The Saga Dawa Festival is one of the most important religious events in Tibet. And the Mount Kailash is one of the most sacred mountains in Tibet. What about taking a Mount Kailash tour during the Saga Dawa Festival? It sounds good, however let’s learn more about the festival first.
Rising alone from the western Tibetan Plateau, the Mount Kailash is also called “Kang Rinpoche”, which means “Precious Snow Mountain”. Mount Kailash is the most scared mountain of the world, referred as the earthly representation of Mount Meru, the center of giant tantric mandala, it is the place of pilgrimage and rebirth. Kailash dominates the region physically and spiritually, through the combined faith of over one billion people, and revered by four major religions: Bon, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain.
Saga Dawa, the month of merits, which is the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar and considered as the most important Buddhist holiday period of the year. In Tibetan language, Dawa means “month”, "saga" refers to a specific star, which is particularly visible during the month of Saga Dawa. This festival is usually celebrated from May to June. The believers of Tibetan Buddhism celebrate the birth, parinirvana (death), and enlightenment of Buddha Sakyamuni. Pilgrims believe that all positive and negative behaviors would be multiplied during this time. It is the most prosperous time for Tibetan Buddhists, Meritorious behaviors include pilgrimages to sacred places. The most prosperous place to celebrate the Saga Dawa is the holy Mount Kailash.
Tibetan Buddhists are celebrating Saga Dawa in Darchen, the start point of a Kailash kora
Although the month of Saga Dawa can accumulate merits, there still has a special day - the 15th day of the month is the full moon, and is known as the Saga Dawa Duchen, which is the actual day of the birth, Nirvana, and Parinirvana of Buddha. Traditionally, Saga Dawa Duchen only can be observed by practice, generosity, and the performance of meritorious deeds. Sojin is the practice of Life Release, performed by bought the animals that are destined to be killed (like worms, crickets, or fish). Pilgrims believe that can extend the lifespan of practitioner or benefactor and create positive circumstances.
The same as other Buddhist countries, Saga Dawa is an historical festival that the whole Tibet would celebrate. From the most remote western areas of Ngari to the easternmost parts of Sichuan’s Tibetan areas. For Buddhists, the period of Saga Dawa is a time for making merits, which means carrying out "meritorious actions."
Tibetan Buddhists try their best to do what the Buddha said, to give and pray. It is said that if you do prayer and kind acts, and give alms during the Saga Dawa festival in Mount Kailash, you will be rewarded many times in the future, and much more than usual. These generally fall into three categories: generosity (dana), which often involves making charitable donations, morality (sila), and meditation (bhavana).
At Saga Dawa, Buddhists make kora to Kailash to perform a circumambulation at the base of the mountain. One kora is one circumambulation around Mount Kailash, which also is an important part of Buddhist, Hindu, and Bon practitioners of their pilgrimage. In the perception of Tibetan, trekking in the scared Mount Kailash can accumulate merits on their way to become a Buddha. Saga Dawa is also known as Bumgyur Dawa, “the 100,000 multiplying months”, as the effect of every trekking could be enlarged by 100,000 times during this time.
The month of Saga Dawa is a prosperous time in Tibet, The Saga Dawa Festival at Mount Kailash is the most prosperous of all the sites where the celebrations take place. A big number of pilgrims go to the sacred sites of the plateau region and trekking around this holy mountain. People travel to the Mount Kailash by different ways, a few go there by car while the most would walk to there. Besides, some of them ride the horses to the foot of Mount Kailash. Staying in Mount Kailash area during the Sada Dawa festival is a rare opportunity, you can’t miss the chance to witness how locals celebrate their most important festival of Tibetan calendar, while it also is an uncommon chance to experience Tibetan unique culture. Due to the large number of people coming here during the festival, there are usually police stationed at the foot of the mountain just to reassure the crowd. Although the true important of Tibet is not crime. Their main job is to check whether the people and vehicles entering Baga Village have been registered, and those who want to enter the ceremony site need to register again. The Alien’s Travel Permit and the Military Permit are needed for the foreign tourists.
An important part of the festival is to replace the ‘Tarboche Flagpole’, there will be many famous huge poles that lies on the way of Kailash Kora. Every year, the flagpole is brought down and a new pole is erected in the place. The pole replacing event is watched by locals and foreigners alike with wonder and awe, each prayer flag represents a prayer’s wish. The prayer flag flutter in the wind, that increase the possibility of respond. There is a traditional version: if the pole is not set perfectly upright, it means that Tibet will in trouble. The erection of the pole, supervised by a lama, is not an easy affair, only the best pole setter can do this work. In the early morning. You can see the lamas performing their Buddhist rituals around the flagpole, and the pilgrims are also starting their rituals next to the prayer flags. While the ritual was going on, lamas with woodwind instruments begin to play beautiful tunes as bystanders and pilgrims prepared for the erection of a new flagpole.
Standing 25 meters tall, this unique flagpole is the highest in Tibet. The erection of the pole means the end of these ceremony. Pilgrims and onlookers will throw highland barley to themselves to bring good fortune. After that, pilgrims will walk around the flagpole, or trek around Mount Kailash. Thousands of people walking around the flagpole, they throw colored pieces of paper with Buddhist scriptures into the air, to be blown by the winds from Mount Meru to the four corners of the earth. This could be the most amazing and extraordinary scene of the world. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is believed that to complete 13 circuits of the flagpole at this time is equal to one circumambulation of the Kailash kora, and it takes just a few hours to complete rather than 3 days of strenuous hiking. You can deeply understand how Tibetan culture and religions intertwines with each other, and know about the daily life of local people.
Saga Dawa Festival is an extremely noble experience for all participants, with a unique sense of adoration throughout the Festival, whose focus is prayer. Buddhists believe that the main purpose of the festival is to pray for the longevity of all traditional holy spirits, so that the Buddha's doctrine can take root and spread in the hearts of all living beings. Beside attending solemnly religious activities, tourists also can experience pray, trek, help the poor, and visit some monasteries during this time.
In Ngari Prefecture, the far west of Tibet, there is a holy Mount Kailash near the Nepal border, with the elevation of 6,638 meters, it is the highest peak in the area. Mount Kailash attract pilgrims over the year, even in the freezing winter. During the festival of Saga Dawa, the most important aspect of the day for many is taking on the ritual trek around the sacred mountain. Taking a Mount Kailash trek is a persistent pursuit of many pilgrims, including Indian faithful travelers. In Hinduism，Mount Kailsh is the most scared mountain, too. The path around Mount Kailash is 52 km long, and it can be completed in 3 days on general. However, many pilgrims complete a circuit in just one day, while others perform prostrations every few feet, taking more than a month to complete just one circumambulation.
Going to Mount Kailash is not a hard work, you only need permits, a local guide and a private vehicle. However, according to regulations, international tourists are not allowed travel in Tibet alone, all the tourists need to book their Mount Kailash tour in a recognized tour agency, they will help you to obtain your Tibet Travel permit, Alien’s Travel permit, and Military Permit. It seems to be complex, but don’t worry, we are professional and experienced, we will solve this problem without trouble to you.
Another nice place for you to visit in Mount Kailash area is the holy Lake Manasarovar. Swans fill the lake during Saga Dawa Festival and make the lake more elegant. Lake Manasarovar is another place of pilgrimage, you can see Tibetan and Indian pilgrims circumambulating the lake and pray around the lake. It not only is the most holy lake of Tibet, with 4590 meters above the sea level, Lake Manasarovar is the highest freshwater lake of the world.
Four of the great rivers of Asia subcontinent originate here: the Brahmaputra, Ghaghara, Sindhu, and Sutlej. In Buddhism and Hinduism, Lake Manasarovar is a personification of purity, and one who bath in the lake could be cleansed of all their sins committed over a lifetime.