Festivals and Activities
Tibet’s culture is unique in the world. Tibetan traditions have things to do with Tibetan Buddhism and its unique topography. There are over twenty festivals throughout the year in Tibet. The festivals are the time for people to get together, dancing and singing. Tibetan folk songs and dances are an indispensable part of every Tibetans’ life, especially during festivals or important events. Nowadays, the festivals also celebrated for folk-custom and entertainment. Among them, Tibetan New Year, Butter Lamp Festival, Monlam Prayer Festival, Saga Dawa, Shoton Festival, Horse Racing Festival, Bathing Festival, Onkor/Harvest Festival are the famous festivals in Tibet.
Major Festivals in Tibet
Tibetan New Year
Losar is a festival in Tibetan Buddhism, which is the Tibetan New Year Festival. The holiday is celebrated on the first day of the lunisolar Tibetan calendar, which corresponds to a date in February or March in the Gregorian calendar. 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 noodle soup with filling) on New Year’s Eve with their families.
Monlam Prayer Festival
Monlam also known as The Great Prayer Festival, falls on 4th–11th day of the 1st Tibetan month in Tibetan Buddhism. It involves dancing and participating in sports events, as well as sharing picnics. The event was established in 1049 by Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama’s order. As the greatest religious festival in Tibet, thousands of monks (of the three main monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Ganden) gathered for chanting prayers and performing religious rituals at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.
Butter Lamp Festival
On the fifteenth day the highlight of Monlam Chenmo in Lhasa would be the “Butter Lamp Festival” (Chunga Chopa), during which the Dalai Lama would come to the Jokhang Temple and perform the great Buddhist service. Barkhor Square in front of the Jokhang would be turned into a grand exhibition site for the huge tormas. At the end of the festival, these tormas would be burned in a large bon-fire. Butter lamps are simply clarified yak butter or vegetable oil in a bowl with a wick. In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, a lot of lights together are conducive for meditation and focusing the mind.
Saga Dawa Festival
Saga means “the fourth” and Dawa refers to “month” in Tibetan. This festival is celebrated for the whole month and is one of the most significant festivals celebrated in Tibet. This festival coincides with three crucial events in his life: birth, nirvana, and death. Hundreds of Tibetan people circumambulate around the Barkhor, Tsekhor(Circuit around Potala) and Lingkhor, which is a one form of good deeds. During this festival, a large number of pilgrims come to Lhasa to visit the monasteries and take part in the ritual walk around the Lingkhor path.
Commonly known as the Yogurt Festival or Banquet, it is an annual festival held at Norbulingka or “Jewel Park” palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The festival is celebrated in the summer, from the 15th to the 24th of the 5th lunar month – usually about the middle of August, after a month’s retreat by the monks who stay within their monasteries to avoid walking on the emerging summer insects and killing them. Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans gather at Drepung Monetary, Sera monastery to see the famous Buddha Thangka.
Horse Racing Festival
There are many Horse Racing Festivals in Tibet. It is a unique festival in grazing area of Tibet. It is usually held between June and July in Tibetan calendar, when the pasture is lush and horses and cows are stout and strong. It will last several days, with the longest ones over 10 days. The most magnificent one of them is Nagqu Horse Racing Festival. The event includes horse racing and horsemanship. It has become a grand trade ceremony to boost economy and accelerate economic development.
Major Activities in Tibet
Princess Wencheng Drama in Lhasa
Wencheng Princess drama is absolutely a must-see and unique experience for Tibetan tourists. As a large outdoor reality show, it shows the history and culture of China and Tibet through the marriage of Tang Dynasty Wencheng Princess to Tubo King Songtsen Gampo 1300 years ago. The drama, which premiered in 2013, is a legendary epic that combines drama, music, dance and modern choreography, restoring the original appearance of Tang Dynasty and ancient Tibetan. For more information, please click Princess Wencheng Drama in Lhasa.
Visit Local Family
Undoubtedly, you will encounter many Tibetans in Lhasa and you must be curious about their real life. Visiting a local family is a good chance to learn about their lives. Arriving at the local house, you may find the yak dungs piled in the yard. They are stored for fuel. Entering into the house, and you will be warmly welcomed by the family in Tibetan way. You may find it enjoyable to chat with the hospitable Tibetan people. Butter tea and Zanba will be served. Don’t forget to have a taste, or you could consult the owner how to make them.
Draw Thangka Painting
Thangka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting or embroidery on cotton, silk or paper. It describes the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas, and other figures. Many Thangka Painting Stores can be found in Barkhor Street where you can take a Thangka painting. Some stores also provide drawing lessons. Therefore, tourists are able to learn how to draw a Thangka painting. This activity is highly recommended to the group of family members. It helps kids learn about the Buddhist art and cultivate their patience.
Take a Kora with Tibetan
If you are Buddhist or you just want to pray for the blessings in Holy City Lhasa, take a kora with the local people. Kora is a Buddhist activity by walking, turning prayer wheels or prostrating around the mountains, lakes, monasteries, stupas or Marnyi Stones in order to save people from any disasters. Among the pilgrimage circumanbulations in Lhasa, Nangkhor, Barkhor, and Lingkhor are major ones.