As a sacred region with flourishing Buddhism, most Tibetan Buddhist holidays relate to Buddhism. In Tibetan areas, there are many festivals that are closely related to Tibetan Buddhism, such as Saka Dawa, Buddha’s Descent Day, and Galdan Namchot. These festivals do not only have an important influence in Tibet but also in places. Here are some details about important Buddhist holidays that may interest you.
Shoton Festival, also known as the Yogurt Festival, falls in summer from the end of the 6th lunar month or the beginning of the 7th lunar month. Monks retreat in their monasteries for a month before this festival to avoid stepping on insects and killing them. This holiday originated from a banquet for the Tibetan monks given by laypeople in the 16th century.
Afterward, there are summer operas and theatricals in celebration of this festival. The operas last for whole days, with loud sounds of cymbals, bells, and drums. People act like villains and devils to dance in the opera, with choruses from the recitatives. Tibetan people usually watch the opera with prayer wheels rolling in their hands. There are only professional actors from Lhasa Singing and Dancing Troupe nowadays, but dancers came from all over Tibet in the old days. Family groups visit each other and have feasts together during this holiday. At night, Tibetan families will make bonfires and have fun together. In 2022, this grand festival will start on August 27th.
“Dawa” means “month” in Tibetan while “Saka” is a star associated with the full moon of the 4th month of the Tibetan calendar. Saka Dawa is one of the most important festivals in Tibet. In 2022, Saka Dawa extends from June 14th to July 13th. These days are the month of merits, and Tibetans usually give support to beggars and refrain from eating meat during this month.
This month will hold various activities to commemorate. Over time, these activities have turned into large-scale koras, such as the Mt. Kailash kora. During the Saga Dawa Festival, the loop path Lingkhor which goes a circle around the old city of Lhasa, with a total length of about 5,000 meters is the most spectacular. On this day, Tibetan men and women dress up in costumes and pray. In addition, the Tibetans in Lhasa will gather in groups to Zongjiao Lukang Park to have a picnic and have fun with families.
Buddha’s Descent Day
Buddha’s Descent Day falls on September 22nd of the Tibetan calendar. It marks the return of Lord Buddha from the heaven of Trāyastriṃśa. Legend has it that Queen Māyā passed away shortly after giving birth to Gautama Buddha. When the Buddha attained enlightenment, he found his mother was not set free from Samsara then he went to Trāyastriṃśa for three months to liberate his mother by giving teachings. It is said that the Buddha’s Descent Day is the last day when Buddha stays in heaven realm and then back to earth.
In Tibetan Buddhism beliefs that the Buddha’s Descent Day is one of the four great Buddhist festivals and the most auspicious one. It multiplies merits a billion times that day. Therefore, the practitioner should seize this opportunity to awaken the heart of wisdom and mercy, such as making offerings to the Three Jewels– Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and giving alms to all beings. In 2022, this festival falls on Nov 15th.
Butter Lantern Festival
The Butter Lantern Festival was created by Tsongkhapa. It falls on the 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar, the last day of the Monlam Chenmo. In history, Tsongkhapa offered butter flowers and lanterns to the golden statue of Buddha Sakyamuni enshrined in Jokhang Temple to commemorate Buddha’s surrender of evil spirits. Another saying is that the butter lantern festival is to celebrate the victory of the great debate between Buddha Shakyamuni and other sects. On this day, Tibetans would display colorful butter lanterns of flowers, birds, fishes, insects, and human figures to celebrate. In 2022, this festival will fall on Mar 18th.
Zamling Chisang, means World Incense Day or World Happy Day. It’s to commemorate that Guru Padmasambhava once surrendered all the demons in Tibet in May of the Monkey Year. At that time, Tibetans will wear festive costumes, take family members, and bring delicious food, highland barley wine, butter tea, tents, as well as various entertainment equipment and musical instruments to the quiet and forested Lingka (garden in Tibetan). They set up white tents on the lawn or under the old trees, sing and dance while eating and drinking, and enjoy nature heartily. This festival often lasts as long as one month. In 2022, the festival starts on July 13th.