Tibetan Festivals

Join one festive event during your visit in Tibet and it will surely add more to your memory of the snowland.

Tibetans offer prayers in the Tibetan New Year
People offer prayers in the Tibetan New Year
Tibetan New Year is the most important festival there. It is an occasion when Tibetan families reunite and expect that the coming year will be a better one. Known as Losar, it starts from the first to the third day of the first Tibetan month. Preparations for the happy 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. People eat Guthuk (barley crumb food with filling) on New Year's Eve with their families. Eating Guthuk is fun since the barley crumbs are stuffed with a different filling to fool someone in the family. The Festival of Banishing Evil Sprits is observed after dinner. Signs that the New Year is approaching when one sees lit torches, and people running and yelling to get rid of evil spirits from their houses. Before dawn on New Year's Day, housewives get their first buckets of water for their homes and prepare breakfast. After breakfast, people dress up to go to monasteries and offer their prayers. People visit their neighborhoods and exchange their Tashi Delek blessings in the first two days. Feast is the theme during the occasion. On the third day, old prayer flags are replaced with new ones. Other folk activities may be held in some areas to celebrate the events.

Religious dance in Great Prayer Festival
Religious dance in Great Prayer Festival
Monlam, the Great Prayer Festival, falls on the fourth up to the eleventh day of the first Tibetan month. The event was established in 1049 by Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama's order. It is the grandest religious event in that area. Religious dances are performed and thousands of monks gather for chanting before the Jokhang Temple. Examinations taking form of sutra debates for the Geshe degree, the highest degree in Buddhist theology, are also held. Pilgrims crowd to listen to the sermons while others give religious donations.

The Butter Lamp Festival, Chunga Choepa in local language, falls on the fifteenth day of the first Tibetan month. The event was also established by Tsong Khapa to celebrate the victory of Sakyamuni against heretics in a religious debate. Giant butter and Tsampa sculptures varying in forms of auspicious symbols and figures are displayed on Barkhor. People keep singing and dancing throughout the night.

Butter Lamp Festival
Butter Lamp Festival
On the fifteenth day of the fourth Tibetan month is Saka Dawa. The day is believed to be the time when Sakyamuni was born; stepped into Buddhahood, and attained nirvana. The locals believe that a merit is an accumulation of a myriad of merits from previous days, months or years. People refrain from killing animals by liberating them and abstain from eating meats. Sutra chanting, prayer turning, Cham dancing and other religious activities dominate the occasion. Offering sacrifices to the female deity enshrined in the temple on the islet of the Dragon King Pond, boating in the pond and picnicking add more to the festive mood.

Shoton Festival, also known as the Yoghurt Festival, begins on the thirtieth day of the sixth Tibetan month. The origin of it started from the 17th century when pilgrims served yoghurt to the monks who stopped for their summer retreat. Years later, local opera performances were added to the event to amuse monks in monasteries. During the occasion, giant Thangkas of the Buddha are unveiled in Drepung Monastery while the opera troupes perform at Norbulingka.

The Bathing Festival starts on the twenty-seventh day of the seventh lunar month and lasts a week when Venus appears in the sky. The locals bring food, set up tents along rivers and bathe themselves under the star light. The holy bath was believed to heal all kinds of illnesses and wards off misfortune.

Buddha Unfolding Festival in Drepung Monastery,Tibet
Buddha Unfolding Festival
Nakchu Horse Race Festival is the most important folk event there. People who gather for the annual horse race in Nakchu town construct a tent city. Dressing themselves and their finest horse, thousands of herdsmen participate in the thrilling horse race, archery and horsemanship contest. Other folk activities and commodity fairs are also held. The event falls on early August.

There are different versions of the origin of Gyangtse Horse Rave Festival, which is also popular throughout the region. It usually falls in June. Horse race, archery contest, and other games are performed to entertain people. Religious activities also are part of the event.

Buddha Unfolding Festival is celebrated in Tashilhunpo Monastery from the fourteenth to the sixteenth day of the fifth Tibetan month. Unbelievable giant Thangkas of Amitayus, Sakyamuni and Maitreya are displayed on the monastery's Thangka Walls. Thousands of pilgrims rush to the monastery to give their offerings to the Buddhas for the accumulation of their merits. The tradition has lasted for 500 years.
 See Videos of Buddha Unfolding Festival

Tsong Khapa Butter Lamp Festival falls on twenty-fifth day of the tenth Tibetan month. It is an event when myriads of butter lamps are lit on rooftops with prayers chanted to commemorate the loss of Tsong Khapa who was a great religious reformer adept in Buddhism.

Tibetans dance in the Harvest Festival
Dance in the Harvest Festival
Paying homage to the Holy Mountain Festival (Choekhor Duechcen in local language) falling on the fourth day of the sixth Tibetan month commemorates Sakyamuni's first sermon. People, in their best conduct during the occasion, go to monasteries to pay their respects to the Buddha. Circumambulation around the mountains is the popular practice during the event. Picnicking, singing and dancing are also part of the event.

Universal Prayers Festival (Zamling Chisang in local language) falls on the fifteenth day of the fifth Tibetan month. The event commemorates Padmasambhava's subjugation of evil spirits. People go to the monasteries to burn juniper branches.

Harvest Festival (Ongkor in local language) is celebrated when crops ripen, usually around August. It is observed only in farming villages. People walk around their fields to thank the gods and deities for a good year's harvest. Singing, dancing, and horseracing are indispensable folk activities.

 2017 Celebration Date Contrast of Tibetan Festivals

Festivals Date Contrast
Gregorian Calendar Tibetan Calendar
Tibetan New Year / Losar Feb. 27 Jan. 1
Monlam prayer festival Mar. 2 - 23 Jan. 4 - 25
Butter lamp / Choe-nga Choepa Mar. 13 Jan. 15
Saga Dawa Jun. 12 Apr. 15   
Gyantse horse race May 16 - Jun. 3 Apr. 10 - 28
Thangka Unveiling in Tashilungpo Monastery Jul. 18 - 20 May 14 - 16
Zamling Chisang / Samye Dolde Jul. 19 May 15
Choekor Duechen / Tukbe Tseshi Aug. 6 Jun. 4
Ganden Thangka Unveiling Aug. 18 Jun. 15
Shoton Festival Sep. 1 - 7 Jun. 29 - Jul. 2
Labrang Rikda Sep. 9 Jul. 8
Karma Dunba (Bathing Festival) Sep. 7 - 13 Jul. 6 - 12
Jerkhundo horse race (Yeshu) Jul. 25 -----
Nagchu horse race Aug. 1 -----
Litang horse race Aug. 1 -----
Lhabab Duechen Nov. 20 Sep. 22
Palden Lhamo festival Dec. 13 Oct. 15
Ganden Nga-Choe Dec. 23 Oct. 25