Tibetan cultural heritage took such a hammering during the Cultural Revolution that traditional festivals, once important highlights of the Tibetan year, are only now starting revive. Tibetan festivals are held according to the Tibetan lunar calendar, which usually lags at least a month behind our Gregorian calendar. We have included forth coming dates for some of the festivals listed, but you will need to ask around for the exact dates of many festivals because these are often only fixed by monasteries a few months in advance. Some of the major Tibetan festivals as below:
Tibetan New Year is the most important festival in Tibet. It is an occasion when Tibetan families reunite and expect that the coming year will be a better one. Known as Losar, the festival starts from the first to the third day of the first Tibetan month. Preparations for the festive event are manifested by special offerings to family shrine deities, painted doors with religious symbols, and other painstaking jobs done to prepare for the event. Tibetans eat Guthuk (barley crumb food with filling) on New Year's Eve with their families. Eating Guthuk is fun since the barley crumbs are stuffed with a different filling to fool someone in the family. The Festival of Banishing Evil Sprits is observed after dinner. Signs that the New Year is approaching when one sees lit torches, and people running and yelling to get rid of evil spirits from their houses. Before dawn on New Year's Day, housewives get their first buckets of water for their homes and prepare breakfast. After breakfast, people dress up to go to monasteries and offer their prayers. People visit their neighborhoods and exchange their Tashi Delek blessings in the first two days. Feast is the theme during the occasion. On the third day, old prayer flags are replaced with new ones. Other folk activities may be held in some areas to celebrate the events.
Monlam, the Great Prayer Festival, falls on the fourth up to the eleventh day of the first Tibetan month. The event was established in 1049 by Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama's order. It is the grandest religious festival in Tibet. Religious dances are performed and thousands of monks gather for chanting before the Jokhang Temple. Examinations taking form of sutra debates for the Geshe degree, the highest degree in Buddhist theology, are also held. Pilgrims crowd to listen to the sermons while others give religious donations.
The Butter Lamp Festival, Chunga Choepa in Tibetan, falls on the fifteenth day of the first Tibetan month. The event was also established by Tsong Khapa to celebrate the victory of Sakyamuni against heretics in a religious debate. Giant butter and Tsampa sculptures varying in forms of auspicious symbols and figures are displayed on Barkhor. People keep singing and dancing throughout the festive night.
On the fifteenth day of the fourth Tibetan month is Saka Dawa Festival. The day is believed to be the time when Sakyamuni was born; stepped into Buddhahood, and attained nirvana. Tibetans believe that a merit is an accumulation of a myriad of merits from previous days, months or years. People refrain from killing animals by liberating them and abstain from eating meats. Sutra chanting, prayer turning, Cham dancing and other religious activities dominate the occasion. Offering sacrifices to the female deity enshrined in the temple on the islet of the Dragon King Pond, boating in the pond and picnicking add more to the festive mood.
Shoton Festival, also known as the Yoghurt Festival, begins on the thirtieth day of the sixth Tibetan month. The origin of the festival started from the 17th century when pilgrims served yoghurt to the monks who stopped for their summer retreat. Years later, Tibetan opera performances were added to the event to amuse monks in monasteries. During the festival, giant Thangkas of the Buddha are unveiled in Drepung Monastery while Tibetan opera troupes perform at Norbulingka.
The Bathing Festival starts on the twenty-seventh day of the seventh lunar month and lasts a week when Venus appears in the sky. Tibetans bring food, set up tents along rivers and bathe themselves under the star light. The holy bath was believed to heal all kinds of illnesses and wards off misfortune.
Nakchu Horse Race Festival is the most important folk festival in Tibet. People who gather for the annual horse race festival in Nakchu town construct a tent city. Dressing themselves and their finest horse, thousands of herdsmen participate in the thrilling horse race, archery and horsemanship contest. Other folk activities and commodity fairs are also held. The event falls on early August.
There are different versions of the origin of Gyangtse Horse Race Festival, which is also popular throughout Tibet. The festival usually falls in June. Horse race, archery contest, and other games are performed to entertain people. Religious activities are also the part of this event.
Buddha Unfolding Festival is celebrated in Tashilhunpo Monastery from the fourteenth to the sixteenth day of the fifth Tibetan month. Unbelievable giant Thangkas of Amitayus, Sakyamuni and Maitreya are displayed on the monastery's Thangka Walls. Thousands of pilgrims rush to the monastery to give their offerings to the Buddhas for the accumulation of their merits. The tradition has lasted for 500 years.
Tsong Khapa Butter Lamp Festival falls on twenty-fifth day of the tenth Tibetan month. It is a festival when myriads of butter lamps are lit on rooftops with prayers chanted to commemorate the loss of Tsong Khapa who was a great religious reformer adept in Buddhism.
Paying homage to the Holy Mountain Festival (Choekhor Duechcen in Tibetan) falling on the fourth day of the sixth Tibetan month commemorates Sakyamuni's first sermon. People, in their best conduct during the occasion, go to monasteries to pay their respects to the Buddha. Circumambulation around the mountains is the popular practice during the festival. Picnicking, singing and dancing are also part of the event.
Universal Prayers Festival (Zamling Chisang in Tibetan) falls on the fifteenth day of the fifth Tibetan month. The event commemorates Padmasambhava's subjugation of evil spirits. People go to the monasteries to burn juniper branches.
Harvest Festival (Ongkor in Tibetan) is celebrated when crops ripen, usually around August. The festival is observed only in farming villages. People walk around their fields to thank the gods and deities for a good year's harvest. Singing, dancing, and horseracing are indispensable folk activities.
List of Festivals,Dates in English Calender