What are the Most Significant Tibetan Festivals?
- by Caroline
- Last Updated: 2021-03-17
It’s known that Tibetan people believe in Buddhism and Buddhism has integrated with their social life. Obviously, Tibetan festivals have religious characters as well. Most of the Tibetan festivals are celebrated for some significant events in Buddhism history or legends, such as the birth of Buddha, the enlightenment of some eminent monks, and so on. Even if there is no religious reason for some festivals, for example, the Tibetan Losar new year, Tibetan people will also hold a ceremony of gods worshiping. So joining in Tibetan festivals is a great way for foreign travelers to experience Tibetan culture more deeply. Besides Losar Festival, Butter Lantern Festival, Saga Dawa Festival, Shoton Festival… are all significant feasts for Tibetans. Here we will introduce you to the most important Tibetan Festivals, therefore you can make your Tibet tour coincide with the festival of your choice.
Tibetan Festivals are based on the Tibetan calendar, which varies every year in the solar calendar. Their exact solar date is calculated each year a few months prior by astrologers from Mentse Khang, aka - Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute, which in charge of researching Tibetan medicine and calculating the Tibetan calendar.
Losar Festival – Tibetan New Year
Date: February 12th. 2021
Losar Festival could count as the most important festival for the Tibetan people. Started from December 29th of the Tibetan Calendar, Losar Festival is a moment for the family to enjoy a happy time and greet the coming year. There are usually three days celebrating Losar. Tibetan people will clean the house thoroughly on the first day, which implies kicking out the bad luck. Then, the housewife will prepare special food “Gutu” and the family will have it to farewell the past and welcome the future. On the second day, the monasteries will hold traditional ceremonies to expel the demons which exist everywhere. Tibetan people will go to monasteries and put an offering to the Buddhist deities. On the third day, Tibetan people will gather together, singing, dancing, while eating the fancy dinner. If you happen to be here during this time, the hospitable Tibetan people will invite you to their lovely home, where you can be affected by joy and happiness easily. >>See more about Losar Tibetan New Year
Butter Lantern Festival
Date: February 27th. 2021
The 15th day of the Tibetan calendar is the last climax of the Tibetan New Year, and it is also the last day of the Monlam. During the daytime, people will go to temples to worship and turn the prayer wheels. At night, they will light butter lamps and visit various butter sculptures at Barkhor Street. >>See more about Butter Lantern Festival
Saga Dawa Festival
Date: May 26th. 2021
The 15th. Day of every fourth month in the Tibetan calendar is an important day as it was the birthday of Sakyamuni, as well as the time of his enlightenment and entry into nirvana. There are two places for honoring the greatest Buddha. One is Lhasa; another one is Mt. Kailash. Thousands of Buddhist devotees come to Tibet to do a kora by following the Lhasa Lingkhor circuit or Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar route. >> See more about Saga Dawa Festival
Gyantse Horse Racing Festival
Date: July 20th. 2021
This largely secular festival in Gyantse, featuring such fun and games as line dances, yak races, archery and equestrian events. A large 480-year old thangka is unfurled at sunrise. As nomads, Tibetan people have a very deep feeling for horses. Thus, they love to hold horse racing games to remind them never to forget their blood. >>See more about Gyantse Horse Racing Festival
Nagqu Horse Racing Festival
Date: August 10th. 2021
An important event in northern Tibet, thousands of nomads head to Nagqu for a week of traditional nomad sports. There are many horse racing festivals with different scales in Tibet every year. The big ones held in Gyantse, or Nagqu. Besides horse racing, you can also enjoy a big opening show and some other interesting activities, such as the Archery competition, Yak’s Burlesque, etc. >>See more about Naggqu Horse Racing Festival
Date: August 8th. 2021
As one of the most attractive Tibetan festivals, Shoton Festival has a large scale in Lhasa while a smaller one in Shigatse Prefecture. It is held on the first day of every 7th. month according to the Tibetan calendar and usually lasts for 4-5 days. “Sho” means yogurt, “Ton” means banquet in the Tibetan language. That’s why it was called “Yogurt Festival as well. Besides of Shoton Festival, this feast has another three names, Yogurt Festival, Tibetan Opera Festival, and Buddha Exhibition Festival. It was originated from Drepung Monastery in the 11th. Century. According to the scripture of Tibetan Buddhism, the monks were not allowed to go out in summer in case of killing the small creatures. Began from the fourth month in the Tibetan calendar, they had to stay in the monasteries until the end of the sixth month. The laypeople would offer them yogurt for comforting their hard practice after they come out. To the present day, the opening of the Shoton Festival is the huge Thangka displayed at the back hill of Drepung Monastery. Then, there will be a traditional Tibetan opera in Norbulingka Park, where you can enjoy the fancy show with Tibetan people while eating the tasty Tibetan yogurt. >>See more about Shoton Festival
Tibetan New Year in Kongbo Area
Date: October 1st. 2021
This is a special feast held only in Nyingchi, Tibet, where was called Kongbo in the past. A long time ago, when a foreign army invaded Tibet, a tribe was unable to resist and had to ask for help from the Kongbo Kingdom. The King of Kongbo formed an army to support them. But that was already in September and the soldiers were afraid of missing the Losar Festival with families, which was supposed to be held in the February of the next year. To comfort the soldiers, the King advanced the Losar Tibetan New Year to October 1 of the Tibetan calendar. Later, the custom of the Kongbo New Year Festival came into being and this tradition lasted until today. The main activities of the festival are to invite dogs to choose food among Cuo(foretelling the harvest of the future year ahead), eat "Jieda", carry water, celebrate to honor the goddess of the harvest, and so on.
Buddha's Descent Day(Lhabab Duchen)
Date: October 22th. 2021
The Buddha's Descent Day is a traditional religious festival in Tibet. It has another Tibetan name, Lhabab Duchen Festival. It is a celebration to welcome Buddha Sakyamuni back from heaven on the 22nd. September in the Tibetan calendar. Before the festival, Tibetan believers will whitewash major temples to welcome the arrival of Buddha. On the day of the festival, Buddhist activities are held in various temples to pray for world peace and the prosperity of the Buddhist dharma. This festival is not for the public, relatively only held in the monasteries or temples. It’s kind of a Buddhist event. But in the folks, the Tibetan people will paint the walls of monasteries or their own houses to greet Sakyamuni and pray for a blessing from him on that day.
Palden Lhamo Festival
This may be the most interesting festival for females and children in Tibet. You can also call it the “Fairy Festival” or “Tianmu Festival”, which is celebrated on the 15th. October of the Tibetan calendar. In the morning, all the females in Lhasa will dress up and burn some branches and leaves at Barkhor Street, which is the oldest but busiest market in Tibet. After that, they will head to Jokhang Temple for pilgrimage and make a wish. It’s said that today’s wish will come true definitely. And all the children and females can ask for money from males as gifts on that day. Those men who give out gifts will get blessed by Buddha in the coming year. So, if you happen to be in Tibet on that day, please give some small change to the females or children who ask for money from you. This means you respect them and you will have good luck after doing that.
Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival (Galdan namchot /Ganden Nga-Choe)
Date: December 29th. 2021
This is a festival to honor the founder of Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhism, Tsongkapa, who was the Buddhist reformer and Gelug school's founder. It is held on the 25th. October in the Tibetan calendar and has a Tibetan name “Gaden Ngachen Chenmo Festival”. It could say Ganden Monastery Lantern Festival is the last Tibetan festival in 2021. On that day, the Lamas will light up the butter lamps at the altars inside and outside of all the Gelugpa monasteries while the lay people who believe in Gelugpa will light lamps in the praying room of their house. The scene is absolutely beautiful, especially at the night. The number of butter lamps is usually singular because singular means auspicious in the Tibetan concept.
- Losar - Tibetan New Year
- Saga Dawa Festival
- Lhabab Duchen
- Butter Lamp Festival
- Celebrate Saga Dawa Festival at Mt. Kailash
- Damgxung Horse Racing Festival
- Gyantse Horse Racing Festival
- Nagqu Horse Racing Festival
- Tibetan Shoton Festival
- Ganden Thangka Showing Festival
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