advantages: sweet, cool, soft, light, clear, clean, un-harmful to a throat, nor to belly. Judged from the natural environment and climate of Tibet, the river water has a relatively high temperature and is suitable for bathing.
During the seven days, tens of thousands of Tibetan men and women go to river or lake to have baths. The tents, big or small, dot the beach into a colorful world.
Above are the some of the most important Tibetan festivals we celebrate in Tibet
Tibetan Festivals Calendar