Tibet is one of the most magical countries on earth, steeped in ancient history and colourful heritage. The myriad of annual Tibetan festivals and events are a sight to behold for all curious travelers that make the journey. 2014 is the Tibetan year of 2141 – the year of the Wood Horse, where all dates follow the solar calendar, so will vary each year.
Guthuk Festival, aka Tibetan New Year’s Eve – 28 February 2014
Tibet prepares for the traditional year-end, in line with the solar calendar, with the celebration of the Guthuk Festival. This Year End event sees traditionally dressed monks dance to dispel evils from the current year. They can then usher in the New Year with positive resolutions in place. The name ‘guthuk’ stems from the special soup by the same name which is consumed on this day.
Losar Festival, aka Tibetan New Year – 2 March 2014
The biggest annual Tibetan festival in undoubtedly the Losar festival which ushers in the New Year. This celebration can last anywhere from three to fifteen days and includes traditional ceremonies which are acted out to highlight the struggles between both good and evil. Tibetan teachers (lamas) chant and pass torches amongst the amassed crowds. It’s a joyous time of year typified by singing, dancing and general merrymaking.
Saga Dawa Festival – 29 May to 27 June 2014
The entire fourth month of the lunar calendar is turned over the important Buddhist festival of Saga Dawa. The festival honours the birth, enlightenment and death of Sakyamuni Buddha. The 15th day is of particular importance as this is the day that Sakyamuni was born, attained Nirvana and passed in death (Parinirvana). The day is marked by monks chanting within the temples and monasteries, Tibetans give alms to beggars and followers typically turn vegetarian for the day at least.
Birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama – 6 July 2014
Tibetans across the world celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday each 6th of July (in accordance with the western calendar) with prayers, picnics and traditional dance performances.
Prayer Festival, aka Zamling Chisang – 12 July 2014
The Dzam Ling Chi Sang festival is a day for spiritual cleansing. Followers travel to the highest mountains to burn incense and juniper twigs, as well as hanging prayer flags from the trees. Bonfires are also lit to honour Lord Buddha and the local gods.
Chokhor Duchen Festival – 31 July 2014
This festival marks the day that the four noble truths were taught by the Buddha Sakyamuni, his first sermon in fact. A ‘chokhor’ is a prayer wheel which comes to prominence during this festival, which obeys dharma, which is translated as the cosmic law and order.
Shoton Festival – 25 to 31 August 2014
Monks are honoured during this week long event, where their summer retreat has come to an end. Devotees arrive at the monasteries to serve the monks yoghurt, which gives the Sho Ton festival its alternative name – the Yoghurt Festival. This tradition dates back to the 16th century where lavish banquets were laid on for the monks. The festival would end with elaborate dance performances encompassing drums, bells and cymbals. The highlight is the spectacle at the Drepung Monastery in Lhasa where a giant thangkha (silk painting depicting a deity) is displayed on the hillside.
Lha-bab Duchen Festival – 13 November 2014
This one day festival celebrates the descent of the Buddha Sakyamuni from heaven to the earth. Together with the Losar, Saga Dawa and Chokor Duchen festivals these are the four most important holidays in Tibet within the Buddhist calendar.
Ganden Ngachu, aka Tsongkapa Butter Lamp Festival – 16 December 2014
In the last celebration before New Yea, the anniversary of Tsongkhapa’s death is honoured. This highly revered man founded the Gelugpa School branch of Tibetan Buddhism. Lantern shows are held at local monasteries and temples where devotees go to pray.