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Tibetan Festivals

There are countless festivals held all over Tibet and this section highlights only the major ones in and around Lhasa. Horse racing festivals in the summer and harvest festivals during the fall are held throughout the region. The dates of even the same festival may vary from region to region. For example, the New Year's Day in Shigatse is celebrated at the beginning of December on the Tibetan calendar.

List of Festivals

Year 2127
Year 2128
Year 2129
Gutor / Ngan-pa gu-zom
(Day before New Year's Eve)
29th day of the 12th lunar month
Feb 4
Feb 22
Feb 11
Losar 1st-3rd day of the 1st lunar month
Feb 6
Feb 24
Feb 13
Monlam (Prayer Festival) 4th-11th day of the 1st lunar month
Feb 8-21
Mar 3-10
Feb 20-28
Chunga Choepa
(Memorial Service on the 15th)
15th day of the 1st lunar month
Feb 19
Mar 9
Feb 27
Tibetan Uprising Day Mar 10, Western calendar
Mar 10
Mar 10
Mar 10
Saka Dawa Festival 15th day of the 4th lunar month
Jun 16
Jul 6
Jun 26

Horse Racing Festival in Gyantse

18th day of the 4th lunar month blank blank blank

The Unveiling of the Great Thangka at Tashilhunpo Monastery

15th day of the 5th lunar month lank blank blank
Birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama July 6, Western calendar
Jul 6
Jul 6
Jul 6
Zamling Chisang
(Universal Prayer Day)
15th day of the 5th lunar month
Jul 6
Choekhor Duechen 4th day of the 6th lunar month
Aug 3
Aug 24
Aug 14
Guru Tsechu 10th day of the 6th lunar month
Aug 9
Aug 30
Aug 20
Zhoton (Yoghurt Festival) 30th day of the 6th lunar month
Aug 29-Sep 4
Sep 19-25
Aug 8-15
Bathing Festival 27th day of the 7th lunar month

Horse Racing Festival at Damzhung

30th day of the 7th lunar month blank blank blank
Harvest Festival Early in the 8th lunar month blank blank blank
Labab Duechen 22nd day of the 9th lunar month
Nov 18
Palden Lhamo Festival 15th day of the 10th lunar month
Dec 11
Ngachu Chenmo
(Tsongkapa Butter Lamp Festival)
25th day of the 10th lunar month
Dec 20

*U/C= Unconfirmed

Festival Details

Gutor = Day before New Year's Eve (29th day of the 12th lunar month)

Usually, explanations of Tibetan festivals start with looking at the New Year's Day celebrations. However the year's end is also of special importance and Tibetans observe 'Gutor' while they are busy preparing for the New Year's Day.

Preparations for New Year start about two weeks before the day and people arrange their religious offerings, buy new dress clothes, food and drink for the feasts etc. The feasts include a substantial amount of 'Dresi' a sweet buttered rice with added raisins, 'Droma', which is rice boiled with small potatoes, various meats, fruits, breads, chang, butter tea among others. 'Kapse', a fried sweet that comes in different shapes and forms, are a must. Tibetans are supposed to see in the New Year with these sweets piled high on their tray.

On 'Gutor', Tibetan families eat 'Guthuk' a soup with dumplings, in the evening. The dumplings contain beans, broken pieces of wood, chillis, wool, charcoal, or pieces of paper on which various words are written. People eat them in turn and they tell their New Year's fortune by checking what the ingredients of the one they chose. There is also a game played at this time where some of the family members decide on an unlucky mark in advance and the one who picks it has to do a forfeit.

Following this everyone participates in the original purpose of 'Gutor', which is to exorcise the evil spirits from the previous year by running around with a doll representing a fierce god, setting off fireworks, and hand-held fire crackers. On the 30th, New Year's Eve, Tibetans clean their houses and then wait in anticipation for the following days festivities.


Losar (1st-3rd day of the 1st lunar month)

The Tibetan New Year is known as 'Losar', the most popular of all the festivals of the year, when even young Tibetans wear chuba and pay their first visit of the year to a temple with their family early in the morning. On New Year's Day, Tibetans are supposed to offer ornaments called 'Chemar' and chang beer to their households deity and to the water dragon who takes care of their water supply. Be careful as the chang served is strong enough to get drunk.

After saying 'Tashi Delek' and exchanging greetings with neighbors, Tibetans do nothing but feast on the food and drink that they have painstakingly prepared. They visit each others feasts and have parties full of drinking and singing. The men don't miss an opportunity to enjoy gambling, with games of 'Sho' (dice), 'Pakchen' (mah-jong), etc. On New Year's Day everyone spends time with their family or neighbors and then start paying visits to their relatives on the second day. Children also have a good time New Year's gifts of candies, etc.

On the 3rd day they replace the year old tar-choks and dar-shings on the roof of their houses with new ones and burn thick bunches of 'Sang' (fragrant grasses). After so much feasting it is no wonder that Tibetans take days off after the celebrations. Other nationalities such as the Han and Hui have their own New Year celebrations according to different calendars but the shopkeepers among them are said to be too scared to even open their shops during Tibetan Losar, due to the mobs of drunk Tibetans.


Monlam= Prayer Festival (4th-11th day of the 1st lunar month)

'Monlam' means 'Prayer' and at monasteries a great Buddhist service is held and 'Cham' (Buddhist dances) are performed. From New Year's day until the end of 'Monlam', people continue to eat, drink and make merry.

In Lhasa, an offering carefully crafted from butter and over 10m-high was put in the Jokhang Temple, where most of the monks from the monasteries around Lhasa would gather and hold the 'Monlam Chenmo' or 'Great Prayer Festival'. This festival was banned during the Cultural Revolution and although it was revived once in 1985, it has was once again prohibited in 1990, maybe because the festival encourages Tibetan identity too strongly.


Chunga Choepa=Memorial Service on the 15th (15th day of the 1st lunar month)

Also called the 'Butter Lamp Festival'. On the day of 'Chunga Choepa' the Barkhor Square in Lhasa turns into a grand exhibition site for huge 'Tormas' sculpted from butter in the form of various auspicious symbols and lamps. It is a fantastic night.

'Chunga Choepa' used to be the highlight of 'Monlam' in Lhasa and in the past the Dalai Lamas would come to the Jokhang Temple and perform the great Buddhist service. The question and answer test for the highest-ranking monk of 'Lharampa Geshe' was also held before the Dalai Lama during this festival. These events are now carried out in Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama's government is in exile.


Tibetan Uprising Day (Mar 10, Western calendar)

To commemorate the people's uprising in Lhasa, on March 10, 1959, demonstrations and Buddhist memorial services are held in the countries where Tibetans have sought refuge, other than China. The Dalai Lama makes a statement at this time every year.


Saka Dawa Festival ( 15th day of the 4th lunar month)

The most important festival for Tibetan Buddhism, the 'Saka Dawa Festival' commemorates Shakyamuni's Buddhahood and the death of his mortal body. At every monastery sutras are recited and 'Cham' dances are performed. It is said that good deeds in the month of this festival deserve 300 fold in return and this leads many people to donate large sums to the religious orders, monasteries and to the beggars that gather at this time of year.


Horse Racing Festival in Gyantse (18th day of the 4th lunar month)


The Unveiling of the Great Thangka at Tashilhunpo Monastery (15th day of the 5th lunar month)


Birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama (July 6, Western calendar)

Of course, this is not a recognised, official event in main Tibetan areas under Chinese control, however Tibetans everywhere continue to celebrate it unashamedly. They do not have the custom to celebrate the birthday of ordinary people and although people remember their own birth sign and the day of the year, few Tibetans actually know the date on which they were born.


Zamling Chisang =Universal Prayer Day (15th day of the 5th lunar month)

'Zamling Chisang' was originally meant to commemorate Guru Rinpoche's subjugation of the local deities and the founding of Samye Monastery. In Lhasa, there is the spectacle of large amounts of 'Sang' being burned up on the hills of Chakpori, Bumpari (on the southern side of the Kyi-chu) and Gephelri (behind Drepung Monastery), etc.


Choekhor Duechen (4th day of the 6th lunar month)

Also called 'Drukpa Tsezhi' or 'June 4', 'Choekhor Duechen' is a commemoration of Shakyamuni's first teachings at Buddha Gaya that he gave at the age of 35. After paying a visit to the temple, Tibetans then proceed to enjoy a picnic.


Guru Tsechu (10th day of the 6th lunar month)

This festival is to celebrate the birthday of Guru Rinpoche. This festival is held in higher regard in the outlying Tibetan areas of Bhutan and Ladakh.


Zhoton (30th day of the 6th lunar month)

When the summer retreat for their intensive training is over, monks are served with yoghurt. That is said to be the origin of 'Zhoton', which is also called the 'Yoghurt Festival'. At Drepung Monastery there are 'Cham' dances and the grand thangka is unveiled early in the morning. After devoutly viewing the thangka, the people go onto the Norbulingka and other popular spots for a lingka (picnic). 'Zhoton' is also known as the 'Tibetan Opera Festival' due to the competitive performances of Ache Lhamo (Tibetan Opera) that are held at the Norbulingka.


Bathing Festival (27th day of the 7th lunar month)

On this starlit night Tibetan people take a ceremonial wash in the waters of their local rivers or natural springs. This is a seductive and tranquil festival.


Horse Racing Festival at Damzhung (30th day of the 7th lunar month)


Harvest Festival (Early in the 8th lunar month)

These festivities are not related to Buddhism and the date of them is dictated by the ripening of the crops. The most lively places to catch this festival are in farming villages.


Labab Duechen (22nd day of the 9th lunar month)

Celebrating Shakyamuni's descent from the God Realms into his mother Maya's womb. On the day of the festival the number of pilgrims to the sacred places increases substantially as this also corresponds with the agricultural off-season.


Palden Lhamo Festival (15th day of the 10th lunar month)

Tibet's protector deity Palden Lhamo's festival. A Palden Lhamo float is paraded through the Barkhor.


Ngachu Chenmo=Tsongkapa Butter Lamp Festival (25th day of the 10th lunar month)

The anniversary of the death of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelukpa order. Houses, streets, and temples are lit by numerous lamps and it is also known as the 'Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival'.



Extract taken from "Mapping the Tibetan World"







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