Life in Tibet revolves around myriad religious and seasonal festivals that the people look forward to all year round. Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to discover the many facets of Tibetan culture and way of life, is to participate in some of these colorful, vibrant festivals. Travel to the grand Horse Racing Festival in Shigatse when women don their Sunday best. Gaze in awe at the revered Thangka Festival when yet another massive Buddhist tapestry is unfurled at the Tashilhunpo Monastery.
With traditional rituals, food, drink, and finery, Tibetan festivals will offer you delightful, indelible impressions. Take a peek into the inner circle of Tibetan life and times, with some of its grandest festivals:
1. Shoton or Tibetan Opera Festival: Coinciding with the end of the seasonal meditation retreat of Buddhist monks, Shoton is celebrated with traditional performances and ritual prayers. It is usually celebrated in mid-summer during July–August at Lhasa.
2. Thangka Festival: Thankga festivals have been important Buddhist celebrations for centuries when huge tapestries (usually three) of the Buddha are unveiled for the faithful to view. It is an important event at Shigatse’s Tashilhunpo Monastery, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama.
3. Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival: Monks and local Tibetans light up innumerable lamps with yak butter at monasteries and homes to pay homage to Shakyamuni Buddha. Gautama Buddha or Siddhartha was the Indian prince who had renounced the world in search of nirvana. The festival is celebrated all over Tibet.
4. Saga Dawa Festival: Yet another important festival that honors the life and teachings of the Shakyamuni Buddha. Tibetans celebrate the solemn event with ritual prayers, cham dances, lighting butter lamps and raising new prayer poles. The festival is celebrated all over Tibet.
5. Chokor Duchen or Buddha’s First Sermon Festival: As the name suggests, the event celebrates the first teachings of the Shakyamuni Buddha when the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism were revealed and the Wheel of Dharma was put into motion. While it’s still celebrated all over the country, in recent years, its popularity has somewhat diminished.
6. Garma Ri Gi or Tibetan Bathing Festival: A seasonal community event that marks the end of summer. This is when Tibetans, young and old, wash clothes and bathe themselves at river banks before the coming of winter. The festival is celebrated all over Tibet.
7. Tsurphu Cham Dance Festival: The festival commemorates the work of the Indian Buddhist Master, Guru Padmasambhava. The Tsurphu Monastery established by the first Karmapa more than 800 years ago holds Tibetan cham dances with traditional masks, costumes and music for the event. This is celebrated at Tsurphu monastery, which is two hours away from Lhasa.
8. Gyantse Horse Race Festival: A grand social event for the Shigatse region. Other such horse racing events across the country mark community sports and century old folk events. Women and men traditionally turn out in all their finery on the racing greens.