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    Tibetan Festivals

    Tibetan Festivals
    Name Place Date in Tibetan calendar
    Tibetan New Year Throughout Tibet First day of the first month
    Saga Dawa Festival Throughout Tibet Fifteenth day of the first month
    Horse-Festival Gyangze Eighteenth day of the fourth month
    Sholton Festival Lhasa First five days of the seventh month
    Bathing festival Throughout Tibet First seven days of the seventh month
    Ongkor Festival Throughout Tibetan rural areas End of the seventh month
    Brief Introduction of Tibetan Festivals
    There is a close tie between Tibetan festivals and Tibetan Buddhism. Most of the Tibetan festivals either have very strong religions aroma, or they are completely religious. According to Tibetan history, under the harsh natural environment, Tibetan people prefer a relaxing life style and this is also a part of their tradition for enjoying their life with the protection of Buddha. Hence, there are many festivals in Tibet. Here, we will list some important festivals in Tibet according to Tibetan calendar.

    Tibetan New Year (Losar)
    Losar is a traditional Tibetan festival, and it has about nine hundred and fifty years history (since AD 1027). The first day of Tibetan first month is Losar. Tibetans consider Losar as the most important festival and they take it most seriously, particularly for people in Lhasa. People will begin to prepare Losar from the middle of the 12th Tibetan month. According to Tibetan tradition, every household begins to fry a kind of fried snacks made of butter and flour called ‘karpsai’ in different shapes. A few days before the New Year, every household will prepare offerings for deities. Qemar is a special offering for deities, which is a wooden container filled with barley grains, horse-beans, wild ginseng, cockscomb flowers and the Sun and Moon tablets (decorated wood plates by yak butters in different colors), and a colored plastic or vitreous butter sheep’s head. Two days before the New Year's Eve, every family will clean their furniture and family shrine, and in some areas, people will even whitewash their courtyard walls. On December 29 (according to Tibetan Lunar calender), all members of the families will sit around the table and enjoy a special Tibetan soup called “Gutu” and people will also decorate auspicious markings with barley flour on the wall of the cleaned kitchen, or on the floor in front of their gates. Tibetans believe that will bring good luck for them in the coming year. Tibetans celebrate Losar about 15 days. On the first day of the Losar, people will go to visit their neighbours and greeting for good luck in the coming year by saying “Tashi Delek” to each other and watching Losar Gala with their family members. On the second day, people will go to visit their friends and relatives, and dancing and singing with them and they will also drink barley beer. Losar has different schedule in some regions of Tibet (Nyingchi & Shigatse). However, the festival atmosphere in other regions is similar to that of Lhasa.
    Bathing Festival 
    It is called “Karma Tupa”in Tibetan language, Every July of Tibetan calendar, in Tibet, by the Lhasa River, from city to countryside, and from pasturing areas to farming areas, there is a public activity of taking a bath, which is Tibet's exclusive “Bathing Festival". The Bathing Festival lasts seven days, during these days, at each time of sunset, a group of men and women, the old and the young, and all the family members will move out with the young and the old to come into the rivers, having fans, bathing and swimming. When they come to the river, they wash their hairs first, and then they stripe to the waist, use water to wipe their bodies, and at last take a bath in the river. People not only bath, but also bring their clothes and beddings from home down to the river for cleaning.
    In early autumn of Tibet, mountain flowers are blooming and the water flows with fragrance. No matter men or women, old or young, people all go down the river and lakeside, and meanwhile enjoy the seven-day Tibetan traditional Bathing Festival. That also shows the nature of leisure, optimism, and admiring nature of the people in the snow-covered plateau.
    According to the records of Tibetan astronomical chronicle, there are eight advantages of early autumn water: sweet, cool, soft, light, clear, not stinking, being not harmful to the throat when drinking and being not harmful to the stomach after drinking. The story goes that after the death of the Tibetan king of medicine Yuthog Nyingma Yonten Gonpo, there was plague spreading over the prairie one year, he turned the southern abandoned mountain star showing for seven days, and enjoined people to bathing in the river for removing diseases. Therefore, once people in the highland see the abandoned mountain star appear, no matter men and women would bath in the river.
    The Ongkor Festival

    The Ongkor Festival is a holiday which truly belongs to peasants. ‘Ong’ means the field, and ‘Kor’ means walking around, so it means walking around the crop fields to express the farmers’ yearning for a good harvest. The ongkor Festival is very popular in the middle reaches of Yarlung Zangbo River and the rural areas of both sides of the Lhasa River. This festival is also observed in other places. It is called “Yari” meaning comfortable summer in Lhatse and Tingri County in Shigatse ; It is called “Pasang” meaning lucky meadow in farming-pastoral regions around the snow mountain on the way to Nyingchi from Lhasa. The days for Ongkor Festival are generally before the time when the crops are ripe and ready to reap, and the time ranges in different places. 
    The Ongkor Festival was formed in an ancient time. As early as 2000 years ago, according to the doctrine of Bon, the leader Podegyal stipulated that when the crops turn yellow, people shall circle and pray around crops for gods' blessing for a bumper crop. This is the earliest origin of “Ongkor”. Such custom is carried on as before till today. 
    Even till 20th century, in some out-of-the-way places of Tibet, the Ongkor Festival still had a clear feature that was to entertain the gods. Tibet is located in the high and cold area, and the climate is unpredictable. It is usually haily between summer and autumn. After the hailstone, ripe golden crops were totally ruined, and they came down like arrows from the gods, having indescribable impacts on the peasants. Because of the undeveloped science, the peasants thought that the reason of their misfortune was their violation of summer's taboos, maybe some women wash their hairs, maybe flocks and herds grazed on forbidden days, or maybe burning bones and dirt offended the gods. Therefore, the peasants will try everything they can think of and do to hold an activity to worship and entertain the gods before the autumn harvest so as to beg that the gods do not pour hailstones and disaster to them again.
    Horse racing performance will also be held on the same day. Riders on beautiful and well-decorated horses started a variety of games, wearing riding jackets of Mongolian army or yellow satin robes and round Mongolian hat with red fringes. Horse race includes long-distance race and short-distance race, big racing and small racing as well as the skill performance on horseback: drawing Tibetan scarves and picking up coins. The villagers also set up targets at regular distances in the race course. The targets are made of cattle hide. The horsemen leap over the targets one after another and open their arms to fire or shoot every target. The one hitting the target will be a winner and the top one will get considerable rewards.
    In many places, on the Ongkor Festival, there will be donkey race and yak race, which is more a kind of entertainment to the audience than a competition of speed. Donkeys are dancing and kicking with joys and yaks are bumping disorderly, which makes people there can't stop laughing. At night, a blazing bonfire is lit on the square. A huge copper vat is put near the bonfire. Each person coming to dance will bring a bundle of firewood and a pot of barley wine. After adding the firewood into the bonfire and pouring the wine into the vat, they join the rotating circled people in the ring-shaped dance. The blazing bonfire keeps people warm, and the mellow wine makes people’s blood boil, along with enthusiastic dances, high-pitched songs and the non-stop revolving dance, all of which push the holiday into climaxes one after another.
    Horse Race Festival
    Horses have been good companions of the Tibetan people for generations. Therefore, festivals themed in horse race are imperative. The horse race festivals themed in horse race are imperative. The horse race festivals are held in many areas, among which, the Changtang (Nagqu), Gyangtse, Damshung and Tingri Hourse Race Festivals are most famous.
    Among all, the Gyangze Dama (Horse Racing & Archery) Festival can be dated back to 500 years ago, initially for consecrating the Gyangtse Prince Dharma Gunsang Raodainpo, who had the PelkorMonastery and PelkorDagoba built, as well as to his highly esteemed grandfather. At the beginning, it was mainly for religious events, and later on evolved to horse race as a predominating event and it spread over to Lhasa, Changtang and Gonbo. The festival actually begins with religious evens such as mantra reciting, holy dancing and displaying images of Buddha, between the 30th of March according to Tibetan calendar and the 18th of April according to Tibetan calendar each year. Besides, there are also some other events for fun included, such as yak race and carry stones game etc. 
    The Qiangtang Kyagqen Horse Race Festival is also very famous. Compared to that of Gyangze, the vast expanse of grassland in Northern Tibet is more suitable for horse race. Making full use of this natural condition, people here hold the event annually, which is similar to that of Gyangze, but more thrilling and exciting, because the riders here are young and thus more daring. 
     Sholton Festival
    In the Tibetan language, “Shol” means yogurt while “Ton” means feast. “Sholton Festival” is a festival and feast to enjoy yogurt. Sholton Festival, at the earliest, actually originated from a kind of religious activity. Tsongkhapa, who was the founder of the Gelug sect, carried out series of reformations on Tibetan Buddhism. He formulated a number of rules and prohibitions. One of practice rituals was called “Vassa”, which stated: at the end of spring and the beginning of summer in the Tibetan Plateau, natural plants and flowers started to sprout, and insects and birds began to hatch between April and June in Tibetan calendar. To avoid treading on innocent little creatures and breaking any rule and prohibition, Buddhists were forbidden going outside the temple and all what they could do were the following three activities: confession, studying Buddhism through debates, and Vassa. Vassa means “sit in summer”, “settle down”, till the day June 30 in Tibetan calendar called Deregulation Day. After the announcement of deregulation, Buddhists are allowed to have an outing in spring in the wild. Because it was at the turn of late summer and early autumn, birds and larvae have grown enough to crawl and fly and Buddhists can go out without worrying about hurting the young. In order to appreciate and reward these Buddhists, people made yogurt themselves and held outings and picnics for them.
    In March 1645, the fifth Dalai Lama ordered to start the renovation and extension of Potala Palace, which is completed after three years and the palace was called the White House. The 5th Dalai Lama moved from Drepung Monastery to the Potala Palace in 1653, and since then the major religious and political events have been held here, and thus the Potala Palace has been the political center of Tibetan theocracy, and the Sholton Festival was also introduced here accordingly. In the same year, on the day before the Buddha Unfolding Ceremony in Drepung Monastery (the marvelous huge Thangka painting will be unfolded in the Monastery), i.e. on the morning of 29th June, 1653 of Tibetan calendar, 12 Tibetan theatrical groups and dancing teams from all over Tibet came first to perform a worship ceremony in front of the Potala Palace to worship the gods and pay tribute to Dalai Lama. Since then, the new situation of “the Potala Sholton” and “the Drepung Sholton” has formed.
    One of the major activities on the Sholton Festival is held in many renowned Tibetan monasteries and is not exclusively limited in Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery on the opening day of Shoton Festival, and show Buddha in Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery. After building of Norbulingka, the Sholton Festival event shifted from Potala Palace to Norbulingkha, and people were allowed to enter into the garden for watching Tibetan Opera, and since then, the Sholton Festival event became more complete, and formed three traditional activities of “Yogurt, Tibetan Opera, and Show Buddha."

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