The Most Important Festivals and Celebrations of Tibet

Tibetan Festivals

Festival is a kind of comprehensive culture, serving as a bridge into the soul of an ethnic group. General festivals are held in certain seasons, but the contents are all-embracing. Especially some grand festivals thoroughly reflect regional politics and economy, production and living, religion and belief, culture and arts, social interaction, national psychology and so forth. Tibetan, one of Chinese ethnic minorities, have great talent in singing and dancing and enjoy various kinds of social activities. As an important platform for social events, Tibetan festivals almost take place every month. Some last for one or two days, while some would be celebrated for more then ten days. In addition to national festivals, different regions have their own unique regional festivals. With various manifestations, Tibetan festivals have rich contents, including worship, farming, commemoration, celebration, social recreation, etc. According to different nature and purpose, festivals in Tibet can be roughly classified into four groups, the religious festival, the productive festival, the entertaining festival and the seasonal festival.

Tibetan New Year - Losar

The Tibetan New year, also known as Losar Festival, is the most important festival on the Tibetan calendar. Based on the Tibetan Calendar, annual New Year celebration begins on December 29 and lasts 2 weeks.Tibetan New Year offers the travelers a great opportunity to enjoy the annual festive occasion with local Tibetans.Tibetan New Year 2018 will be celebrated on Feb, 16, 2018. And please bear in mind that the exact date of Tibetan New Year varies from Chinese solar calendar.

Saga Dawa Festival

Saga means “the fourth” and Dawa refers to “month” in Tibetan. This festival is celebrated for whole month and is one of the most significant festivals celebrated in Tibet. But the fifteenth day of the month is very special as Sakyamuni was born, attained Nirvana (enlightenment), stepped into Parinirvana (death). Tibetans believe that it would accumulate immense of merits during that particular day by giving generosity, stopping killing animals and eating meats, etc. Monks chanting in monasteries, cham dancing and other religious activities dominate the occasion. The festival is called “Qiong ren Jie” in Chinese which means poor people’s day because Tibetan peoples’ generosity to the poor people is well known.

Gyantse Damar Festival

Gyantse Dama (Horse Racing and Archery) Festival can be dated back to 500 years ago, initially for consecrating the Gyantse Prince Gungsang Rabten, who had built Pelkor Chode Monastery, as well as to his highly esteemed grandfather. At the beginning, it was mainly for religious events, and later on evolved to horse race as a predominating event and it spread over to Lhasa, Changtang and Gongbo, etc. The festival actually begin with religious events such as mantra reciting, holy dancing and displaying images of Buddha, etc, between the 30th day of the third Tibetan month and the 18th of the fourth month each year. Then it proceeds to horse race on the 18th and 19th, and archery contests on the 20th and 21st. Besides, there are also some other events for fun include yak race, donkey race and so on. Almost from every part of Tibet, merchants of different levels are also busy with their trading. Presently during the festival there are lots of contest in between the towns under Gyantse county such as culture dance contest, horse race and so on.

Tsurphu Cham Dance Festival

Saga means “the fourth” and Dawa refers to “month” in Tibetan. This festival is celebrated for whole month and is one of the most significant festivals celebrated in Tibet. But the fifteenth day of the month is very special as Sakyamuni was born, attained Nirvana (enlightenment), stepped into Parinirvana (death). Tibetans believe that it would accumulate immense of merits during that particular day by giving generosity, stopping killing animals and eating meats, etc. Monks chanting in monasteries, cham dancing and other religious activities dominate the occasion. The festival is called “Qiong ren Jie” in Chinese which means poor people’s day because Tibetan peoples’ generosity to the poor people is well known.

Shoton Festival

Shoton Festival is a great festival in Tibet, a celebration to mark the end of the monks’ Yarné, their hundred day summer retreat. This festival starts on the last day of the sixth month in Tibetan Calendar and lasts for a few days. “Shoton” in Tibetan means yogurt banquet. As Tibetan operas are performed and Buddha paintings are exhibited at this time, it is also called “Tibetan Opera Festival” or “Buddha Exhibition Festival“. Shoton Festival is the most important and attractive for the Tibetans with full of ethnic songs and dances along with famous Tibetan opera performing at Norbulingka Palace. Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans gather at Drepung Monetary,Sera monastery to see the famous Buddha Thangka. Tsongkapa master had initiated a rule on monks to concentrate on meditation in monasteries from April to June according to Tibetan lunar calendar to avoid killings and earning demerits during that days. After finishing these days, the local Tibetan laymen use to serve them curds, perform Tibetan opera and will go for picnics and later strengthen to new festival in Tibet.

Nagchu Horse Race Festival

The Nagchu Horse Race Festival is also very famous, that area is mainly for the Tibetan nomads, compared to that of Gyantse, the vast expanse of grassland in the Northern Tibet is more suitable for horse race. Making full use of this natural condition, during that festival, thousands of nomads dressed up in their tradition and different performances makes the grassland more fantastic and authentic. Few days before the opening ceremony of Horsing Race Festival, traditionally dressed and decorated Tibetans living on this immense grassland gather at Naqu County to set up their tents around horse racing track, hundreds of tents stand and are packed there within a few days, as if a crowed temporary city suddenly appeared on grassland.Besides exhibition and trading of local stuff among Tibetan people, dancing and singing performance, Buddhist activities, different kinds of interesting races organized there during the festival in order such as yak race, tug-of-war, long jumping, stone raising, Tibetan opera performance, are all boiling this temporary city and making her energetic and attractive.

Ongkor Festival

A saying says that the whole year’s work depends on a good start in spring. Thus, Spring Sowing Festival in Tibet is an important traditional festival for Tibetan farmers. Tibetan Spring Sowing Festival will be held on an auspicious day in the first month of New Year for the celebration of the calf tying to plough for the first time. Spring Sowing Festival is also known as the Sowing Seed Festival and experimentally Sowing Festival. If you travel to Tibet during the Spring Sowing Festival, you will experience the traditional festive atmosphere with local Tibetans.At the sunrise of the Spring Sowing Festival, a woman with the same animal zodiac with that year and several old farmers would be in splendid attire. Before the villagers got there, they would make full preparation for the drinks, tea, sutra streamer and censers. They would put the above items on the best land for the sowing. Then all the villagers would pray for the gnome for blessings over the crop with good harvest.

The Great Prayer Festival

In Tibetan; it is called “Ganden Ngacho” special honoring day for the death anniversary of great Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsongkhapa. Tsongkhapa is a famous Tibetan Buddhist teacher, who died in 1419, he was the founder of Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1409, he founded the Ganden monastery near Lhasa which later became central Buddhist learning institute in Tibet, 18 volumes of his writing on Buddhist philosophy and teaching is one of his legacy.On that particular day, Tibetans in all over Tibet lit butter lamps on roofs of their houses, temples and monasteries to commemorate the great scholar and his works. In Ganden monastery, there is special ritual ceremony for whole day as it was being the seat of Tsongkhapa and his tomb stupa is also housed there.In Lhasa, hundreds of Tibetans gather at the Jokhang temple during the night and circulate around the temple, hundreds of butter lamps whole around the Jokhang temple and lay people houses in the area.For dinner every family cook Bhathuk (which is a special Tibetan soup dumbling) to mourn the death of great scholar.

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