Festivals in Tibet

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People in China's Tibet Autonomous Region have devoutly worshipped Tibetan Buddhism for more than 1,300 years. Tibetan Buddhism has a profound influence on the many festivals in the region. Many of the festivals have evolved into purely religious events due to the fact that Tibetan people, long faced with extremely harsh natural conditions, have continually yearned for the blessings and protection of Buddha.

Great Prayer Festival

The greatest religious festival in Tibet. Instituted by Tsongkapa in 1409, the founder of the Gelukpa Sect. Monks from the Three Great Monasteries of Tibet assemble in Jokhang to pray to Shakyamuni's image as if it were the living Buddha. Philosophical debates are held among candidates for the Doctorate of Metaphysics. Pilgrims come from every corner of Tibet and donations are offered to monks.

The Shoton Festival in Lhasa

On the First of the Seventh month, or August in Gregorian calendar, traditionally, after the monks are required to remain sequestered in their monasteries for the ascetic practice of Buddhism, people from their families prepared sour milk for them to drink with dancing following in their period of confinement. Shoton means ?°Yogurt Festival ?±. In the early 17th century, the Shoton festival became a joint performance with the Tibetan operas. Tibetan artists with different schools from all over Tibet came to gather in Norbu Lingka to have a performing competition, which lasted for several days. During this period, the Drepung Monastery would hold a large portrait of Buddha displaying ceremony.

The Saga Dawa Festival

Through the whole fourth month, monks don't eat meat and don't commit slaughter. They only concentrate themselves on turning prayer wheels and reciting Buddha's scriptures.It is said that on the 1st of the fourth month is the day that Shakyamuni was born, became enlightened and achieved nirvana. On this day every year, people in their holiday best, singing and dancing,go into parks for their dinner party.

The Wongkor (Bumper Harvest) Festival

It is an occasion that Tibetans long for a bumper harvest. When the important moment comes, people in their colorful clothes uphold colored flags with good wishes. They make a pagoda of harvest with the ceremonial scarves twining round the highland barley and the wheat ears, beating drums and gongs, singing in their odes and walk around the fields in prayers for a bumper harvest, and then followed by a horse race. The autumn harvest starts as soon as the festival is over.

Heavenly Maid Festival

It is well known as the Celestial Mother Festival in Tibetan. Each year, on the 15th of the tenth month in Tibetan calendar, religious activities are held in temples throughout Tibet. Tibetan women love the festival because they think this is a special occasion for themselves, therefore, they look very active and feel extremely happy.

Butter Lamp Festival

The Butter Lamp Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month every year. Monks from monasteries and local artists make various-shaped butter flowers with colored butter in pyramids in front the Jokhang Temple. In the evening, after the butter lamps are lit, their lights look just like stars dazzling in the sky. The pyramids made of butter include of immortals, animals, flying birds, beasts, and flowers.

Tsongkapa's Death Anniversary

It is held on the 25th day of the 10th month, which is in November or December in Gregorian calendar. It is the day on which Tsongkapa, the founder of the Gelug Sect met his demise. Every household light lamps on roofs of houses and windowsills chanting prayers in memory of Tsongkapa in the night.

Bathing Festival

In the 7th month in Tibetan calendar or in September in Gregorian calendar is the period, which the Venus appears only for seven nights in one year. Tibetan people think the water is specially holy and clean during this week. They believe that the dirt can be washed off, illness can be cured and their health can be improved. During the week, people all go to riverbanks for bathing, washing their clothes and playing at their pleasure.

Gyantse Horse Race and Archery

Horse racing and archery are very popular in Tibet, Contests in early times included horse races, archery, and shooting on galloping horse-back followed by a few days' entertainment or picnicking. Presently, ball games, track and field events, folk songs and dances, also form part of the celebrations.

Lingka Woods Festival

The Lingka Woods Festival, or the World's Incense Burning Day, is held on the 15th day of the 5th month. The festival evolved from the legend that Padmasambhava, an Indian monk who conquered all evil in the 5th month of the Tibetan Year of Monkey. Tibetans wearing their holiday best gather in the shade of lingka trees, where they erect tents and entertain themselves with food, buttered tea and wine. Folk artists exhibit their skills throughout the festival which normally lasts about a month.

Tibetan New Year (February or March)

A family of Tashi Jicai Neighborhood Committee in Xigaze Prefecture dress up to celebrate the traditional Tibetan New Year as Jan. 27 marks the first day of Earth-Ox Tibetan Year. (Photo/China Tibet Online)

Tibetans begin preparing for New Year's Day in the 12th month in the Tibetan calendar, with initial activities including the use of green shoots of highland barley as offerings to the statues of Buddha.

Activities around the middle of the month include preparing fried wheat dough mixed with butter. The end of the month approaches with each household preparing a Five-Cereal Container containing items such as roasted highland barley flour mixed with butter, fried barley and dromar refreshments, adorned with highland barley ears and a butter sculpture in the shape of the head of a sheep. This is done to pray for a bumper harvest and better life in the coming year. The 29th day of the month arrives with Tibetans cleaning their kitchens and using dry wheat flour to paint eight auspicious patterns on the central wall. The whole family then gather in the evening to first eat dough drops known as Gutu in Tibetan, and then participate in a grand ritual designed to ward-off evil spirits.