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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SAGA DAWA

Statue of Shakyamuni Buddha in Gyantse monastery
Statue of Shakyamuni Buddha in Gyantse monastery

Tibetans consider the Saga Dawa festival to be one of the most auspicious religious practices in their life. In Tibetan “Saga” is the name of a star most visible during the fourth lunar month of the Tibetan calendar and “Dawa” means month.

The festival is one month long, starting from the new moon of the fourth month, and ending with the full moon of the next month. In the Gregorian calendar, it usually falls on May – June.

The full moon day or the 15th day of the month is called Saga Dawa Duchen. It is the most special day of the month. In Tibetan “Dunchen” means great occasion. It is the most important day in Tibetan Buddhism.

This day during the Saga Dawa Festival worships the life of Buddha and coincides with three main events in his life:

1. The Birth of Buddha

According to the scriptures, the date of Buddha’s birth is different from the conventional viewpoint. It is not the date when he was born, but the day when he entered the womb of his mother. In other words, it is the day of his conception. According to Buddhist philosophy, the first moment of consciousness with the contact of the parent’s cells in the womb of the mother is considered to be an actual birth. It is the very beginning of life or rebirth. That’s why the moment when historical Buddha entered the womb of Queen Mahayana of the Shakya Royal family on the full moon day of the Vesak month is regarded as Buddha Shakyamuni’s birth.

2. Buddha’s Enlightenment

At the age of 35 Buddha presented his attainment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya. The earth trembled at that moment as he touched it. That’s why you can see Shakyamuni Buddha with a touching earth gesture on sculptures and paintings.

3. Buddha’s Parinirvana (death)

At the age of 80 historical Buddha performed his last deeds and entered into Parinirvana in Kushinagar.

SAGA DAWA CALENDAR FOR 2024 and 2025

2024: Full moon date (15th day): 23rd May, 2024

2025: Full moon date (15th day): 11th June, 2025

SAGA DAWA IS ABOUT MAKING MERIT

View on Jokhang from the Bakhor Square in Lhasa, Tibet
Tibetans in front of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa

Tibetans strongly believe that all good deeds help accumulate good karma. You will carry it for your next life and all virtuous acts will help with a favorable rebirth. They also believe that the merit of worthy acts is multiplied during the holy festival.

That’s why Tibetans dedicate the entire month to making merit. The 15th day is one of the most sacred days to earn good merit. According to Buddhism, all good deeds during that time are multiplied 100,000 times.

WAYS TO COLLECT MERIT

PILGRIMAGE TO HOLY PLACES

Pilgrims visiting Mount Kailash on Saga Dawa
Pilgrims visiting Mount Kailash on Saga Dawa

Pilgrims from all over Tibet visit the most sacred sites. The most important and popular places are Lhasa and Mount Kailash, one of the most sacred places in Tibet. The atmosphere in the holy places is festive and spiritual. It makes it one of the best times to visit for tourists.
One of the best places to visit during Saga Dawa is Mount Kailash. It attracts thousands of pilgrims. A new flagpole is erected every year at the base of the mountain. It is a great time to travel to Mount Kailash and join pilgrims walking the kora, a holy circumambulation around the Mountain.

VISITING MONASTERIES

During the Saga Dawa, people visit monasteries, temples, and stupas, as well as holy mountains, lakes, caves, and other sacred places. Pilgrims offer butter lamps, burn incense, pray, and recite mantras. Some perform whole-body prostrations.
In Lhasa, you can see many Tibetans visiting Jokhang temple, Potala Palace and walking around the Lingkhor path. Lingkor is the first City ring, about 10 km long.

OFFERING DONATIONS

The generosity (Dana), act of giving is very important during the holy month. Tibetans make donations to poor people, monasteries, and temples.

REFRAIN FROM EATING MEAT

Tibetans not only stop eating meat but also try to save animal lives by buying and freeing animals from slaughter’s hands. On the fifteenth day, many people, both monastic and lay have only one meal before noon and follow the eight Mahayana precepts.

SAGA DAWA FESTIVAL CELEBRATION

Several Tibetan monks performing Cham Dance
Tibetan monks performing Cham Dance

During the festival, monks chant, read scriptures, and recite mantras. Tibetans give donations to the monastery or to individual monks and nuns to recite
the sacred scriptures, which help to avoid bad luck and bring good fortune to all living beings.

One of the most spectacular sights is the Cham Dance. During the Cham dance a group of monks dress up in religious clothes symbolizing different deities and protectors. They wear masks with different images of gods and animals.

During the auspicious festival, pilgrims hire a vehicle and visit venerated monasteries from all over Tibet. Many pilgrims also trek to Mount Kailash during the occasion.

At the foot of the Kailash Darpuchi ceremony takes place every year on the fifteenth date of the fourth month of the Lunar calendar. People gather to take down the old flagpole with hundreds of colorful prayer flags and replace it with a new one. The group of monks recite scriptures and play religious instruments. Pilgrims throw barley flour which is believed to bring luck. During the ceremony tourists from all over the world visit the sight and enjoy local events.

PLACES TO VISIT DURING SAGA DAWA

During Saga Dawa Tibetans visit holy places. It is one of the best times of the year to see many pilgrims from all over Tibet gather in sacred places. They wear their best costumes making the scene especially bright. The most popular places during the Saga Dawa Dunchen are Lhasa, Everest region, DrigungTil and Tsurpu Monasteries, and of course Mount Kailash.

LHASA

View on Potala Palace from Bharaluguk temple

Lhasa is one of the best places to visit during the festival. As a capital, it attracts many pilgrims from all over Tibet. The streets of Lhasa become crowded and you will enjoy its festive atmosphere.

The most important places to visit:

  • Jokhang and Ramoche Temple
  • Walk 3 most important koras in Lhasa: circumambulate Jokhang temple walk along Barkhor street, walk around Potala Palace, and walk the large circle around Old Town – Lingkor
  • Visit Lughang temple on a small island behind the Potala Palace. This small temple is an important pilgrimage site during the Saga Dawa. This three-story temple is famous for its wall murals.

MOUNT KAILASH

Setting up the new pole during Saga Dawa celebration
Setting up the new pole during Saga Dawa celebration

This sacred mountain attracts pilgrims from four religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Bon, and Janaism. During Saga Dawa, Tibetans travel to this sacred mountain from all over the country. The celebration begins on the full moon day. On that day they take down the old flagpole at the foot of the mountain and erect a new one. It is a spectacular event, as the flagpole is very tall and heavy.

People bring prayer flags to hang them and these flags will be sending thousands of prayers with every gust of wind.

TSURPU AND DRIGUNG TIL MONASTERIES

Drigung Til monastery near Lhasa, Tibet
Drigung Til monastery

You can visit Tsurpu or Drigung Til monasteries to watch the famous Cham Dance. Monks perform it dressed in elaborate costumes. These costumes represent various deities and protectors. Each dance has an important religious meaning, that’s why only monks can perform it.

Tibetan monks wearing yellow hat and costumes at Cham dance
READ MORE ABOUT CHAM DANCE

You can reach these monasteries within one day by traveling from Lhasa. They are located in a beautiful natural setting, surrounded by mountain ranges and vast green valleys.

Tsurpu monastery is the seat of Karmapa. Although it was severely damaged, it is now undergoing restoration work and you can visit many important chapels.

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4 Comments

    1. Dear Rae,

      We are based in Lhasa, and we are Tibetan owned agency. We have a special tour to Mount Kailash during Saga Dawa festival. Here is the description:
      https://wondersoftibet.com/group-tours/saga-dawa-2019-mount-kailash-tour/
      Price for 15 days tour is USD 1700 plus single stay hotel supplement for solo travelers USD 200. It includes all necessary permits, hotels and guesthouses, tickets to all landmarks in the itinerary, guide and transportation services.

      Best Regards,
      Kalsang

  1. Just read your page as I was looking for Saga Dawa Information. It looks great – Thank you for keeping the traditions of the tibetan people in the consciousness of „ the world „ . Best wishes and good Luck to you. My regards to you and Mount Kailash .

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and wishes! We are trying to do it. All the best wishes from us to you too!

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