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Major Festivals of Tibet

Tibetan New Year
The greatest festival in Tibet. In ancient times, when the peach trees were in blossom, it was considered the start of a new year. Since the systematization of the Tibetan calendar in 1027 AD, the first day of the first month became fixed as the new year. On New Year's day, families unite, an "auspicious dinner" is offered, and the auspicious words "Tashi Delek" are greeted.

Great Prayer Festival
The greatest religious festival in Tibet. Instituted by Tsongkapa in 1409, the founder of the Gelukpa Sect. Monks from the Three Great Monasteries of Tibet assemble in Jorkhang to pray to Shakyamuni's image as if it were the living Buddha. Philosophical debates are held among candidates for the Doctorate of Metaphysics. Pilgrims come from every corner of Tibet and donations are offered to monks.

Butter Lamp Festival
The last day of the Great Prayer Festival. In order to celebrate Shakyamuni's victory over non-Buddhist opponents, the Lord of Neu Dzong, a noted patron of Tsongkapa, illuminated numerous butter-lamps in 1409. The festival flourished since.

Gyantse Horse Race and Archery
Horse racing and archery are very popular in Tibet, Contests in early times included horse races, archery, and shooting on galloping horse-back followed by a few days' entertainment or picnicking. Presently, ball games, track and field events, folk songs and dances, also form part of the celebrations.

The World Incense Day
Gods in heaven are believed to descend to the mortal world on this day. Much incense is burnt and picnics are prevalent in public parks.

Six-Four Festival
Believed to be the day Buddha gave his first sermon. People celebrate the festival by paying visits to holy mountains.

Shoton Festival
The Opera Festival and the greatest of festivals in Tibet. In ancient times, pious people went into mountain hermitages to do penance. On the last day, yogurt is served as a meal followed by folk songs and dances. Since the 7th century, opera performances have been held in Norbulingka. Presently, opera contests and the distribution of prizes last for seven days.

Bathing Week
It is believed when the sacred planet Venus appears in the sky, the water in the river becomes purest and can cure diseases. During its appearance for the first week all townspeople in Lhasa go to the river for bathing.

Death of Tsongkapa
Tsongkapa, the great reformer of Tibetan Buddhism and founder of the Gelugpa Sect, died on this day in 1419. In memory of that day, every household burns countless butter-lamps on roof-tops and chant prayers in his honor. Late in the evening Tibetan dumplings are served for supper.

Driving Off Evil Spirits
At the eve of Tibetan New Year, 29th of the twelfth month, religious dances are performed in monasteries for driving off the evil spirits of the past year. At night, in every household, traditional means of driving off evil spirits are carried out by burning bundles of straw and throwing rubbish on to the streets. The Year-End Dumpling is served for supper.

Saga Dawa
It is the holiest day in Tibet. Three memorable occasions coincide on this day: Buddha's birth, Buddha's death and Buddha's enlightenment. Almost every person within Lhasa joins in circumambulations around the city and spend the late afternoon on picnicking at "Dzongyab Lukhang" near the Potala Palace.

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