THOUGH a small chunk of Sikkim’s population consists of Tibetans, many a Tibetan festival is celebrated across the state round the year. Saga Dawa, also known as the Triple Blessed Festival, is considered the holiest Buddhist festival. On this day, Lord Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment and attained nirvana; and these three important events are celebrated during Saga Dawa.
The festival falls on a full moon in the fourth month of the Buddhist lunar calendar, which is between the end of May and the beginning of June in the Gregorian calendar.
Lhabab Dhuechen is a festival that symbolises the descent of the Buddha from heaven after visiting his mother. “Dhuechen” means festival while “Lha” means heaven and “bab” means descent. Legend goes that Queen Maya, mother of Lord Buddha, did not live long after his birth and took rebirth in Trayastrimsa or the heaven of the 30 Gods. After attaining enlightenment (Bodhi), Lord Buddha through spiritual powers came to know about the whereabouts of his mother and at the age of 41 ascended to heaven along with thousands of his followers. Lord Buddha stayed in heaven for three months during which he delivered sermons to his mother and other celestial beings. Lord Buddha had left behind on earth one of his disciples, Maudgalyayana, as his representative. This disciple and other devotees of the Lord could not bear the long detachment and longed to hear his preaching. Maugalyayana, who possessed miraculous powers, was asked to go up to heaven to beseech the Lord to return to earth. The gods were not willing to let Lord Buddha return but Maugalyana suggested that as the earthly beings did not have the powers to visit heaven, the celestial being could rather come to the earth to attend his preaching. Lord Buddha finally acceded and descended to earth at a place called Sankasya by means of a triple-ladder that was fabricated especially for the occasion by Viswakarma, the God of Tools.
Drukpa Tsheshi is another festival that is observed by Buddhists to commemorate the event when the Buddha delivered his sermons to his five disciples at Sarnath for the first time. This festival celebrates the Buddha’s first preaching of the four Noble Truths. The first is the Noble Truth of Suffering, the second the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering, Karma and Delusion and their causes; the third the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering or the Attainment of Nirvana; and the fourth being the Truth of the Eight Ways Leading to Nirvana. The day falls on the fourth day (Teshi) of the sixth Tibetan month (Drukpa), which is around the end of July and the beginning of August. In Gangtok, Drupka Tsheshi is marked by prayers at the Deer Park and at a secluded place called Muguthang in extreme north Sikkim. The festival is felicitated with a Yak race.
Phang Lhabsol is a unique festival of Sikkim. The third Chogyal of Sikkim, Chakdor Namgyal, made this festival popular. In this festival, the snowy range of Kanchenjungha is worshipped for its unifying powers. The festival also marks the signing of the treaty of blood-brotherhood between the Lepchas and Bhutias by Khye Bumsa and Tetong Tek when, it is said, the local deities were invoked to witness the occasion. On this day, the guardian deity is portrayed by masked dances. The dancer, dressed as a red-faced deity with a crown of five skulls, rides a snow lion. To boost the mood of the spectators, clowns called Atchars play antics during the Chaams dance. This festival is held on the 15th day of the seventh month which is around the end of August.
Losoong marks the end of the harvest season and also the end of the 10th month of the Tibetan Year. Taking a cue from a good harvest and praying for even better prospects for the next crop, the festival is marked by Chaam dancing at the monasteries at Tsu-La-Khang, Phodong and Rumtek. The dances symbolise the exorcising of evil spirits and the welcoming of the good spirits of the new year. It is best observed in the countryside. Archery competitions and festivities mark the occasion. Men become gods during the dances and don attire with mystical symbols.
Sikkim’s Tibetan festivals are worth seeing, even if this means getting there from miles away.