Butter Lamp Festival

  • by Nance
  • Last Updated: 2018-10-18

The Butter Lamp Festival is a beautiful tradition that commemorates all of Buddha’s miracles. It falls on the full moon day and can be compared to the western New Year. On the 15th of the first month in Tibetan Calendar, it was held by Tsong Khapa for the purpose of celebrating the victory of Sakyamuni Buddha over his opponents in a religious debate. On the daytime, local Tibetans will visit monasteries like Jokhang Temple. They will burn incenses and pray to Buddha there. It’s more of a party at night. The lamas and craftsmen made butter sculptures with different characters like gods, flowers,  animals etc. Then, they will display these butter sculptures on the shelves, and lit them at night. With thousands of burning lights, they form a wonderful scene of meditation or hypnosis. Some Tibetans even use a series of stories to make lanterns and tell us the ancient Tibetan legends.  The festival is probably the highlight of Tibetans, and the streets are filled with people dancing, singing and celebrating. There's light everywhere from the butter sculptures and lamps. You will feel a happy atmosphere there.

The history of the festival 

Making of butter sculptures during the Butter Lamp Festival have been a tradition for one thousand years. The festival celebrates Shakyamuni’s victory in a debate in Sravasti India, which proved the intellect and power of Buddha.  It's also a way of commemorating his wisdom and victory. During that time, Tsong Khapa lit a lot of lights to commemorate the comfortable win. Soon after, tens of thousands of monks started coming together to celebrate it. However, today the count is less than that. Earlier, the festival also became a time for question and answers with the highest-ranking monks. The Dalai Lamas would head to Lhasa, Jokhang Temple but now the way of things has changed. The event is now carried out in Dharamsala where Dalai Lama lives. For the local Tibetans, it has become a time for being merry and celebrating festivities.

The tradition of making butter sculptures with yak or vegetable oils has facts associated with it. The Tibetans and Buddhist consider light as an essential part of meditation and tantras. A lot of lights together can be beneficial towards achieving focus of mind. When burned, the butter lamps provide with a very smokey light. This smoky light is superbly mesmerizing.

What happens in celebrations today

The colorful and intricately designed ‘Tormas' is the center of attention in this festival. Barkhor Street, located in the capital of Tibet – Lhasa City, is an interesting and breathtaking sight to see. To gauge the full experience of this event, it’s best to head straight here. The sculptures telling the stories of ancient times and are displayed beautifully throughout the city. The butter lanterns are set up on two to three storied towers and brighten up the whole city till morning. The night becomes warm because of all the light. The ‘Tormas’ tell the stories of their ancestors and many characters from these stories are represented through them. Barkhor Street and it’s square become a grand exhibition for the Tormas. When some of the sculptures are put on fire, it is so mesmerizing that it becomes a sight to get lost in. The warm glow emanating from the lighted sculptures and lamps. An all-around atmosphere of happiness and togetherness bring this event to an end every year.

This grand festival is a climax to a month-long preparation made by the Tibetans. It basically marks an end to the Lunar festival. No better words can describe the feeling of being there unless you're there.  

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