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Festivals in Tibet

Introduction
There are countless festivals held all over Tibet some major ones in and around Lhasa are listed below. Horse racing festivals in the summer and harvest festivals during the fall are held throughout the region. The date of even the same festival varies from region to region and from year to year as many are scheduled in accordance with lunar calendar.

 

FESTIVALS IN TIBET

DATES IN TIBETAN CALENDAR

YEAR 2011

YEAR 2012

TIBETAN NEW YEAR (LOSAR)

1-3 of the 1st Lunar month

Feb-28

Feb-19

MONLAM PRAYER FESTIVAL

4-11 of the 1st lunar month

Mar 3-10

Feb 22-Mar 1

BUTTER LAMP/ CHOE-NGA CHOEPA

15th of the 1st Lunar month

Mar-14

Mar-04

SAGA DAWA

15th of the 4th Lunar month

Jun-11

May-31

GYANTSE HORSE RACE

14-18th of 4th Lunar month

June 10-13

May 30-June 3

THANKA UNVEILING AT TASHILHUNPO

15th of the 5th Lunar month

Jul-11

Jun-22

ZAMLING CHISANG /SAMYA DOLDE

15th of the 5th Lunar month

Jul-11

Jun-22

CHOEKOR DUECHEN

4th of the 6th Lunar month

Jul-29

Jul-18

SHOTON FESTIVAL

30th of the 6th Lunar month

Aug 23-27

Aug 12-18

NAGCHU HORSE RACE

 

Aug 10-16

Aug 10-16

LHABAB DHECHEN

22nd of the 9th Lunar month

Nov-12

Nov-03

PALDEN LHAMO FESTIVAL

15th of the 10th Lunar month

Dec-04

Nov-26

GADEN NGA-CHOE

25th of the 10th Lunar month

Dec-15

Dec-07

GADEN THANKA UNVEILING

15th of 6th Lunar month

Aug-09

Jul-29

LABRANG MONLAM

8th of the 7th Lunar month

Aug-23

Aug-20

LITHANG HORSE RACE

 

July10-16

July 10-16

JE KUNDO HORSE RACE YESHU)

 

July 25- Aug 1

July 25-Aug 1

TIJI FESTIVAL MUSTANG (PALACE)

25-29th the 3rd Lunar month

May 22-26

May 13-17

TIJI FESTIVAL MUSTANG (MONASTERY)

5-9th of the 5th Lunar month

June 30-July 4

June 20-24

 

Year End Festival or ‘Driving of Evil spirits’ (February / March)

On the eve of the Tibetan New Year (29th of the twelfth lunar month) religious dances and other auspicious performances are held by monks in the monasteries in order to dispel the evil spirits of the past year and usher in the new one. At night in every household traditional means of driving off evil spirits are carried out by burning bundles of straw and for dinner the year-end dumplings are served.

Tibetan New Year or ‘Losar’ (February / 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. The Tibetan New Year is one of the most important festivals. It is an occasion when Tibetan families reunite and both hope and expect that the coming year will be a better one. New Year's Eve is also the time of the highly important Ghost Exorcising Festival.
On the New Year's Eve, Tibetans eat barley crumb food (Guthuk) with their families and have fun. After the dinner it is time for the ceremony of exorcising ghosts. Torches and fireworks are lit to scare them off and you can see people running and yelling to scare the evil spirits. The New Year is coming! Preparations for the festive event are manifested by special offerings to family shrine deities and before dawn on the New Year's Day, housewives fetch their first buckets of water in the New Year home and prepare breakfast. They will don their new clothes and propose toasts with Chang (a Tibetan drink made from highland barley) among family members and exchange good wishes. Later they go to monasteries where they pray. People visit their relatives and neighborhoods and exchange their Tashi Delek blessings on the second day. Known as Losar, the festival starts from the first to the third day of the first Tibetan lunar month. Feast is the theme during the session. On the third day, old prayer flags will be replaced with new ones. This Tibetan calendar, based on a complicated 60-year cycle, still causes some problems for Westerners.

Butter Oil Lamp Festival or ‘Chunga Choepa’ (February / March)

This festival is held on the evening of the 15th day of the first lunar month. The event was established by Tsong Khapa to celebrate the victory of Sakyamuni against heretics in a religious debate. During the daytime, people go to pray in temples and monasteries while at night there is a butter lamp show. To honor the memory of Sakyamuni, huge butter and Tsampa sculptures as well as lanterns in forms of auspicious symbols and figures, are displayed along Lhasa’s Barkhor Street. This event lasts for several days and it is the happiest festival in Tibet.

The Great Prayer Festival or ‘Monlam’ (February / March)


Monlam is Tibet's most important festival after Tibetan New Year. The Great Prayer Festival, falls anywhere from the fourth up to the eleventh day of the first Tibetan month. Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama's order introduced the festival in 1409 to commemorate Sakyamuni. An image of Maitreya (the future Buddha) is carried from Lhasa's sacred Jokhang Temple around Barkhor Square, attracting crowds of pilgrims. Religious dances are performed and thousands of monks from the Three Great Monasteries of Tibet gather at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa to chant scriptures. Examination for the ‘Geshe degree’ (the highest degree in Buddhist theology), taking form of sutra debates, are also held. Pilgrims crowd to listen to the sermons and to give religious donations. The Great Prayer Festival ends with the ritual of expelling evils.

Gyantse Horse Racing Festival (May / June)

Horse race and archery are generally popular in Tibet, and Gyantse enjoys prestige of being the earliest in history by starting in 1408. Although there are different versions of the origin of Gyantse Horse Racing Festival, 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.

Saga Dawa (May / June)

This festival falls on the full moon day of the 4th Tibetan lunar month (Saga Dawa is the name of the 4th month) and is one of the most important and holy festivals for the Tibetan Buddhists. The day is believed to be the day of Sakyamuni’s conception, his stepping into Buddhahood as well as the day he attained nirvana. People keep from killing animals, refrain from eating meat and liberate animals. Pilgrims from all over Tibet visit Lhasa, Mt. Kailash and other holy sites. Almost every person within Lhasa joins in circumambulations round the Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace. The three main circumambulation roads in Lhasa are crowded with devotees praying and prostrating themselves devoutly.
The most auspicious ceremony takes place in the Holy Mt. Kailash region in Tibet as it is believed that on the full moon day of Saga Dawa Shakyamuni descends from heaven on top of Mt. Kailash to bless people. Each year, Tibetans replace the Tarboche flagpole, a huge pole that stands on the Kailash kora south of the mountain. People from all over Tibet gather here that day to attach their prayer flags they brought from home, to pray, and to help erect the flagpole.

Nakchu Horse Racing Festival or ‘Changtang Chachen’ (August)

This festival is held in the small town of Nakchu in Northern Tibet. There are many horse racing festivals in Tibet but the one held here is the greatest. Nakchu itself is an important trading city, less populated by Chinese than others in Tibet and located on the Lhasa-Ziling highway. August is the golden season on Northern Tibet's vast grassland. Herdsmen, on their horsebacks, in colorful dresses, carrying tents and local products, pour into Nakchu. Soon they form a colorful city of tents surrounding the racecourse where these herdsmen converge to barter and enjoy the celebrations at this Horse Racing Festival. This is the most important folk festival in Tibet and shows of horsemanship skills, including archery on horseback and racing are the main order of the day. Other folk activities and commodity fairs are also held but the Tibetans rarely let an occasion pass without singing and dancing as well. This festival is a "golden" opportunity to glimpse Tibet as it may have been before the Chinese occupation 50 years ago and the subsequent ongoing repression.

Shoton Festival or ‘Buddha Unfolding Festival’ (August)

In Tibetan, “Sho” means “Yoghurt” and “Ton” means “banquet”. So Shoton Festival is also knows as the 'Yoghurt Festival' which is one of the liveliest summer festivals in Tibet. This festival starts on the 30th day of the 6th Tibetan month (usually later half of August) and lasts for five days. Shoton is a time when monks go into retreat to meditate and confine themselves in their monasteries for several dozen days until summer is over. During this confinement the monks devote themselves entirely to Buddhism. The day the "confinement" is over the local people treat the monks to banquets, at which best home-made yogurt is served to them liberally.
The prelude of the Shoton Festival is the unfolding of a giant Buddha thangka which is exhibited in the Drepung Monastery. With the sound of sutra bugle reverberating through the valley, about 100 lamas carry the large-scale thangka portraying Buddha (or Maitreya) out of the Coqen Hall of the Drepung Monastery and step toward the west of the monastery where a special platform is set up for the Buddha picture exhibition. At this moment, the mulberry smoke arises from all directions, bugles resound and scripture recitation goes on. The giant Buddha thangka is then slowly unfolded for public display. People rush up to offer white khada. Everybody offers their prayers and place the white khadas in front of the Buddha thangka. When everybody is done, the thangka is rolled up again and carried back and to be opened only the next year.
Since the middle of 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama added opera performance to this festival to amuse monks in monasteries. So these days in the afternoon the activities are centered at the Norbulingka (Dalai Lama's former Summer Palace) where in the following week the major activity is to watch the Tibetan Opera which is performed by famous traditional Tibetan opera troupes, some of whom have toured the West. What was the 'yoghurt festival' has also become known as the ‘Tibetan Opera Festival’ due to the importance of traditional opera performances. The Norbulingka and other parks of Lhasa are dotted with colourful tents. This vibrant festival is one of the rare opportunities for visitors to witness traditional Tibetan celebrations.

Bathing Festival (September)

It is believed that when the sacred planet Venus appears in the sky; the water in the rivers becomes purest and cures diseases. During its appearance for one week, usually the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth lunar months, all the people in Tibet go to the rivers to take the holy bath and wash away the grime of the previous year. This custom has been handed down from generation to generation and gradually developed into a festival. Tibetans bring food, set up tents along rivers and bathe under the stars. This festival lasts for seven days and is said to be able to heal diseases and ward off misfortune.

Harvest Festival or ‘Ongkor’ in Tibetan (September)

The Harvest Festival often follows the Shoton Festival. It is a festival mainly celebrated in farming villages to pray for a good harvest. On this day, farmers put on their best clothes, carry harvest pagodas made from the ears of highland barley and wheat and circle around their fields beating drums, chanting holy songs and dancing. Then they will gather and drink Chang and yak butter tea. In some areas, there are other activities as well, such as horse races, archery competitions and performances of Tibetan Opera. After the Harvest Festival which will last from 3 to 4 days farmers will begin their intense autumn harvest.

Tashilhunpo Festival

Shigatse’s Tashilhunpo Monastery becomes the scene of festival during the second week of the fifth lunar month. Giant Thangkas of Amitayus, Sakyamuni and Maitreya is displayed on the monastery's Thangka Wall successively. Thousands of pilgrims rush to the monastery to pay their offerings to the Buddhas and accumulate their merits. The tradition has lasted for more than 500 years.

Tsong Khapa's Festival

Tsong Khapa's Festival, falling on the 25th of the tenth lunar month of the Tibetan calendar, marks the death anniversary of Tsong Khapa, the founder of Gelukpa order, who died in 1419. In his memory monasteries carry his images in procession and every house hold burns countless butter lamps on roof tops and chant prayers in his honor. Late in the evening, Tibetan dumplings are served for supper.

Tashilhunpo Festival

Holy Mountain Festival
Paying Homage to the Holy Mountain Festival, Choekhor Duechcen in Tibetan, falling on 4th of the 6th Tibetan month, is to commemorate Sakyamuni's first sermon with a prayer wheel. On this day, people go to monasteries and temples to pay their homage to Buddha, to offer joss-sticks and to circumambulate holy mountains; they have picnics and enjoy themselves with singing and dancing in the fields.