The Tibetan Saga Dawa Festival – A Whole Month of Celebration

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Publish Time: 2019-06-24 Author: From: China Tibet Online

One of the most important festival dates in the Tibetan lunisolar calendar, the Saga Dawa Festival is celebrated in Tibet and the Tibetan-inhabited areas for a whole month. Starting on the first day of the fourth month in the Tibetan calendar, the festival lasts until the 30th day, with the 15th day of the fourth month being the most important. Held normally in around the end of May or beginning of June in the Gregorian calendar, this amazing festival is held all across the Tibetan-inhabited areas, though with more emphasis on the festivities and ceremonies held in Lhasa and at Mount Kailash.

What is the Saga Dawa Festival?

In Tibetan, saga means “fourth” while Dawa means “month”, making the Saga Dawa Festival the Fourth Month Festival. Believed to be the period in which the Sakyamuni Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and died, this month is classed as one of the holiest in the entire Tibetan year, and is often referred to as Bumgyur Dawa, or the 100,000 Multiplying Month. This is due to the fact that because the month witnessed such great events, any good or bad deeds done in this month are multiplied 100,000 times, making it a good time to do good for the benefit of merits towards one’s own enlightenment.

The festival lasts throughout the month, but the most important date is the 15th day of the fourth month, which in 2019 falls on June 17. Known as the Saga Dawa Duchen, this date is held to be the exact date on which Sakyamuni Buddha was born, attained Nirvana, and moved on to Parinirvana, and is when the highest religious ceremonies are held in such places as the Jokhang Square in Lhasa and around the flagpole at Tarboche in the area of Mount Kailash in Ngari Prefecture.

Most Popular Locations for Celebrating Saga Dawa

Lhasa

The Tibetan capital is one of the most popular places to travel to witness the amazing festival of the Saga Dawa Duchen, a time for devout religious ceremonies, enjoyable festivities, and the ever-present ritual kora walk. In Lhasa, this kora is performed on the day of the Saga Dawa Duchen around the inner, middle, and outer parts of Lhasa, though most pilgrims these days confine their kora circuit to the Barkhor Street circuit around the 1,300-year-old Jokhang Temple. As they make their way around the kora, some walking and others prostrating, they chant the holy sutras and turn the prayer wheels, all in the knowledge that the merits for this most important kora will be multiplied 100,000 times.

The capital also sees a number of Cham dances and festive partying throughout the month, with Tibetan operas playing on the 15th day, and folk dances and singing being major attractions to the crowds of Tibetans and tourists that descend on the City of Sunshine. The Jokhang Temple also sees thousands on thousands of Buddhist worshippers traipsing through its sacred halls, where all with stop to pray in front of the life-sized statue of Sakyamuni Buddha when he was 12 years old. One of the oldest statues of Buddha in existence, this amazing artifact was the reason the Jokhang Temple was built, and is the most iconic religious artifact in Tibet.

Mount Kailash

Far out in the west of Tibet, what is considered to be the most sacred mountain on the planet stands tall and proud above the other mountains of the Gangdise Range of the Transhimalaya in Ngari Prefecture. Held in reverence in four separate religions, this unique pyramid of black rock is the location of one of the most devout celebrations of the Saga Dawa in the world. Every year thousands of pilgrims come from all across Tibet, as well as from India on pilgrimage tours, to celebrate the Saga Dawa Festival in the shadow of the sacred Mount Kailash.

A huge number of ritual ceremonies opens the festival on the 15th day, with monks and lamas leading a procession of pilgrims in a holy kora around the flagpole at Tarboche, the scene of this unique religious celebration of life, enlightenment, and death. After the main ceremonies are concluded, the huge 25-meter flagpole is laid down, and the old prayer flags are replaced with new ones, to refresh the prayers of the people that are blown around the world on the winds, bringing blessings to all creatures.

People gather from all across the plateau to get the chance to have their prayer flags tied onto this famous flagpole, and it is considered an honor to see your own flags flying in the breeze for an entire year. After the flags are tied in place, the flagpole is re-erected, and a special lama from the nearby monastery is responsible for making sure that the pole is perfectly perpendicular. It is believed in Tibetan Buddhism that, if the flagpole at Tarboche is not set straight, things will not be good for Tibet, so the setting is important to the people.

After the long ceremonies and the main part of the festival, the pilgrims head for the narrow valley to the west of the sacred mountain, to make the ritual kora trek around Mount Kailash. A 52-kilometer hike over rough ground and cresting a pass at 5,630 meters above sea level, this is also the hardest trekking route in Tibet for tourists, and most people take around three days to complete this devout pilgrimage. However, for Tibetans, it is more beneficial to complete the kora in one day, and many pilgrims will spend several days doing circuits of the mountain in this month of multiplied merits.

Other Practices During Saga Dawa

Saga Dawa is not just about the festival and the religious ceremonies. In Tibet, people generally devote time and energy to the acts of generosity and the performance of meritorious actions. For this whole month, the Tibetan people make an additional effort to be kind and generous, and many people buy worms, insects, and fish – creatures that would otherwise die violently – and release them as acts of kindness. When released into their natural habitats while giving prayers, it gives positive aspirations that are reflected on the person giving longer life to these animals.

Other practitioners spend the whole month eating no animal products, following the tenets of Buddhism that no animal should be harmed or killed, while others show generosity to their fellow humans, giving gifts to those less fortunate. Pilgrimage is also a popular activity during Saga Dawa, as all pilgrimage is considered to multiply merits, no matter what place you perform the pilgrimage to. It is a time to visit shrines, temples, and hoy sites, and make offerings of lights, water, and flowers.

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