New Year Festival (Losar)
Tibetan New Year Festival, also called Losar, is the most important festival for Tibetan people. It starts from 1st to 3rd of the first Tibetan month. Usually people make preparation for the festival one month early: soaking seeds of the highland barley in water for offering the seedling to the family shrine deities on the first day of the new year; finishing all needlework and cleaning all rooms, painting the doors with religious symbols, etc. On the New Year’s Eve, people will eat barley crumb food (called Guthuk) to banish evil sprits. The barley crumbs will be stuffed with different stuffing to fool someone in the family: lazy if eating a piece of porcelain, sharp as a razor if eating a chilli, kind if eating some meat… The rest barley crumbs not finished will be put into a gallipot inside which there is a ghost made of dough. While doing so, people will say something like “the rest is for you”. Then torches are lit and people run in the house yelling “Come Out!” to get rid of evil spirits. And then the housewife will throw the gallipot at a crossroad which is said to prohibit the evil spirits from getting back. Other members of the family just follow her and set off firecrackers. On the first day, people won’t conduct many outdoor activities, but just stay at home to enjoy the reunification of the family. On the following two days, they will go out to monasteries and visit neighborhoods to exchange their Tashi Dele blessings. On the third day, older prayer flags are replaced with new ones.
Great Prayer Festival (Monlam)
The Great Prayer Festival falls in the 4th – 11th of the first Tibetan month. It is the grandest religious festival in Tibet. Religious dances are performed and thousands of monks will gather for chanting before the Jokhang Temple. The examination for Geshe Degree, the highest degree in Buddhist theology, will also be held.
Butter Lamp Festival
Butter Lamp Festival is on 15th of the first Tibetan month. It was established by Tsong Khapa, Founder of Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, to celebrate the victory of Sakyamuni against heretics in a religious debate. Various giant butter and Tsampa sculptures are displayed on Barkhor in the event.
Saga Dawa Festival
Saga Dawa Festsival is on the 15th of the fourth Tibetan month. It is believed that Sakyamuni’s birth, enlightenment and nirvana are all on this date. Many religious activities are carried out and almost everyone within Lhasa will join in the three circumambulations (kora): the inner circumambulation is about 500m long around the main hall of the Jokhang Temple, the middle one is about 1000m in the Barkhor Street around the Jokhang Temple and the third is about 5000m in Linlang Road around the old Lhasa city. On this day, streets are just crowded with stream of people.
Holy Mountain Festival (Choekhor Duechcen)
Holy Mountain Festival falls on 4th of the sixth Tibetan month. It is to commemorate Sakyamuni’s first sermon. People will conduct circumambulations around mountains. And there is also picnicking, singing, dancing, etc.
Shoton Festival (Yogurt Festival)
Shoton Festival starts on the 30th of the sixth Tibetan month and will last for seven days. The origin of the festival can be traced to 17th century when it was only a religious activity. The founder of the yellow sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Tsong Khapa stipulated that in summer time all monks should stay in the monasteries to avoid any accidental killing of lives as it is the most active season for animals. At the time the monks got out of monasteries, pilgrims came to serve them with yoghurt. Later, the fifth Dalai Lama’s added Tibetan opera performances at Norbulinka and allowed common people to enjoy it. Then it gradually becomes a public festival during which, giant Thangkas of the Buddha will be unveiled at Drepung Monastery and Tibetan opera troupes perform operas at Norbulingka.
Bathing Festival starts from 6th to 12th of the seventh Tibetan month. It is believed when the sacred planet Venus appears in the sky, the water in the river becomes purest and can cure all diseases and get rid of misfortune. During the festival, Tibetan people will bring food and set up tents along rivers to take bathe in star light.
Gyantse Horse Race Festival and Nagqu Horse Race Festival
Horse has long been a very important tool for people’s daily life and during ancient wartime. Tibetan people have deep affection to horses. There are two most prestigious horse race festivals in Tibet. Gyantse Horse Race Festival is the earliest one starting since 1408. It usually falls in June. Horse race, archery contest and other games are performed. And Nagqu Horse Race Festival is the most important festival in northern Tibet. It falls in the early August in the golden season on the grassland. Thousands of herdsmen ride their finest horses to Nagqu town. There will be thrilling horse race, archery and horsemanship contest. Songs and dance troupes from all part of Tibet will attend the event as well.