Religious Characteristics in Tibetan Festivals

Tibet is a place where the religious atmosphere can be felt everywhere. Exactly because the religions, whether the aboriginal Bon religion, or the later introduced but predominant Tibetan Buddhism, are so deeply rooted and ubiquitous in Tibet, there are many religious festivals, which were initially only celebrated by the clergy, but later on jointly celebrated by both the clergy and the laity due to constant development and popularization of the religion, such as the aforesaid Bathing Week, Ongkor Festival, Shoton Festival and Buddha Painting Unfolding Festival, etc. There are a lot of religious festivals, even though an increasing number of them are getting secularized little by little, still, some religious ties in these festivals remained more or less, which can be found in the stylized rituals. Hence, religious rituals have already become a fixed pattern of many festivals by degrees.

Taking the case of the ancient Bon religion, it is an aboriginal Tibetan religion with a very long history worshiping of the original gods. A great many of festivals have some sort of relationships with the Bon religion. Each festival has its relatively fixed religious ceremony, holding the purpose to consecrate different deities or pray for the well-being of life.

Giant Buddha Display at Drepung Monastery in Shoton Festival
Giant Buddha Display at Drepung Monastery in Shoton Festival

Of all the religious festivals related to Bon religion, the Deity Befalling Festival in Gongbo areas is the most famous. It is celebrated on the 10th day of the eighth Tibetan Horse year implying it only appears once every 12 years. The festival is held to bring back a legendary gem deity, which can bless this area with fair weather and a good crop yield as the story goes. Besides that, there’s still a Bird Coming Festival. It aims to welcome the King Bird of Tibetan people--cuckoo bird, coming back in each spring. In addition, the Consecrating the Mountain God Festival, also known as Erecting Arrow Festival, is another interesting festival in Tibet. On the festival, every tribe from different regions of Tibet will offer sacrifices to their respectively deities and sacred mountains.

The annual Erecting Arrow Festival in Amdo county of Nagqu Prefecture, for instance, is celebrated on the 15th day of the sixth Tibetan month. Men assemble at the foot of their divine mountain ahead of one day. Then on the day of the festival, people all climb onto the top of the mountain, making a concerted effort to stick an arrow of over 10 meters high in the center, meanwhile also the highest one, then take out their own colored arrows at the length of about 6 meters, erecting them around that highest one. Accordingly, this custom may originate from their ancestors’ yearning of strong military power for their own tribes since there are a great deal wars in the ancient times. The passage of time has witnessed the formation and development of such a festival.

Tibet Traditional Cham Dance Festival
Tibet Traditinal Cham Dance Festival

However, festivals related with Tibetan Buddhism can be the most, scattered in every month around the year. Even the same festival of Tibetan Buddhism, the way to celebrate it still varies in different sects and also in different monasteries.

Taking the Gelug Sect as an example, they have some important festivals such as the Great Prayer Festival in the first Tibetan month, followed by the Small Prayer Festival in the second Tibetan month, the Tsongkapa Butter Lamp Festival in the tenth and the Divinity Dancing Festival in the Potala Palace in the twelfth. 

Speaking of the Sakya Sect, they mainly celebrate the New Year Holy Dancing Festival, Gor Guardian Deity Dancing Festival, Nirvana Day of Sakyamuni, Buddha and Wrathful Vajra Holy Dancing Festival, and so on. Additionally, other sects of Tibetan Buddhism also possess their own distinctive festivals and ceremonies, e.g. the Nyingma Sect and Gagyu Sect. Furthermore, various festivals also exist in different monasteries, like the Samye Monastery will hold the Incense Festival, Tsangdain Monastery will celebrate the Offering to Deity Festival, and Quton Festival in the Quton Monastery, Unfolding Buddha Painting Festival in the Tashihunpo Monastery, the Punje Festival in the Sera Monastery, the Paltung Tanbo Festival in the Razheng Monastery, and the Qonggyu Festival in the Drepung Monastery and so on.

Related articles
Tibetan Festivals This page introduces some most important Tibetan festivals such as Tibetan New Year, Butter Lamp, Saga Dawa, Shoton festivals and celebration date contrast.
Tibetan Arts This page tells about some typical Tibetan art and culture.
The People of Tibet This page tells about Tibetan people’s characteristics, tradition, religious believes, ways of living, and etc.
Ethnic Religions Learn more about Tibetan religion and culture before traveling to Tibet.
Lhasa Heritage Hotels We list some Tibetan traditional hotel recommendations for your consideration.
Tibetan Nomads Tibetan people are an ancient nomadic nationality, having long lived a nomadic life in their history. Therefore, nomadic culture has also played an important role in Tibetan traditional cultures.

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