Saga Dawa Festival at Lhasa and Mt. Kailash

Religious Ties of Saga Dawa Festival

Saga Dawa, is celebrated in the fourth month of Tibet calendar to commemorate Shakyamuni Buddha. In Tibetan, Dawa means month and Saga is the name of a constellation among the major 28 in Tibet astrology. Saga appears in the sky of April (Tibetan calendar) bright and clear, with a mysterious coincidence that the birth, enlightenment and parinirvana of Shakyamuni fell on a same day of full moon on the fifteenth in April (Tibetan calendar).

A month-long festival, Saga Dawa is celebrated with various events throughout Tibet, the most prominent parts of which are kora (ritual trek with praying), flagpole erection and eight precepts practice.

Saga Dawa Celebration at Lhasa

As the capital of Tibet since the 7th century, Lhasa has been home to the spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism. Jokhang Temple, houses the most sacred statue of Shakyamuni, and thus becomes the main venue of celebration and worshipping for local Tibetan and pilgrims traveling from other Tibetan prefectures such as Amdo.

While the sutra reciting and Cham dances are performed with ambiance by the most respectable Lamas and monks, the most prominent event for laypersons is to do one kora or all the main three. There are three well-known kora ring routes in Lhasa: the inner ring is about 500m long, around the main hall inside Jokhang Temple; the middle ring is 1000m circling Jokhang Temple along Barkhor Street; the outer ring is also the longest one, with 5000m in length, and linked by Jokhang Temple, Yaowang Mountain, Potala Palace, and Ramoche Temple.

Along the kora route, the devout Tibetans do Weisang at each stop of ritual sites by adding offerings such as tsampa and tree branches into the Juniper stupa; they supplement yak butter into butter lamps as well, pray for wellbeing of their family or of all the sentient beings with unselfishness. Though it is solemn ritual with reverence to their Buddhas, doing kora is also a happy outdoor activity. If you’re a trek lover and fond of wilderness of nature, you should hesitate not to join the genteel and hospitable Tibetan people.

Saga Dawa Celebration at Mount Kailash

According to legend, Shakyamuni Buddha was born in the year of Monkey; Enlightened in the year of Horse, and attained nirvana in the year of Dragon, all on April 15th in Saga Dawa Month. Tibetan people regard those three days as the eulogy days of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and entering the perpetual happiness, hereafter this month has been regarded as a month of creation and auspiciousness. Therefore, the celebration events of Saga Dawa Month reach its climax on this most important day.

Saga Dawa Festival Celebration at Mt. Kailash
Saga Dawa Festival Celebration at Mt. Kailash

Because Mount Kailash is believed as the holiest mountain for Tibetan Buddhists as well as the followers in Nepal and India. The grandest celebration is held in Mount Kailash. Pilgrims from India and Nepal would come afar to gather in Mount Kailash, Ngari Area (Mt. Kailash also called Kang Rinpoche in Tibetan language), joining the celebration held by local Tibetan.

The distance from India to Mount Kailash, is over 1200km, and the distance from Lhasa to Mount Kailash is around 960km. The long way leads only the most devoted pilgrims here to participate the grand ritual and ceremony on the most sacred day of April 15. Among all the participants, only those with pure virtue would be honored to conduct the flagpole change and erection ceremony.

The new flagpole, usually weighed tons, would be wrapped with new colorful sutra streamers and yak skin. With exactly precise angle, designed and set firmly, the strong flagpole would be pulled with a gathered and unified strength and finally be erected perfectly vertical.

Some pilgrims even do the kora of Mount Kailash which is 54km long and can take days to complete. According to Puran County statistics, there usually would be 22,000 people come to worship this day, in comparison with the population of the whole Ngari region which is only about 90,000.  

Main Kora Routes of Mt. Kailash

On the ancient and eternal pilgrimage route of Mt. Kailash, everyone will meet his own spirit. This way of pilgrimage has passed through thousands of times by hundreds of millions of pilgrims. The altitude, weather and rugged terrain present significant challenges.

Map of the Kora Routes at Mount Kailash
Map of the Kora Routes at Mount Kailash

Mt. Kailash is impressive and spectacular, but still like any other snow mountains with sand, earth, stones and snow. With everyone putting their good wishes into this path, letting their footsteps around the mountain, we gain an eternal spiritual consolation and spiritual strength in the worship. And every time we gaze at Mt. Kailash, it gazes back, its transcendent glimpse of all beings has become infinite.

Mount Kailash Kora
Mount Kailash Kora

Whether the rolling grasslands of the north, mars-like deserts of the west, snow-capped Himalayan views to the south or the huge valleys and gigantic lakes of the center, all of Tibet is blessed with amazing high-altitude festival colors.

For centuries, Mt. Kailash has been the holy place of pilgrims and explorers. However, there has been none who was ever able to climb this sacred mountain.  Gang Rinpoche(Tibetan name of Mount Kailash) is still a virgin peak, with its lofty posture implying its world-wide solemnity. In the hearts of believers, it is the place where God lives, and only the gods of heaven can live in it. For ordinary people like us, we should be humble and show our respect with only revolving around the magnificent mountain.

The rising altitude along the kora route makes it difficult to do any activities but slow trekking. However, pilgrims believe that their merits and virtues can be fulfilled it they can do the Mt. Kailash outer kora course for 13 times and then do the inner kora course for one time.

Related articles
Altitudes of Lhasa to Mt. Kailash Tour You’ll get acclimatized to the high altitude from Lhasa to Mt. Kailash. The highest point is 5660 meters while trekking around the Mt. Kailash.
Mt. Kailash Tour Cost The cost for a Mt. Kailash tour can be broken down into 7 parts, and this article lists the cost details for doing a Mt. Kailash tour in Tibet
Dining for Lhasa and Mt. Kailash Tour There are many restaurant choices in Lhasa. But only simple meals are available at Everest Base Camp and along the trekking tour around Mt. Kailash.
Accommodations for Lhasa and Mt. Kailash Tour There are many hotel choices in Lhasa. But you’ll only find simple guesthouses at Everest Base Camp and along the trekking tour around Mt. Kailash.
Mt. Kailash Tour Packing List Traveling to Mt. Kailash and doing the circuit trekking need to be well prepared in advance. Here below is a packing list for a Mt. Kailash tour.
The Mystery of Mt. Kailash Mt. Kailash is a unique holy mountain, and it’s widespread worshipped by Tibetans, Indians, Nepalese, Mongolians and Sikkimese who believe in different religions. 

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