BUDDHIST FESTIVALS:

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.

HINDU FESTIVALS

Dasain / Dusshera/ Durga Puja : One of the most important festivals for the Nepalese Hindus, t his fortnight long festival usually falls in the month of October. While Hindus around the world celebrate Durga Puja, the Nepalese observe the days as Dasain or Bijaya Dashmi. This festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It is widely believed that on this day the evil Mahisura was slain by Goddess Durga who is the embodiment of Goodness and Shakti, in a fierce duel fight.

On the first day barley seeds are sown in the soil and their growth a few inches foretells a good harvest. The next important day, a week later is Fulpati meaning the "day of flowers". Maha Astami and Kala Ratri follow Fulpati. The next day is Navami. The 10 th day of the festival is known as Vijay Dashmi and also marks the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana. During this day people smear their foreheads with coloured rice and the barley sprouts which were sown on the first day of Dasain are picked and place over the ears.

Tihar or Tyohar/ Diwali: This festival of lights also know as the Deepavali means "a row of lights". This festival is celebrated to mark the return of Lord Rama, his consort Sita and brother Lakshmana, to their kingdom after 14 years of exile. To celebrate their return, the people of Ayodhya are believed to have lit up their houses and streets with lamps and the tradition is followed till date. People also conduct Lakshmi Puja to please the Goddess of Wealth.

It falls on the last two days of the dark half of Kartik (October-November). For some it is a three-day festival.

In Sikkim the festival honours certain animals on successive days. The first day known as "Kak(crow) Tihar" is dedicated to crows and they are offered rice and some if caught are even garlanded. On the second day, which is known as "Kukkur(dog) Tihar", dogs are garlanded. On the third day the cows are honored with garlands and their horns are painted in bright colors. It is the turn of the bullocks on the fourth day. The fifth day is also known as Bhai Tika in which brothers visit the homes of their sisters and they apply tikas vermilion to each other foreheads. It is also an occasion for exchanging gifts. During Tihar, traditional carols called Bailo or Deusi are sung.

Saraswati Puja: This festival falls in the month of January and honors the Hindu Goddess of knowledge "Saraswati". School children place their study books in front of the statue and seek blessings for doing well in their studies.

Janmastami: A lso known as Krishnastami or Gokulastami is a festival dedicated to Lord Sri Krishna and commemorates his birth. This festival occurs on the eight day (Astami) of a lunar fortnight hence the name (Krishna+astami). Krishnastami which comes sometime in August is celebrated over two days. The first

day is Krishnastami or Gokulastami. The second day is called Kalastami or more popularly Janmastami.

This festival associated with Lord Krishna's birthday and is a combination of religion and celebration together. Mathura, the ancient north Indian town, is Krishna's birthplace, and it is one of the most sacred places in the entire country. People celebrate this festival with fun, frolic, and merrymaking. The raasleelas, bhajan, kirtan, and various local functions are the special attractions of the place.

The festival of Janmashtami is celebrated during the month of August or September depending on the Indian calendar. The celebration of this festival is followed according to the Indian calendar and hence the month in the English calendar varies every year. This day also falls on the day of Shravan Poornima when the monsoon season is at its high in most of the part of India.

Vishwa Karma Puja: This festival takes place on 17 th September every year and honour Vishwa Karma - the God of Machines, statues of this deity are put up in temporary sheds called pandals and worshipped especially by those who are involved in handling machines like drivers and mechanics.

Maghe Sankranti : One of the important festivals of Hindus, Maghe Sankranti known as Makar sankranti in other parts of India is celebrated on the first day of the month of Magh (of the Vikram Sambhat calendar) and is observed for three days. This day is believed by the Nepalese as the day that marks the division of the Winter and Summer solstice. It marks the beginning of the lengthening of days. Bathing in rivers, especially in the confluence of rivers, is prescribed for this day followed by feasting. Huge fairs are organized along the river banks and confluence of rivers. The prayers begin with dawn and the fairs draw people from surrounding areas in thousands. It is an occasion for villagers to gather, meet each other and make purchases. The most colourful introduction to the Sikkimese milieu as people from all communities patronize these fairs. Although just about every district has its fair, the bigger ones are seen at Jorethang (south Sikkim) and Saramsa (East Sikkim).

Holi: This Hindu festival of colors takes on a new meaning in the colder climes of Sikkim. All night revelry, songs and dances brings the business community (which is largely Hindu) to the streets and also observed is the (Matki) competition in the heart of the town. A good example of the communal harmony prevalent in Sikkim as even the ethnic Bhutias and Lepchas can be seen scrambling with their Hindu friends to take a crack at the pot hung high in the air.

The festival of Holi symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It also marks the advent of spring and people celebrate it joyously with a splash of color. It is the most boisterous of all Hindu festivals, observed all over India, especially the North. It heralds the end of winter and the beginning of spring. People throw colored water with pichkaari (a traditional device to spray coloured water), gubbare (balloons filled with coloured water) and gulal (colour powder) at each other and make merry. Singing and dancing add to the gaiety of the occasion.

Ramnavami (Chaite Dasain): This festival is dedicated to the memory of Lord Rama. It occurs on the ninth day (navami). The festival commemorates the birth of Rama who is remembered for his prosperous and righteous reign.

OTHER FESTIVALS

Namsoong - An Indigenous Festival of Lepchas

Sometime at the end of the eleventh month "Raa Lovo" according to Dungit Karchu (Lepcha Calendar) the view of cherry blossom i.e. Kongki Bur are seen everywhere which indicates the arrival of Lepcha Festival, Namsoong.

It is celebrated as a mark of welcoming the new year which begins from the first day of first month (Kurnyit Lavo) of the year which continues for seven days. It is celebrated all over Sikkim, Darjeeling district, Ilam of Nepal and some parts of  Bhutan. 

Traditionally, couple of minutes before the beginning of new year Bongthing, a lepch priest and Mun perform rituals by offering "Chi Fut" (alcoholic beverages) ] and at midnight the effigy of the demon king Laso Mung Punu is burnt. This process of celebration is called LASO MUNTgYUT MAARLAVO TYANGONG SONAP in  Lepcha. 

At the time of creation the ITBU DEYBU RUM, the creator had created Fodongthing(male) having eight Nungyoung and Nuzongnyue (female) having nine Nungyoung (outlet of human body) from a handful of snow of Chyu Kongchen (Mt. Khangchendzonga) who are believe to be the earliest ancestors of Lepcha in Ney Mayel Lyang. They were bestowed with full supernatural power and asked to live as brother and sister by; administrating of oath. Even today, the practice of accessing Nungyoung is found when eight storeyed and nine storeyed pyre for male and female still exists in Buddhist system of funeral in Sikkim. 

Fodongthing and Nuzongnyu could not stick to oath in the due course of time and consequently started living as husband and wife. Seven children were born to them which were all thrown to unknown places like cliffs and caves as they thought of having committed great sin and in fear of the oath. Nuzongnyu due to motherly feeling, she could not tolerate herself to continue that ongoing practice and rest of the four children were allowed to  survive. 

The four children, Nunglennuyu and Kothongfi the first female and male children respectively, Numshirnnyu and Numbomthing the second female and male child respectively started living in Tarvong Purtam near present Sakyong. Dzongu of North Sikkim. 

One day, Itbu Rum had to come down to bless the family. Nuunglen Nyu and Kothongfi were unfortunate to present before the Itbu Rum when their mother hid them in a cave because they were of loathsome appearance played in harming mud. But the parents could not find the two children in the cave afterwards. They along with Numshimnuyu and Numbomthing started weeping and searched the other two family members. Itbu Rum on hearing enquired about the incidents and both the parents narrated the whole story. Itbu Rum showed Nunglenyu and Kothongfi in spirit and told that now onwards both of them shall remain as guardian deities of male and female Lepchas respectively. It is a fact that male Lepcha during "Mut Faat" (Shikari Devta Ko Puja-in Nepali), females are never allowed to accompany them to the jungle as Nunglenyu would envy and does not permit any female except herself to be with the males. There is a existing practice ,in Lepcha "FO" (Yeast), "Chifut" and "Chibop" purposefully prepared for " Mut Faat" are not allowed to be seen or touched by females in fear of the Nunglenyu. The chicken offered to Nunglenyu during Ute Mut Faat has to be eaten only by males and if left over, should have to be thrown away instead of being eaten by females.

So Numshimnyu and Numbomthing were brought up and inhabited in Mayel Lyang (the hidden paradise) as the second earliest ancestors of Lepchas. Laso Mung Punu alongwith six other who were thrown away grew older and turned into demon and started taking revenge on Numshirnnyu and Numbomthing, who they felt was discrimination done against them by their parents. Laso Mung Punu who was the eldest among the discarded babies led the troubling activities. 

The Lepchas had no alternative but to pray and seek help from Itbu Rum to save themselves from the demon. The folk tales of Talom ; Purtam of Daramden in West Sikkirn is also associated with this story in which section of Lepchas .  built a ladder of earthen ware to go to Rum Lyang (heaven) to get  rid of the demons.  

Itbu Rum on hearing the prayers sent lor Bongthing bestowed with full of supernatural power to Ney Mayel Lyang. lor Bongthing c. had to fight for a long period. At the end of the last twelve -  years of the war, lor Bongthing had to face another episode of miraculous warfare. The demon king Laso Mung Punu had the supernatural power of changing his physical form year after year into different ~ appearances like Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Eagle, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Hen, Dog and Pig. The counting of years in Lepcha had been derived from this unique chronological events. Laso Mung Punu during the physical appearance of eagle having wounded by poisonous arrow of lor Bongthing flew painfully and randomly over upper Dzongu of North Sikkim. It is learnt from venerated persons that names of places like Lungthem (Lingthem), Lungdom (Lingdem), Laven, Tungvung (Tingvong), Leek etc. were originated during the war between Jor Bongthing and Laso Mung Punu in Eagle form.  

On the last day of the twelfth month i.e. Maar Lavo, Laso Mung Punu was killed when he was in the physical form of Pig at Sukverpartarn. Even after the killing of Laso Mung Punu, Jor Bongthing was not sure of his death. So, he sent some Lepchas to confirm it. One of the representatives threw stones on the slained body of Laso Mung Punu as he could not dare to go nearer and touch it. Next day another person was sent to repeat it but he used wooden stick. Similarly, another third person was sent and he used iron to make sure that the demon king was completely killed. On the fourth day they buried the dead body in the soil. Even then they were not satisfied and could not feel sure that the demon king is completely killed. On the next day they took out the dead body and burnt it in the fire and scattered the ashes in the wind. Finally the crematorium was washed away with water.  It is the legacy of the event that Lepchas derived names of the seven days of the week as Long Sayak (Stone day), Kong Sayak (Wood day) Pungzyeng Saual (Iron day), Faat Sayak (Earth day), Mi Sayak(Fire day), Sukmut Sayak (Wind day), Ung  Sayak (water day), which are .  Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, respectively.  

As a victory celebration the Lepcha worshipped lor' Bongthing as a protector or an aegis and offered prayers to Itbu Rum near Tarkol- Tam-E- Tam since then the tradition of Namsoong or Nambun (Losoong in Bhutia) began. Even today the Lepchas and Sikkimese Bhutia celebrate this occasion to mark the victory of good over the evil. During the Namsoong period the Lepchas early in the morning burn "incense" with butter and pugo rip (Paper seeds of oroxylmn indicum tree, Totola in Nepali) and children shout loudly "Song solo", " Achulay" from a nearby knoll. Meanwhile at home the head of the family offer "Chi-Fut" to the creator and other guardian deities of house and outside. Mostly the children go house to house playing "Laso Lem" which normally ends on "Cho Kokyok" i.e. the seventh day of the Namsoong.  

by Chuksuog Lepcha
Editor of Sikkim Herald (Lepcha)

Sakewa: Festivals of the Rai community. The day is observed with offerings of a variety of sweets and food grains to the deity of food and wealth, Kubera.

Bhanu Jayanti: The Nepalese poet, Adhikavi Bhanu Bhakta, enjoys a demi-God status in these areas and his birth anniversary is marked with processions, poetry recitations, and seminars. Bhanu Bhakta was the first Nepalese to translate the Hindu holy book, Ramayana, into a Nepali version.

Tendong Lho-Rum-Faat: This Lepcha festival is observed by the Lepchas to pay obeisance to the Tendong Hill which saved their tribe from annihilation in the great flood .

Teyongsi Srijunga Sawan Tognam:

Christmas:

Tamu Lochar:

Nyempa Guzom: