Traditional Tibet Festivals 2015 – 2016
The majority of Tibetans are Buddhist and so the region celebrates many colorful religious Buddhist holidays throughout the year as well as the traditional Chinese festivals.
Here are the most interesting of the Tibetan festivals which you can take part in if you time your Tibet tour to coincide with the festivals.
Tibetan New Year – all of Tibet, late January early February
Loser is the Tibetan New Year, it is a 15 day festival but the most important ceremonies and celebrations are on the first three days. Throughout the festival (but especially on the first night of the New Year) you can hear firecrackers being set off on the streets of Lhasa to ward off evil spirits. At the Tibetan monasteries the holiday is celebrated with dancing and prayer. The streets are decorated with bright colors and it is a family orientated celebration. If your Tibet tour takes you to Shigatze you can witness the horse racing and archery competitions.
Monlam – Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, late February
The Great Prayer Festival is the most important religious festival in the Tibetan calendar and is best seen at the Sera Monastery, Drepung Monastery, Gandan Monastery and the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. Here you can see huge gatherings of monks in prayer, chanting and unfolding large thangka.
Chunga Choepa – Lhasa, February
The Butter Lamp Festival or Loser Lantern Festival occurs on the final day of Monlam. If your Tibet tour brings you to Lhasa you will see large statues made out of butter along the main street. This joyous celebration sees locals dancing and singing in the streets. At night the butter lamps are lit and the festivities continue.
Saga Dawa Festival – Lhasa/Mt. Kailash, May-June
Take a tour to Kailash to witness the celebrations of this festival. Pilgrims make the circumambulation of the sacred mountain. The festival celebrates the birth of Sakyamuni who became Buddha and later died in this month. The focus of the celebration is on prayer and worship of Buddha.
Tibet Shoton Festival – Lhasa, August
This unusually named festival – the Yoghurt Festival or Sour Milk Festival has its roots in the 1600s when monks would go into solitary meditation for penance. When the monks completed their solitary meditation they would come out of the monastery and be fed yoghurt by the locals. The 6 day celebration includes opera performances on the grounds of Norbulingka Palace and the hanging of beautiful thangka on the mountains near Drepung Monastery.
These are only a few of the many celebrations and festivals throughout the year in Tibet. Another unique occurrence which has to be mentioned is the horse racing fairs and archery festivals which are held on the Tibetan Plateau. These sporting events are unusually in June and July and are happen on the wide open pastures. Locals, often in traditional costume, come to compete and watch the games. The most famous of the horse racing festivals are the Kyagqen Horse Racing Art Festival in Nagqu and in Gyangze the Darma Festival.