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Tibet Festivals

Tibetan New Year

Tibetan New Year is the most significant festival in Tibet. Different areas have different ways to celebrate it, let's see how Lhasa people do.

Before the Tibetan New Year, each household makes "qiema" (a wooden measure for grain), expressing the wish of good harvest and auspiciousness in the coming year. They will also make "kasai" (fried twisted dough sticks) in various forms, which look golden, and tastes crispy, and "luoguo" (a kind of food made of butter in the shape of sheep head), signifying thriving domestic animals and abundant life. In addition, they offer dried or fresh fruits, butter and brick tea to Buddhas.

On December 28-29 according to Tibetan calendar, all the families clean their houses and draw "eight auspicious paintings" on the centre of the kitchen wall. Before the dinner of December 29, they will spray lime in front of their houses to form designs of auspiciousness. On New Year's Eve, all family members will get together to have a big dinner. 

They will eat "gutu," made of beef and mutton, turnip and flour lump. What is interesting is that some stones, coins, salt, pepper, charcoal and wool are wrapped in the flour lump. When people eat, they have to be very careful to see what is in their next mouthful of food. The laughter fills the room at that time. After the dinner, they hold a ceremony to drive away ghosts.

On the first day of the New Year, the Tibetans get up early. Some even stay up through the whole night. But they could not go out so early. The first program for them will be "scrambling for water." According to customs, the one who gets the first barrel of water at daybreak is the luckiest one of the year. Only when the morning star rises and someone shouts "lajieluo" (God wins), can Tibetans rush out. An-other important activity in the morning is to go to the Jokhang Monastery to offer sacrifices to Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. On this, day, people must wear the most beautiful clothes and the most precious jewels.

People don't visit each other on the first day of the year. Starting from the next day, they begin visiting relatives and friends, which will last three to five days. On the 3rd day of the 1st Tibetan month, they offer sacrifices to the "God of Roof." All of them climb to the roof of their house and hang the new sutra streamer. Then they burn cypress branches and throw zamba into the air. Lhasa people go in groups to the Baoping (Treasured Bottle) Mountain in the east and Chakpori (King of Medicine) Mountain in the west to stick in scripture pole and hang sutra streamer to worship the gods of mountain and water. From the 4th day on, Tibetans start their largest religious festival - Grand Summons Ceremony, which will end on the 15th day of the 1st Tibetan month. On the 5th day, farmers in Lhasa suburbs hold grand ceremonies to start ploughing.

According to traditions, the celebration activities on the Tibetan New Year will last 15 days.


Sagar Dawa Festival

Sagar Dawa represents April in Tibetan calendar. Buddhism believes that Sakyamuni was born, became Buddha and died in April, so the Sagar Dawa Festival mainly focuses on worshipping Buddha in the inner, middle and outer parts of Lhasa. All the activities last through the whole month. The grandest one is on the 15th day when the Buddhist followers walk around the outer part of Lhasa. They recite scriptures while walking on the 8,000-metre-long outer ring of Lhasa, forming a grand troop. They need to add some cypress branches, mugwort, Chinese photinia or zamba into the mulberry stoves or fires while passing by. At intersections of roads, they will put off their hats to bow towards the direction of the Potala Palace. In the afternoon, they all get together at Zongjolukang (Dragon King's Pool) at the back of the Red Hill, where they boat, sing, dance and entertain themselves.


Shoton Festival (Sour Milk Drinking Festival) of Lhasa

"Shoton" in Tibetan means sour milk 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." The traditional way of starting the Shoton Festival is to show Buddha paintings. The main contents include Tibetan operas and gala parties, as well as wonderful yak racing and horsemanship display. The Shoton Festival starts on the 30th day of the 6th month according to Tibetan calendar (usu. later half of August) and lasts five days.

The Gelug Sect regulates that between April and June according to Tibetan calendar, lamas can only practice Buddhism in monasteries to avoid treading and killing tiny lives. The ban will be lifted at the end of June. At that time, all lamas go out of monasteries and the laymen will offer them sour milk and perform Tibetan operas for them. After 1642, the Gandain Phodrang (Paradise Palace) of the Drepung Monastery became the political, religious and cultural centre of Tibet. Tens of thousands of people rushed there each June 30th to give sour milk to lamas and ask for blessings. The Tibetan Opera troupes and wild yak dancing troupes all came to perform. In this way, the Shoton Festival was formed.

The prelude of the Shoton Festival is the Buddha exhibition in Drepung Monastery, which is held at the foot of the Gebeiwoze Mountain. The tranquil valley becomes excited. With the sound of sutra bugle reverberating through the valley, about 100 lamas will carry the large-scale tangka por-traying Qamba Buddha (or Maitreya) out of the Coqen Hall of the Drepung Monastery and step toward the west of the monastery where a special platform is set up for the Buddha picture exhibition. At this moment, the mulberry smoke arises from all directions, bugles resound and scripture reciting goes on. The large tangka then will be slowly opened up. People rush up to offer white hada. Countless hada fly in front of the Buddha picture, forming a great scene. In no more than two hours, the tangka will be rolled up again and carried back. People will not see it until the next year. Then people go to the courtyard of Gandain Phodrang to watch Tibetan Opera. In the afternoon, the activities centre moves to Norbulingka. In the following week, the major activity is to watch the Tibetan Opera. During the Shoton Festival, the Tibetans bring along the old and the young and call on relatives and friends to Lingka gardens. The Norbulingka and other parks of Lhasa are dotted with colorful tents.

Nowadays, the Shoton Festival has become a comprehensive celebration activity with the most influences in Tibet. It is also a grand meeting for commodity exchanges.

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