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FESTIVALS OF SIKKIM

 
 

Those who have lived in Sikkim long enough will testify that life here is, in a sense, an ongoing festival. In one way or the other there are festivals and festivities throughout the year. This is a reflection of the rich cultural heritage of Sikkim. A cultural heritage which combines the flamboyant aspects of Vajrayana Buddhism and the equally splendid features of Hinduism with the original animist traditions of the Lepchas.

Life in Sikkim, like in the rest of India, is rooted firmly in religion. Everything a person does is related to his faith and his daily life is governed by the patterns and customs of his religion. Even nature finds itself incorporated in this belief. The majestic Mt. Khangchendzonga- earth's third highest mountain -serene, proud and burnished in the splendour of its mythology, plays a dominant role in the Sikkimese life. This mountain, for the Sikkimese, is not just an example of the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature. Rather it represents the birth place of the Lepchas and is the presiding deity of Sikkim responsible for the peace and prosperity of the land and the people.

The major monasteries like Pemayangtse, Tashiding, (in West Sikkim), Tsuklakhang (the palace monastery in Gangtok), Phodong and Lachung (in North), Enchey (near Gangtok) and Rumtek (23kms from Gangtok) are the venue for the important Buddhist festivals in Sikkim. The lama dances complete with the fierce masks, the gorgeous brocade costumes, the exotic music and chants, may seem to the casual visitor a little bizarre. But to the participants and to the faithful these dances have their own symbolisms and meaning. Most of these dances recreate legends and myths connected with the birth of Buddhism and also represents the eternal battle between the good and the evil and the eventual triumph of the virtuous.

What makes the festivals and festivities of Sikkim more than just dry religious rituals is the communal participation. It is not an uncommon sight to see the Hindu population or those from other parts of India, in the monasteries watching and enjoying the lama dances or the other Buddhist ceremonies; just as it is fairly common to see the Lepchas and Bhutias celebrating Dasain and Dipavali (festival of lights) with their Hindu friends. For those visiting Sikkim the festivals of this place offer a unique opportunity to participate and sample the rich traditions of an ancient culture ; as well as the warmth and hospitality of a friendly people.
Different festivals:

Saga Dawa

Saga Dawa is a very auspicious day for the Mahayana Buddhist. It is also known as the Triple Blessed festival. On this day (the full moon of the 4th month of the Tibetan Buddhist calendar) Lord Buddha is supposed to have entered the soul of this mother, attained Buddha hood and also Nirvana. On this day people in Sikkim go to the monasteries to offer butter lamps and worship. A huge colorful procession of monks with gyalings and ragdungs go around Gangtok with the holy scriptures (Kangyur and Tangyur).

Rumtek ' Chaams'

Rumtek monastery, 23 kms. from Gangtok, is the seat of the Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism. This monastery was built by the 16th reincarnate Gyalwa Karmapa, after he escaped from Tibet and settled in Sikkim. The monastery is famous for its 'chaams' -- the ritual lama dances as well as the stylized 'opera' performed by the lay people who live around the monastery. The important 'chaams' of Rumtek are those performed two days prior to the Tibetan New Year and that performed on the 10th day of the fifth month of the Tibetan calendar. This 'chaam' know as Tse Chu 'Chaam' basically presents the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava.Padmasambhava( the lotus- born) was the Indian sage who was responsible for consolidating Buddhism in Tibet. He is also revered by the Sikkimese as Guru Rimpoche and during his travels he is suppose to have visited Sikkim. The dances in Rumtek celebrate the various episodes of his life and his battle against the forces of evil. The winter 'chaams' performed just prior to the Losar present the battle between good and evil and the ritualised destruction of evil.

Pang Lhabsol

This festival is unique to Sikkim. It is celebrated to offer thanks to Mount Khangchendzonga, the guardian deity of Sikkim and to Yabdu, the supreme commander of Mount Khangchendzonga. It is staged in front of the Tsuklakhang monastery. The essence of the dance is the war-like costumes of the dancers, the pomp and the pageantry. Khangchendzonga is represented in demonic form, wearing a red mask surmounted by flags and five human skulls and an apron over his brocaded robes on which is appliquéd a fierce face. The God is accompanied by his supreme commander Yabdul wearing a black mask and attended by warriors in the ancient uniform of battle with helmets decorated with flags, bracelets, boots, swords, shields and daggers. A week before the dances actually take place, the lamas of Pemayangtse monastery start prayers at Tsuklakhang. The prayers are offered to invoke Khangchendzonga (commonly known as Dzonga) and Yabdul for peace and prosperity.
At the dramatic moment during the dance the God Mahakala makes his appearance. Shouts of victory greet his appearance as it is he who commands the god Khangchendzonga, to defend the faith and bring peace and prosperity to the people. Three horses with attendants in the fashion of Kham, form where the Namgyal dynasty came, are held ready to be mounted by Dzonga, Yabdul and Nyenchen Thangla, a mountain god from Tibet. Apart from the religious significance of the warrior dance, it was devised as combat exercises to be performed by the youth of the elite of Sikkim. Participants in this dance need to be physically strong with swift reflexes and should have skill in sword-manship. The dancers are thus required to prepare for the dance by keeping themselves in seclusion for about 15 days prior to the festival, to keep themselves pure as demanded by custom. Although this dance was initiated by Chador Namgyal the third consecrated ruler of Sikkim, the occasion also commemorates the signing of the blood brotherhood between the Lepchas and Bhutias. The dance is performed on the 15th day of the 7th month of the Tibetan calendar (around September).

Kagyat Dance

Kagyat Dance is performed every 28th and 29th day of the 10th month of the Tibetan calendar. This dance is performed by the monks in the Tsuklakhang (palace monastery) compound two days prior to Losoong (the Sikkimese New Year). The ritual dance culminates with the burning of effigies made of flour, wood and paper-symbolizing the destruction of the forces of evil. The solemn nature of the dance is interspersed with comic relief provided by the jesters. Prior to the dance prayers are offered by the monks inside the chapel and for the thousands who flock to see the dance their attendance is confirmation of their inherent belief, that to see the dance is to participate in the exorcizing of evil and ushering in of peace and prosperity for the coming year.

Drukpa Tseshi

This festival commemorates the first teaching of Lord Buddha ( the turning of the Wheel of Dharma). On this day ( 4th day of the 6th month of the Tibetan Buddhist lunar calendar ) devotees go to the Deorali Chorten, near the Institute of Tibetology in Gangtok, to worship and offer prayers.

Losoong

This is the Sikkimese New Year. It is also called 'Sonam Losar' ( or the Farmer's New Year ) for the farmer's rejoice and celebrate their harvest. Although Losoong is celebrated privately among family members and friends, there is an air of festivity and the youth all over Sikkim have archery competitions. There are also lama dances held in some of the important monastries two days prior to Losoong. These dances symbolically exorcize the evil spirits of the past year and welcome the good spirits of the coming year.

Losar

This is the Tibetan New Year and is celebrated by inviting friends and relatives for family gatherings. Two to three days prior to Losar is the Guthor Chaam when colourful lama dances are held in the Pemayangtse and Rumtek monasteries to welcome the Tibetan New Year.

Enchey Chaam

The annual 'chaam'-- ritual dance of the Lamas of Enchey monastery, is performed every year on the 18th and 19th days of the 11th month of the Tibetan calendar (corresponding to the month of December). Like the Chaams in other monasteries, here too, the gathering watch the Lamas in their splendid costumes and fierce masks perform mystic dances. In Enchey the Drag-dMar Chaam of Padmasambhava in his wrathful form is the main ritual dance.

Dasain - Dipavali

Dasain is the biggest and most important festival celebrated by the Hindu Nepali population of Sikkim. This festival begins on the first day of the bright lunar half of the month of Aswin (September-October). In private homes, on this day invocations are made to Goddess Durga and barley seeds are planted in the prayer rooms. On Ashtami (the 8th day) is the famous 'maar' when and goats are ritually sacrificed. On the Vijaydashami day the elders of the family put Tika--( a red powder with rice mark on the forehead) on the younger members and relatives visit each other.
The other important festival is Dipavali (the festival of lights). This is part of the Tihar festival which begins 10 days after Dasain. On the third day of Tihar Goddess Laxmi (the goddess of wealth) is worshipped. In the evening on this day, women, young and old, visit door to door singing Bhailo and accepting Bhaili offerings and gifts spreading the message of victory of good over evil.

Tashiding Bumchu/Sinek

The Bumchu is a sacred vessel whose water level foretells the luck of the year ahead. It occurs on the 15th day of first Tibetan month and continuous for three days when devotees from different parts of Himalayas come for blessings and celebrations at Tashiding monastery.

Tourist Festival

The Department of Tourism and Travel Agent's Association of Sikkim jointly celebrates Teesta and Tea Tourism festival annually during the month of December and January which highlights various activities and lets you participate to be a part of festival. One can enjoy looking at the exotic flowers at the International Flower Show, food festival, various cultural show and exhibition are highlights of this festival including mountain biking, river rafting, rock climbing, hot air ballooning and archery competition. The festival is held in Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Dooars and promises fun and enjoyment for all. It has become a very big attraction both for the tourists and the local population.

 

     
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