SUMMER AND FALL FESTIVALS IN TIBET

SUMMER FESTIVALS IN TIBET

Drigung-til Festival in June , on the 15th of the fourth Tibetan month lasts for two or three days. A special ceremony and cham dancing is held in Drigung-til Monastery.

Gyangtse Dharma Festival is held in Gyangtse in the last 10 days of the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, usually in late June or July . Activities include the display of Buddha's Portrait, sorcerer dances in trances, wrestling and bearings contests. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]

Samye Festival is celebrated for two or three days in July on 13th of the fifth Tibetan month,. Religious ceremonies and cham dancing are heldin Samye Monastery.

Druk Pa Tseshi Festival is held on the 4th day (Tsheshi) of the 6th month (Drukpa) of the Tibetan Calendar around July or August . Also known as the “holy mountain festival”, it celebrates the day the Buddha first preached a sermon with prayer wheel. On this day, people with food go to monasteries and temples to pay their homage to Buddha, to offer joss-sticks and to circumambulate holy mountains. then there will have some picnics. Relax and enjoy them self. They sing and dance in the fields. They do not go home until the sun set.

Drepung Festival near Lhasa in August is celebrated for two or three days. Religious ceremonies and cham dancing are held in the monastery.

Zhachong Festival takes place in Aba County, Sichuan on the 15th — 17th of the sixth month on Tibetan calendar, usually in August or September . During the festival and fair, people from the Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces gather to do business, recite the "True Sutra" and engage in or watch activities, such as horse racing, wrestling and Guozhuang dances. Many merchants do business in the pottery trade.

Yangle Festival in Dege usually falls in the early part of the seventh month of Tibetan calendar, usually in September, and takes place in Dege County of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan Province. On the first day of seventh Tibetan month, monks leave their monasteries and go around the area interpreting the Yangle Scriptures for people, performing Tibetan operas, and dancing for people to dispel evil spirits. Buddhist baptisms are given to Buddhist followers. Tibetan people also bring wine and food and gather at a big open areas to enjoy Tibetan opera while visiting commodities fairs held at the site.

Drak Yerpa Festival is celebrated in late August or early September on the seventh and 8th of the seventh Tibetan month. It lasts for two or three days. Religious ceremonies and cham dancing are held in the monastery.

Horse Racing Festivals in Tibetan Areas

Horse festivals are big events in Tibet and Tibetan areas of China. The Tibetan Festival in Yushu in Qinghai Province in July lasts for five days. The Khampa Summer Festival in Gyegu in Qinghai Province is one of the largest gathering of Tibetan people, attracting Tibetans from all over western China. In recent years the Chinese government has tried to promote it as a tourism event. The Horse Festival in Lithang in Sichuan Province in August is another large gathering of Tibetans. All these festivals features dancing, folk performances, open air markets and horse racing

The top three horse racing festivals in Tibetan area are: 1) The Yushu Horse Racing Festival, 2) the Ngachu Horse Racing Festival and 3) the Litang Horse Racing Festival. Tibetans camp, party and dress up in their best clothes. There is a lot of dancing and Buddhist ceremonies. Tibetan food can be bought cheaply. You can buy Tibetan herbs and handicrafts and watch the Tibetans do various sports and games. Horse racing festivals and fairs also serve as a traditional occasion for horse-trading. The buying and selling attracts Tibetans from near and far.

Linka Festival

The Linka Festival is called "Zimulinjisang" which means "happy day of the world". Tibetans, who love the outdoors, camp out in the lingkas (parks) along the Lhasa River and other places during the Lingka Festival. The festival season lasts for months in the summer . According to tradition, the festival starts from the Saka Dawa Festival (on the 15th day of the fourth Tibetan month), usually in June, and reaches climaxes during the Incense Festival (on the 15th day of the fifth month) and the Shoton Festival (on the first day of the seventh month). It ends during the Bathing Festival, early in the eighth month.

Also known as the "suburb feast", it is a big event in Lhasa, Rikeze and Changdu. The main festivities are round the 11th day of the fifth Tibetan lunar month, and the period is not fixed. It lasts more than ten days in some places. Tibetan people bring food, highland barley wine, buttered tea, Tibetan mats, tent and stuff to entertain themselves with to a Linka (meaning a garden or parks planted with willows in Tibetan). Tibetans often say "playing in the willows" instead of strolling around the Linka. People erect white tents on the lawn or under old trees, lay down cloth or plastic sheets and spread Tibetan mats on the ground. They enjoy picnics and play musical instrument and sing while drinking buttered tea or highland barley wine. Some of them play cards, some play chess, some play Kelang ball or chat and laugh. There are some religious rites and recreational and sports activities such as horse racing and archery. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

During the Linka season Tibetans dress up in their best clothes and rush to the lingkas. Families set up tents in the woods. Most are white, with simple decorations. People set up cooking facilities, chairs and tables upon which they place all kinds of food, dishes and beverages. The festival activities are varied and colorful, and are centered on worshipping the gods and recreation. Many take part in sporting competitions. In recent years, the activities have included activities with karaoke machines and electronic games in the tents. People sing, dance, tell stories, play games and drink day and night. Sometimes, they watch films, artistic performances and Tibetan opera.

Followers of the Red Hat school of Buddhism in eastern Tibet dress in unique costumes and blow huge trumpets. Buddhist nuns sit by the roadside in groups, chanting scriptures to the accompaniment of drums. In Lhasa, scripture readers meet in the lingka at the Dragon King Lake north of the Potala Palace. They present hadas(ceremonial silk scarves) and buffer lampsto the dragon princess. They also paddle boats on the lake, singing the praises of the dragon princess.

The fifth month by the Tibetan calendar is the best season for lingka. On the 15th day, the residents of Lhasa dress in their best clothes and pray at the Jokhang Monastery and other monasteries. They also burn incense on high places, and scatter glutinous rice cakes, salt and highland barley wine as a prayer for peace and happiness. The first day of the seventh month by the Tibetan calendar is the Shoton, or Yogurt Festival. In the 18th century, the Norbu Lingka in the western suburbs of Lhasa became the summer holiday resort of the Dalai Lama, and the Shoton Festival was moved there, called the "Norbu Lingka Shoton." From the first day of the seventh month, all people go to the Norbu Lingka to watch Tibetan opera performances. In early August, the weather starts to get cold. After the Bathing Festival, the leaves began to yellow, and activities in the lingkas disappear. And the Lingka Festival ends.

Dzamling Chisang: Universal Prayer Day

Universal Prayer Day, or Zamling Chisang, is a Tibetan Buddhist festival celebrated in late June or early July on the 15th day of the fifth month in Tibetan Calendar. It is a time for spiritual cleansing. On this day Tibetan people go to the tops of local mountains to burn incense and hang prayer flags. "Zamling Chisang" in Tibetan, means "Universal Incense Offering Day." People also go to monasteries and burn incense or juniper branches. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China] [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]

Zamling Chisang (Dzam Ling Chi Sang) was originally meant to commemorate Padmasambhava's (Guru Rinpoche's) subjugation of the local deities and the founding of Samye Monastery. In Lhasa, large amounts of 'Sang' are burned in the hills of Chakpori, Bumpari (on the southern side of the Kyi-chu) and Gephelri (behind Drepung Monastery). 'Sang' is a Tibetan 'ritual fireworks'. There is a variety in selection of material for Weisang, like branches of pine, cypress and juniper, leaves of herbs such as Artemisia argyi and heath.

Tibetans also hang prayer flags on tree tops, and build bonfires to worship the Buddha and local gods. Fire in the Tibetan culture is symbolic of cleansing. Family picnics are also common during the festival. This is also the time of the once-a-year display of the famous giant thangkas, scroll paintings, at Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet. In Tashilunpo, three huge thangkas with images of the Buddha are displayed for three days on a nine-story wall behind the monastery.

Pabang Dangkuo Festival in Reting Monastery

The Pabang Dangkuo Festival is the most important festival held in Reting Monastery north of Lhasa. This festival usually held in July was only a purely religious prayer activity and has gradually developed into an festival with varied entertainments and goods exchange. Pabang means big stones. Pabang Dang is located in the western side of Reting Monastery, the first temple of Kadampa built in Tangguo village, Linzhou Country, which is 240 kilometers away from the north of Lhasa. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]

In the morning, the horse racing and ripening crop robbing are extremely exciting. According to the traditional rules, one of the horses must be white, and one of riders must wear white. In the racing, the white horse and the rider who wears white must reach the destination, which shows good luck. A head lama at Reting Monastery gives away prizes and Kada to the winner.

At 12:30pm, to honor the moment of the establishment of Reting Pabang, lamas chant sutras in the big tent. In front of the tent, there is a red stone altar, which is called the Tso. The Tso is terraced and decorated with Butter sculpture. In the middle of the altar, there is a picture about the cycle of birth and death. A whole lamb without its skin is put in front of the picture. Devout worshippers put their offerings around Tso. After lamas chant sutras, people scramble for the offerings. Getting a piece of the offering is considered very lucky.

In the afternoon, the climax of the festival is Chamo, a kind of temple dance of the Tibetan Buddhists. Chamo is the pioneering work of Amechamjiurinqen, a famous yoga teacher. The Young lamas of Reting form the Chamo group and make all kinds of dances with religious names and rubadub music. This festival ranked second among 20 Tibetan festivals on the 3rd Chinese Festival Innovation Forum in 2012.

Chokhor Duchen Festival

Chokor Duchen Festival is held in mid July on 15th day of the fifth Tibetan month in much of Tibet. It celebrates Buddha’s first sermon at Sarnath. It is one of the four great seasonal festivals along with Losar, Saga Dawa and Lhabab Duchen celebrated by all Tibetan Buddhists. Chokhor means “Prayer Wheel” or “Dharma Wheel”, the common religious objects in Tibet, and Duchen means “great occasion” in Tibetan. Hand held wheels are hollow wooden or metal cylinders attached to a handle which when turned are believed to spread spiritual blessing.

The Chokor Duchen (Choekhor Duechcen) festival is held in Lhasa on the 4th day of the 6th month of Tibetan calendar, in August . Many pilgrims climb the Mt. Gyambu Utse, the peak behind Drepung Monastery, and also the ridge from Pabonka to the Dode Valley, to burn the incense and hang prayer flags. The festival is also called Drukwa Tsezhi.Tradition has it that Buddha was not convinced through his own reflections that teaching what he had discovered through his meditations would be of any benefit to others. It took the intercession of the great gods, Brahma and Indra, to persuade him to do so for the benefit of all sentient beings. The Buddha then addressed the five people who had been his companions during the time spent with the forest yogins concerning the Truth of Suffering, and the other Noble Truths. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]

Chokhor Duchen is also called "Holy Mountains Festival". People honor the Buddha by going to monasteries to pay homage. Walking around various holy mountains is also a popular practice during the festival. Picnicking, singing and dancing are also part of the activities. The festival also commemorates Buddha's teaching of the Four Noble Truths: 1) the truth of suffering (dukkha), 2) the truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya), 3) the truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha), and 4) the truth of the path that frees people from suffering (magga). [Source: Barbara, O’Brien, buddhism.about.com, Tibetravel.org]

In Tibet, the Chokhor Duchen Festival is a day of pilgrimage when believers visit particularly holy spots to leave offerings of incense and prayer flags. The whole community, cleric and lay people alike, join in processions bearing statues of the Buddha and copies of the scriptures. Chokhor or prayer wheels are common religious objects in Tibet, part of daily life for both Buddhists and followers of the native Bon religion. Hand held wheels are hollow wooden or metal cylinders attached to a handle which when turned are believed to spread spiritual blessing. Mantras—such as Om Mani Padme Hum, believed to invoke the attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the Buddha of compassion—may be printed.

Tashilhunpo Monastery Festival

Tashilhunpo Monastery Festival has been held for over 500 years. Also known as Buddha Exhibition Festival in Tashilhunpo Monastery enjoys, it last for three days, in July , during the middle of the fifth lunar Tibetan month. Different Buddhas are exhibited on each day during this festival. The Buddha Amitabha (infinite light) is exhibited on the first day to remind people to cherish the memory of the past. The statue of Sakyamuni made by the Ninth Panchen Lama is exhibited on the second day to encourage people to pray for a life with happiness. A Maitreya (the future Buddha) is exhibited on the third day to urge people to hold expectations for the future. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]

Events culminates with the unveiling of a huge four-storey-tall Thangka (religious painting) on a tower behind the Tashilunpo monastery. The whole exposition zone spreads over 1,000 meters, decorated by silk and satins. There is also sutra chanting, prayers meeting and rain begging. Both the lamas and lay people show their respect to the Buddha and pray for blessing by prostrating themselves, walking the kora around the monastery and doing other other religious activities. Local Tibetans sit together on the culture square, sharing barley wine and food. There are Buddha exhibition festivals in other monasteries in Tibet, but the one in Tashilhunpo Monastery is unique. One of of the oldest and largest such festivals, it is the symbol of Tashilhunpo Monastery, as well as one of the symbols of Shigatse. Tens of thousands of people show up every year for the event.

Ganden Thangka Unveiling Festival in Tibet

The Ganden Thangka Unveiling Festival in Tibet is usually held in late July on the 15th day of the sixth lunar month of Tibetan Calendar in memory of the enlightenment of Tsongkhapa, a well-known Tibetan religious philosopher. It is a big event. Ganden Monastery displays its 25 holiest relics which are normally locked away. Ganden Monastery, one of the three great Gelug monasteries of Gelug in Lhasa. On the festival, thousands gather at the Ganden Monastery to witness the unveiling of a gigantic hand woven Thangka, featuring a Buddha figure surrounded by symbols of religious significance. The thangka is over 60 meters wide by 40 meters tall. A large offering ceremony accompanies the unveiling.

Ganden Monastery Festival is held in Late July or early August on 4th of the sixth Tibetan month. Local Tibetan people usually begin to arrive in the early morning pre-dawn hours. They climb to the top of a hill near the monastery to watch the sunrise as they chant prayers of personal and religious significance. As the sun rises, it paints the surrounding mountain scenery with gold and red hues. As the day wears on crowds fill the monastery to pray and leave offerings of incense and yak butter. Excitement builds as the unveiling ceremony begins, and once the Thangka has finally been revealed the crowd rushes forward to touch their foreheads to the giant tapestry. The smell of the incense, the traditional music, and religious fervor of the crowd suspends locals and foreign visitors alike in a dream like state.

Shoton Festival

The Shoton Festival (Xuedun Festival) is one of the biggest festivals in Tibet, marking the end of monks Yarné, or hundred day summer retreat. This festival is usually held in late August and starts on the last day of the sixth month in Tibetan Calendar and lasts for a few days. "Shoton" in Tibetan means “sour milk banquet” or yoghurt banquet. As Tibetan operas are performed and Buddha paintings are exhibited at this time, it is also called "Tibetan Opera Festival" or "Buddha Exhibition Festival". Ethnic songs and dances and famous Tibetan operas are performing at Norbulingka Palace in Lhasa. Hundreds of thousands of Tibetan gather at Drepung Monetary and Sera monasteries in Lhasa to see the unveiling of large famous Buddha Thangka. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]

For Buddhists is Shoton is holy ceremony for purification of the spirit and the soul The grand opening of Shoton Festival begins in the morning when worshippers and tourists gather to witness the unveiling of the holy Thangka at Drepung Monastery. Thousands of followers hold their breath. Horns blare and lamas read scripture, chant and pray. To all Tibetans, it is a magical moment when the giant work of art is fully displayed. Followers touch the "Thanka" by forehead to show devotion. There are also other celebratory events such as horse races and yak races. [Source: Lobsang Tsering, tibetravel.org, August 25, 2014]

The unfolding of the thangka (a giant Buddhist painting on cloth) is the main and important activity during traditional Tibetan festivals, like Shoton Festival. As the first ray of sun glow touches Drepung Temple, thousands of local worshippers and tourists await the unfurling. The 20-meter long portrait of Buddha is gradually unfurled before viewers in a cloud of incense and camera flashes. Worshipers throw silk Khabtags at the Buddha portrait and pray for safety and happiness. The ceremony, known as Zhanfo, means Buddha worship. Later people go to Norbulingka and visit their relatives' and friends' tents and drink yak-butter tea and chang.

Originally, the festival was purely religious. When emerged after spending weeks in retreat, it was the custom of lay people to give them yogurt. Legend has it that Tsong Khapa, founder of the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism made it a rule that all lamas must do meditations from the fourth month to the sixth month of the Tibetan year. After the period was over pilgrims went to monasteries to offer their homemade yogurt to monks to express thanks for their love and protection. The Shoton Festival is also known as the Yogurt (Banquet) Festival since locals customarily eat Tibetan yogurt during the gala. "Sho" means the yogurt and "ton" means banquet in the Tibetan language. This festival is not only popular in Lhasa, but also in Gyangtse City. The Shoton Festival in Gyangtse City was established later than that in Lhasa, and local people call it Semuqinbo.

History of the Shoton Festival

Prior to the 17th century, Shoton was an exclusively religious observance. Legend has it that Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Yellow Sect, made it a rule that all the lamas must practice meditation and self-improvement indoors from the fourth month to the sixth month of Tibetan year, to avoid carelessly killing newly hatched insects or other creatures. Their seclusion was only broken by the end of sixth month, which meant all the lamas were not allowed to leave their monasteries until July 1. As they walked down the mountainsides, local residents would offer alms of yogurt, and the "Yogurt Festival" stuck. In addition to the yogurt banquet, monks also amused themselves with entertainment activities. This is the origin of the Shoton.

It has been said that the Shoton festival can traced back to the 11th century when Master Atisha (982- 1054, a monk from Bengal) was dwelling and studying in Nethang monastery in summer. He set up rules for his students to follow, one of which was that lamas should not leave the monastery to abide by one of the most important Tibetan religious tenets: to avoid killing lives. As all animals come out for food in summer, it is easy to kill small worms and insects by trampling them underfoot. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]

In 11th century, Buddhism was recovering from a prohibition on religious practices imposed by the Tibetan ruler King Darmo in 9th century. Between mid 9th century and mid 11th century was a time of suffering in Tibet. There were continuous and disastrous wars and rebellions in this time. In Atisha's time, it was a time to sow seeds and spread. Atisha and his monks dedicated themselves to meeting the spiritual needs of common people and meditaed and prayed on their behalf. The local people were grateful and offered them their best family-made yoghurt, fruits and other food to show their respect ad gratitude.

In the 14 century, the famous teacher Tsongkapa initiated a rule that monks to concentrate on meditation in monasteries from April to June according to Tibetan lunar calendar to avoid killings and earning demerits during that days. After they finished the local Tibetan laymen offered them yoghurt and curds,

In 17th century when the Gelupa sect defeated Kargyuelpa's power and began its rule over Tibet, the Fifth Dalai Lama ordered the operas to be performed in Drepung monastery, Potala palace and Norbulinka during the celebration, Yoghurt was served, local style operas and songs were performed. As time passed it gradually became one of the grandest, important festivals in Tibet prior to Tibet New year. From the beginning of the 18th century, the festival expanded from thePotala Palaceto the Norbu Lingka, and celebrations became formalized. Handed down through today, they include polishing of the Buddha's portrait, folk amusement activities at local lingkas (parks) and Tibetan opera. Popular trade fairs are also organized.

The Shoton festival is focused at Drepung monastery. This is because that when Gelupa established its rule over Tibet, its religious and political center was in Drepung monastery, the Ganden Pochan was the once the residence for 5th Dalai Lama. After the Potala palace was rebuilt in 1682, he moved his palace to Potala from Drepung monastery; from the year 1682 on, the Shoton festival was performed in Potala palace, then shifted to Drepung monastery; in the time of 7th Dalai Lama, the Norbulinka was built, and the Shoton festival was performed there after Drepung monastery.

Tibetan Bathing Festival

The Bathing Festival lasts for one week in late August or early September . It begins on the sixth day of the seventh month in Tibetan Calendar. In Tibetan it is called "Gamariji," meaning Qishan star, or Venus. When Venus rises to the sky, the mass bathing starts. As Venus sets, the bathing ends. According to Tibetan beliefs bathing at this time is beneficial to health as water in Tibet has eight advantages: sweet, cool, soft, light, clear, clean, unharmful to throat, nor to belly. Even though the water is still quite cold, in Tibetan terms it is relatively warm and suitable for bathing. During the seven days, tens of thousands of Tibetan men and women go to a river or lake to have baths. Tents tents, big or small, dot the areas near the rivers and lakes.

Legend has it that pestilence was wide spread, leading to great suffering of the people. The Avalokitesvara, one of the Buddhist deities, poured holy water into the rivers of Tibet. After bathing in the rivers, people recovered miraculously from their illnesses. Ever since, at this time every year, people bathe themselves in rivers. This custom has been handed down from generation to generation and gradually developed into a festival. It is believed that river baths during this week not only clean the body, but also wash away potential diseases.

Tibetans regard the planet Venus as sacred. When its appears in the sky Tibetans believe river water is at its purest and can cure diseases. A "holy bath" is considered able to heal disease, help people stay fit, and rid them of misfortune. Venus appears for just seven nights each year, and the festival lasts only for that period. Tibetans, old and young, man and woman, rural and urban take part. They bring food and set up tents along and dip into the river in the starlight in a seductive and tranquil ritual. They describe the immersion as an organic integration of body and soul with nature, and believe they will enjoy good health and long life from the experience. After their baths, they gather around the bonfires under willow trees, to wine and dine to their heart's content. Some play six-stringed musical instruments, and they sing folk songs and dance. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]

Ongkor Festival (Bumper Harvest Festival)

Ongkor is a “ harvest festival” with has no fixed date when the harvest is ready. Usually held in August, September or October , depending on the place, it is celebrated when crops are ripe, and lasts three to five days. During the festival, people walked around the fields with scriptures. Now it has gradually become a festival mainly concerned with arts, sports and entertainments. Ongkor means “looking around the field” or “ harvest festival” in English. The festival is known as the Wang-guo Festival in Chinese. The best places to catch this festival are in rural Tibet, including areas around Lhasa, Gyangtse and Shannan.

The celebrations include horse racing, shooting, dancing and singing, Tibetan traditional Opera, stone lifting and wrestling. The “Ongkor” is also a good time for farmers to have a rest. Since crops ripen in different times, the festival is held accordingly. The Ongkor Festival is is celebrated from the middle and lower reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River. In the village in these areas, people initially offered sacrifices to gods to pray for a good harvest.

The Harvest Festival has traditionally been is celebrated at the end of the seventh Tibetan month just before peasants begin to harvest their crops.This is usually in September of the Gregorian calendar. Bases on agricultural needs and conditions, specific dates for the Festival vary according to locations. As one of the most popular and busy festivals in rural areas, the holiday is one Tibetan farmers, looking forward to preparing for their harvests. It is usually celebrated when crops are ripe, and lasts for three to five days.

During the festival, some people put on ancient warrior dresses, riding on horses decked out in fancy colors as they trot through the fields. They are met by people holding barley plants, colorful flags with good wishes, Buddha's images, and carrying a "harvest tower" made of barley stalks and ears. They sing and dance, beat drums and gongs and walk around the fields. People also enjoy horse racing and contests. It is only after these rites that they will begin the intense autumn harvest.

It is said that the festival has enjoyed a history of more than 1,500 years. According to Tibetan documents, aqueducts were constructed in the Yalong area toward the end of 500 AD, and people began to use wooden plows and agricultural production became more developed. In order to ensure a plentiful harvest,the Tibetan King asked the hierarchy of Bon religion for guidance. Following the tenets of that faith, peasants walked around their fields, beseeching the Heavens for a good harvest, the origin of the Onkor. But the Onkor was not a formal festival at that time, only an activity before taking in the crops. After the rise of Buddhism, the ceremony changed to its present form, tinged with features of the newer religion.

Tsedang in the Shannan Region holds a large Ongkor Festival in mid-summer. Each family choose a representative, usually a woman to form a 100-member team. They are dressed in grand Tibetan robes, wear their gold and silver jewels, carry dou (a measure for grain) and scripture book showing a good harvest on their back and hold colourful arrows. Under the leadership of a revered man and accompanied by the sounds of ritual trumpets and drums, they move round the farmland outside the village, shouting: "Yangguxiu! Yangguxiu!" (meaning "Come back, the soul of the earth!" ) The old villagers burn mulberries on the way the Ongkor team must pass to worship gods.

Lhabab Duchen: Buddha's Descent Day

The Lhabad Duchen Festival in Tibet falls on the 22nd day of the ninth lunar month on the Tibetan calendar, usually in October . This Buddhist festival is celebrated to observe the descent of Buddha Sakyamuni from the heaven back to the earth. On that day, there are a large number of pilgrims in Lhasa. Ladders are painted afresh on rocks around many monasteries to symbolize the event. Lhabab Duchen Festival or Buddha Sakyamuni's Descent Day is one of the four great Tibetan Buddhist festivals commemorating four events in the life of the Buddha. The other three are Losar Festival, Saga Dawa Festival, Chokor Duchen according to Tibetan traditions.[Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]

It is said that the Buddha left for heaven at the age of 41, having ascended to the Heaven of Thirty-Three (Trayastrimsa) in order to give teachings to benefit the gods in the desire realms and to repay the kindness of his mother by liberating her from Samsara. He was exhorted by his follower and representative Maugalyayana to return, and after a long debate managed to return. This is considered to be one of the eight great deeds of the Buddha. He returned to earth by a special triple ladder prepared by Viswakarma, the god of machines.

On Lhabab Duchen, the effects of positive or negative actions are multiplied ten million times. It is part of Tibetan Buddhist tradition to engage in virtuous activities and prayer on this day. Tibetan people hold Buddhist activities on this day each year, celebrating Buddha's return to the human world and promoting Buddhism. According to the local custom, people paint the outside walls of their own houses or the temples on this special day to greet the Buddha's return.

Ximoqenpo Holy Dance Festival at Tashilunpo

In October during the eighth on the Tibetan calendar each year, lamas in the Tashilhungpo Monastery hold the Ximoqenpo Holy Dance Festival. Originally a religious ritual to drive away evil spirits, it gradually evolved into a traditional festival in Xigaze. According to historical documents, the festival was first sponsored by Dainbai Nyima, the seventh Panchen Lama, about 200 years ago. On the third day of the eighth month on the Tibetan calendar each year, a dance contest is held among lamas in the monastery, and the festival formally commences the next day and lasts three days until the sixth day of the the eighth Tibetan month, when it is open to the public. The monastery now boasts 39 lamas who can dance 61 different kinds of dances. A huge tent is set up on a platform. On its left are seats for distinguished guests; on its right is the orchestra of the monastery; and in front of the platform is the audience who have traveled far to attend. The whole activity is imbued with a strong religious fervor and follows a strict protocol. The dance is simple in rhythm and slow in execution. To enliven the atmosphere, some short, light pieces are performed between the dances, which always make the audience rock with laughter. During the three-day festival, dozens of holy dances will be performed, such as Buddha's Warrior Attendant Dance, Skeleton Dance, Deer and Cow Dance, Bhiksu Dance and Six Longevity Dance. [Source: China Tibet Information Center, zt.tibet.cn]

On the first day of the festival, the first to take the stage are people wearing deity masks, who dance while circling the stage before retreating backstage. Several minutes later, four ghosts jump onto the stage; they have long fingers and toes like skeletons. They dance and then retreat, too. The third group, wearing iron hats, dance while circling the stage. The fourth group of 20 enter the stage with hats and different silk ribbons hanging on their bodies. The fifth come to the stage imitating the animals. The sixth group are clothed in yellow, red, indigo-blue and purple masks, baggy pattern clothes and hats with tassels. Among the seventh group, four lamas dress up like ghosts, carrying a body molded of butter and zanba; they are followed by deities. After chanting sutras, the dancers stab the body with a knife, pour oil on dry firewood, light it and throw the body (representing ghost) into the fire.

The second day starts with a lama wearing a large Buddha mask and sitting straight on a lotus seat, motionless like a wood or clay sculpture, with two boys waiting on him on both sides. On the stage are two lamas wearing masks and colorful clothes, and dancing according to the rhythm. They soon retreat. Then a pair of lamas dressing up like guards of Dharma come onto the stage, followed by more than ten pairs. The last four wear skeleton masks and strange costumes. Two small ghosts carry a bag of zanba and let the four in skeleton masks take zanba out to spread in all directions.

On the third day, six images of longevity appear on the stage: crane, deer, human, mountain, water and village. The lama sitting on the lotus seat expounds Buddhist scriptures to the wolf and deer. Two white-haired old men then appear on the stage, holding bows and arrows and aiming at the wolf and deer upon seeing them. The lama stops them, telling them it is a sin to kill. Then he talks eloquently about the cycle of incarnation. Finally, the old men and the animals, led by the lama, ascend to the immortal world.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: 1) “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *\; 4) \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2022


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