Saga Dawa: This is the Triple Blessed Festival and is considered as the holiest of the holy Buddhist Festivals. On this day in different years of his life, Lord Buddha took birth, achieved Enlightenment and passed away attaining Nirvana, three important events celebrated in the festival of Saga Dawa.
This Three-Fold-Auspicious-Day falls on the full moon day of the 4 th month of Buddhist lunar calendar around the end of May and early June. The highlight of the day's observation in Gangtok is a procession carrying the Holy Books of the teachings of the Buddha from the Tsuk-La-Khang Monastery in the Palace around the town .
Lord Buddha was born in Lumbini in Nepal to King Sudhodhna and Queen Maha Maya of the Sakya Clan around 560 BC. He was named Sidhartha and his parents took all the pains to make his life comfortable and keep him ensconced from the miseries of the world. At the age of twenty nine, realization dawned upon Prince Siddhartha that all the worldly pleasures were transient and unreal and that the ultimate truth lay elsewhere. He renounced the world and after wandering for many years in search of the truth reached Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh (India), where he meditated under the Bodhi trees and attained Enlightenment at the age of thirty five. Buddha, the Enlightened One, left for his heavenly abode at the age of eighty one at Kusinara on attaining Nirvana or deliverance into bliss.
Lhabab Dhuechen: This festival symbolises the Descent of Buddha from the heaven of the thirty three gods after visiting his mother. Dhuechen means festivals, Lha means heaven and Bab means descent.
Legends goes that Queen Maha Maya, the mother of Lord Buddha, did not live long after his birth and took rebirth in Trayastrimsa or the heaven of the thirty Gods. After attaining Enlightenment, Lord Buddha through spiritual powers came to know about the whereabouts of his mother and at the age of forty one ascended to the heavens 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 separation and longed to hear his preaching, Maugalyayana, who possessed miraculous powers, was exhorted to go up to the heaven to request the Lord to return back to the earth. The gods were not willing to let Lord Buddha return back to earth but Maugalyana suggested that as the earthly beings did not have the powers to visit heaven, the celestial being could come to the earth to attend his preaching. Lord Buddha finally relented and descended to the earth at a place called Sankasya along a triple ladder that was prepared especially for the occasion by Viswakarma, the God of Machines.
Drukpa Tsheshi: This festival is observed by the Buddhists to mark the event when Buddha first turned the Wheel of Dharma (His first sermon to five disciples at Sarnath). This festival celebrates Buddha's first preaching of the four Noble Truths to his first five disciples in a deer park at Sarnath. The first is the Noble Truth of suffering. The Second Noble Truth is the truth of the origin of suffering Karma and Delusion and their causes. The third Noble Truth is the cessation of the suffering or the attainment of Nirvana. The fourth Noble Truth is the truth of the Eight Fold Path leading to Nirvana. The day falls on the fourth day (Teshi) of the sixth Tibetan month (Drukpa).
This festival is held on the 4 th day(Tsheshi) of the 6 th month(Drukpa) of the Tibetan Calendar around July or August every year. . 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 celebrated by holding a Yak race.
Phang Lhabsol: This festival is unique to Sikkim. It was popularised by the third Chogyal of Sikkim, Chakdor Namgyal. In this festival the snowy range of Khangchendzonga is worshipped for its unifying powers. This festival also marks the signing of the treaty of blood brotherhood between the Lepchas and Bhutias by Khye Bumsa and Tetong Tek when the local deities were invoked to witness the occasion.
In fact Phang means witness. On this day, the guardian deity is portrayed by masked Lama dances as a fiery red-faced deity with a crown of five skulls, riding a snow lion. To lighten the mood of the spectators, jesters called 'Atchars' play antics during the Chaams. T he third Chogyal of Sikkim, Chakdor Namgyal is credited for choreographing the Pang-Toed dance performed by monks on this day.
This festival is held on the 15 th day of the 7 th month around the end of August.
Losoong: Losoong marks the end of the harvest season and also the end of the tenth month of the Tibetan Year. Taking cue from a good harvest and praying for even better prospects for the next crop, the festival is marked by Chaam dancing's at the monasteries at Palace ( Tsu-La-Khang ), Phodong and Rumtek. The dances symbolize the exorcizing of the evil spirits of the year and the welcoming of the good spirit of the new year. It is best observed in rural Sikkim. Archery competitions and festivities mark the event. Men become gods during the dances and don attires with mystical symbols.
Losar: The Tibetan New Year is shared also by the Sikkimese and marked with lot of gaiety and festivity. It falls normally in the month of February. The Tibetan youth take to the streets on the day performing the Yak dance and throwing sampa as a way of greeting and welcoming the new year with shouts of "Tashi Delek". The Tibetan community exerts itself in the more than week long festivity with their brocades, jewelry, songs, dances and picnics.
Bumchu : Bum means "pot or vase" and chu means "water". This festival is celebrated at the monastery at Tashiding in the month of January or February. During the festival, the pot containing the Holy water is opened by the lamas of the monastery. The level of water in the pot foretells the future for the forthcoming year. If the water is to the brim, it foretells a year in which peace and prosperity will prevail. If the water is over the brim and is spilling signifies a year with natural disaster and flood , it prophesies bloodshed and disturbances. If the water lever is low or almost dry it signifies famine. A part of the holy water is distributed amongst the gathering of devotes and the pot is replenished with river water and sealed at the end of the festival to be opened only in the next Bumchu
The amount of water contained in the Bumpa(vase) is believed to predict, Sikkim's prospects for the year. If the Bumpa is full, it prophesies revolution and disturbances. If the level falls, then there will be floods, amines and diseases. What the devout pray for is a half full Bumpa which indicates prosperity, happiness and peace.
The Bumchu ceremony draws thousands of people from Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, Darjeeling and surrounding places who braves the chill and arduous climb through the forest and the cart road to participate in the ceremony.
The sacred Bumpa (vase), well preserved under lock and seal, at Tashiding Dupche Lhakhang is believed to be granted its magical properties by Guru Padma Jullgne after completion of his five billion 'om mani padme hung' chants. The power of this mantra produced a Bumpa full of water. Several deities entered the water following the Guru's initiation. The water is believed to have overflowed spreading to all directions like the "rays of the Sun". Legend holds that the water showed no signs of decreasing even after being distributed to thousands of devotees. This event dates back to the reign of King Trisong Deutsan of Tibet.
Later, in the year 1646, the first Bum Chu ceremony was introduced to Sikkim by Ngadak Sempa Phuntshog Rinzing (one of the three Lamas who met at Yoksam and coroneted Sikkim's first Chogyal, at Lhakhang, near Norbughang, Yoksam. The miracle replicated with Ngadak Lama's completion of one lakh "Kyang Chaak" and "thungchur" (billion) incantations of 'om mani padme hung'.
In 1647, Tashiding was selected for the yearly Bum-Chu ceremony. Tashiding- the place blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, the temple of the Dharma rajas, a place where a thousand prayer flags flutter way to glory amidst the parade on lichen- lad, lime-washed chortens.
Tashiding is suitably christened the ‘Thakkar Tashiding'. 'Thakkar' means white-spoted rocks, stones and precipices. This is also the spot of the most holy chorten'. So sacred is this chorten that the mere act of beholding it is supposed to cleanse all sins as its name suggests -Thong-warang or a saviour by mere sight. The Chorten is constructed around a 250 old pine believed to have grown from Guru Padmasambhava's walking stick, which he left behind after a brief rest here. The chorten contains funeral granules of the Buddha deposited by Jigme Pawo (successor and incarnate of Lhatsun Chenpo). The six-syllabled mystic chant "om mani padme hung" surrounds the wall of stones around the chortens. For the last forty years, an old artist has been diligently re pairing the carved inscriptions at Tashiding.
Tashiding Monastery was founded by Ngada Sempa in the year 1641 AD and houses some hundred monks at present. The monastery was extended and renovated by the third Chogyal, Chagdor Namgyal, and belongs to the Nyingmapa sect.
"Bumpa is made neither from soil, sand nor from any metal. Its shape, size and weight cannot be replicated. It's an extraordinary' 'taer' (relic) brought from Tibet," informs the Khyenpo (senior Tashiding monk) in his talk delivered to the gathered devout on the night before the Bum-Chu. Many scholars however believe it to be made from a mixture of sacred soil, water and five precious jewels collected from holy areas of the Earth. The neck of the Bumpa is full of" Khadas' making it "invisible" to the people.
Bum-Chu is an annual festival held on the fifteenth day (full moon) of the first of the Tibetan Calendar. The rituals surrounding it have remained unchanged, since 1646. A seven day prayer, from the eight to the fifteenth day, is offered each year in hopes of revealing a favourable water level.
The Bumpa is opened on the fourteenth day. First three 'tings' (cups) of water are taken from the vase and offered first to the royal family, the second to the monks and the third distributed amongst the devotees,
The mountain stream Rathong Chu provides the water for replacement. Monks are sent for three tings of water at around midnight, "We get water from Dzongri, the Rathong water here is bit impure," Tsutimba of the Tashiding Gompa informs.
The devout are housed under '"deras' and 'shedas' for Rs.500 per night. Others just slept on the lawn, tents and mon astery verandas, The numbers present could be gauged from the number of vehicles lined up from Siney bazzar, Tashiding to the Gompa foothill. Some 60- 70 elderly women from outside Tashiding underwent a three-day retreat prior to the ceremony. A mani teacher stressed, “This retreat is very different and more beneficial than any others retreats. We are blessed now." Youngsters from groups to sing "Om Mani Padme Hum" followed by 'chi-kor' (outside round of the monastery), The stall owners also saw brisk business, Tourists could be seen meditating. Rainfall on the fourteenth day is a usual phenomenon and considered an act of washing away all sins and evi1 acts.
The miraculous powers of the Bumpa are best illustrated in the Khyenpo's own words: " It is incredible that the Bum-Chu is pure, clean, fresh and germ-free even though unwashed and kept away from the Sun since 1646 ."
Guru Rimpoche's Trungkar Tshechu: On this day, Sikkimese Buddhist pay homage to the master who first blessed Sikkim as holy land, Guru Rimpoche. The master is believed to have firmly establish Buddhism in Sikkim and introduce his form of Tantric Buddhism to the Himalayas after vanquishing ‘demons' obstructing the growth of dharma in Tibet. The day commemorates his victory over these demons and the devout believe that virtues accrued by recitation of mantras on this day are two-fold.
Kagyed Dance: It is performed on the 28 th and 29 th day of the 10 th month of the Tibetan Calendar, around December. This dance is performed symbolizing the destruction of the evil forces and hoping for peace and prosperity to flourish in every Sikkimese home. The dancers of this is extremely
popular Chaam are always monks who are accompanied liturgical music and chanting. The solemn nature of the dance is interspersed with comic relief provided by the jesters. Kagyed dances enact various themes from the Buddhist mythology and culminate with the burning of effigies made of flour, wood and paper.
Kalchakra Puja: A mention of the two bodies of Buddhism, Hinayana and Mahayana has been made at the beginning of this chapter. To attain Nirvana or Enlightenment and freedom from suffering one of the paths offered is Tantrayana which emphasizes the Tantric or mystic aspect of Buddhism involving complex and esoteric rituals.