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The Grandest Saga Dawa Festival at Sacred Mt. Kailash

Saga Dawa Festival celebrates the birth, parinirvana (death), and enlightenment of Buddha. And the most auspicious place to celebrate is Mt. Kailash. This article helps you to know more about Kailash Saga Dawa Festival.

Saga Dawa Festival and Its Religious and Cultural Importance Long shrouded in myth and mystery, Tibet lies on the roof of the world, surrounded by the mountain ranges of Central Asia. Amid this grandeur, rising alone from the western Tibetan Plateau stands Mount Kailash, or Kang Rinpoche as it is locally known – the most sacred mountain of the world and the earthly manifestation of the cosmic Mount Meru. Kailash is the center of a vast tantric mandala, it is a place of pilgrimage and of rebirth, and is revered by Bon Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain alike.

People is celerating Saga Dawa Festival at Kailash

Saga Dawa is called the "month of merits" for Tibetan Buddhists. Dawa means "month" in Tibetan, and "Saga" is the name of a star prominent in the sky during the fourth lunar month of the Tibetan calendar when Saga Dawa is observed. Saga Dawa usually begins in May and ends in June. The Saga Dawa Festival celebrates the birth, parinirvana (death), and enlightenment of Buddha, and it is believed that all positive and negative actions are multiplied as a result. For Tibetan Buddhists, the month of Saga Dawa is the most auspicious time for meritorious actions. Meritorious acts include pilgrimages to sacred places. There are many mountains, lakes, caves and other natural sites in Tibet that have attracted pilgrims for centuries, but for the Saga Dawa, the most auspicious place is the holy Mt. Kailash.

While the Saga Dawa is a whole month of meritorious actions, there is also the Saga Dawa Duchen, which is the day of the full moon in the sacred month of Saga Dawa. Traditionally, the holy day of Saga Dawa Düchen is observed through practice, generosity, and the performance of meritorious deeds. Sojin, the practice of Life Release, is commonly performed by purchasing animals that are destined to be killed (like worms, crickets, or fish), and releasing them into their natural habitats with prayers and positive aspirations. The act of giving life in this way is believed to extend the practitioner or benefactor’s lifespan and create positive circumstances.

Why One Should Do Kora Around Mt. Kailash During Saga Dawa Festival?

The Saga Dawa Festival is an ancient festival that is celebrated across Tibet, and in other Buddhist countries as well. Tibetan Buddhists try to do what the Buddha said and give alms and pray. It is believed that praying and alms giving and doing acts of benevolence during Saga Dawa and in the holy month after this multiplies the merited return to the giver far more than on regular days. The occasion is often dominated by monastic chanting, cham dances, and other religious activities. During the month, many Tibetans also refrain from killing animals. Tibetans believe that the fifteenth day of the month is very special, as Sakyamuni was born, attained Nirvana (enlightenment), and stepped into Parinirvana (death) on this same day.

People do kora around Mt. Kailash during Saga Dawa Festival

At the Saga Dawa festival at Mt. Kailash, one of the most important activities is the kora around holy Kailash mountain. A kora is a circumambulation or revolution of a holy or sacred place, which is performed by Buddhist, Hindu, and Bon practitioners as part of their pilgrimage, ceremony, or religious rituals. Tibetans believe that they accumulate merit on their path to enlightenment by performing a kora around a holy place, and at Mt. Kailash during Saga Dawa, it is believed that the merit is multiplied 100,000 times for every circumambulation of the holy mountain.

Highlights of Saga Dawa Festival at Mt. Kailash

The Saga Dawa festival is celebrated throughout Tibet, and the grandest of all festivals is the one held every year at Mount Kailash, in the Ngari prefecture of western Tibet. Every year thousands upon thousands of people gather at the holy mountain, to celebrate the Saga Dawa, and perform the holy kora around the mountain. Being in the area during Saga Dawa is a rare opportunity, and not one that should be missed. This festival gives one the ideal opportunity to see local people celebrating one of the most important festivals in the Tibetan lunar calendar, and a chance to experience this unique culture first hand.

People travel to the mountain in different ways. While a few travel by car, majority walk to the mountain, and some ride horses to the foot of Mount Kailash. A common sight in the area at this time of year are the thousands of pilgrims walking along the dirt roads to the site. Due to the huge numbers of people that come to the festival, there is often a police presence at the foot of the mountain, just to give reassurance, although crime is not really an issue in Tibet. Their main job is to check that the people and vehicles entering Baga village are registered, and for those who wish to enter the ritual site, another registration is required. For foreign tourists, the Alien’s Travel Permit and the Military Permit are required to get to Mount Kailash.

Every year, a new prayer flagpole is erected at Tarboche during the Saga Dawa festival, and people hang new flags on the pole before it is erected. Each prayer flag represents a prayer that someone wants fulfilled. The flags are left to fly in the wind to increase the potential for answering. There is a tradition that if the pole is not set perfectly upright, it means that Tibet is in trouble, so it is important to set the pole up accurately, and only the best pole setter is allowed to perform the duty. In the early morning, you can watch the as the lamas come to perform their Buddhist rituals around the flagpole, and pilgrims start their ritual walk around the perimeter of the flags. While the rituals are going on, lamas with woodwind instruments play beautiful tunes as onlookers and worshipers alike get ready for the erecting of the new flagpole.

The flagpole at Mt. Kailash is around 25 meters in height, and is the highest flagpole of its kind in Tibet. Once the flagpole is up, and the rituals have finished, the onlookers and worshipers throw ground barley on themselves to bring good luck, and then the pilgrims start their walk around the new flagpole, or their kora around Mt. Kailash. In Tibetan Buddhism, thirteen circles around this holy flagpole is the equivalent to one kora around Mt. Kailash in merit, and many people walk around the flagpole, which only takes a few hours, instead of the three-day trek around the mountain.

All the while the rituals and flagpole erecting is going on, pilgrims are throwing colored scraps of paper, inscribed with ancient Buddhist scriptures into the air, so that the teachings of Buddha will be blown on the wind to every corner of the earth. The whole spectacle is one of the most amazing sights in the world, and to see the people so devoutly following the Buddhist beliefs gives one a better understanding of how the Tibetan culture and religion intertwines with each other, and the people’s everyday lives.

The Saga Dawa Festival holds many delightful and amazing sights for visitors to the region, and gives more of an insight into the people of Tibet. Many pilgrims come to the site early, to perform the kora around the mountain, and many prostrate themselves on the ground every few yards to worship the mountain gods. Moreover, not only Tibetans go there to worship. Many Indian nationals come to Mt. Kailash at this time to worship and perform the kora around the holy mountain, as it is the most sacred mountain in the Hindu religion as well.

Saga Dawa for Visitors

The Saga Dawa Festival is an extremely spiritual experience for all involved, including the tourists. There is a distinct feeling of reverence throughout the proceedings, since the main point of the festival is to pray. Buddhists believe that the main aim of the festival season in Tibet is to pray for the long life of all the holy gurus of all traditions, for the survival and spreading of Buddha’s teachings in the minds of all sentient beings, and for world peace. Moreover, visitors not only get to watch and experience the solemn Buddhist activities, they also get to join in with the prayers, kora, offering of tips to the poor, and can spend time touring some of the monasteries of Tibet during this holy month-long festival.

Kailash Saga Dawa Festival

Mt. Kailash is in the far west of Tibet, in Ngari Prefecture, relatively close to the Nepal border. At an elevation of 6,638 meters, it is the highest peak in the area, and stands tall and alone over the barren plain around it. As the holiest mountain in Tibet, Mt. Kailash is not only a site for performing the kora at the Saga Dawa, but people come all year round, even in the coldest times of the year, to walk the kora around the mountain. This holy trail is 52 kilometers long, and takes a normal person around three days to trek from start to finish. For many Tibetan pilgrims, however, three days can be too short, or too long. While some race around the circuit in one day, to accumulate more merit, others take weeks and even months to complete the trek, prostrating themselves every few feet in worship to the holy mountain.

Getting to Kailash can be done fairly easily, as long as you have the right permits, a guide, and a private vehicle. Since tourists in Tibet are not permitted to travel alone, all visitors to Kailash need to book Kailash tour with a recognized tour operator, who will be the ones to obtain your Tibet Travel permit, Alien’s Travel permit, and Military Permit, to allow you access to the area. While this may seem like a very complex procedure just to visit a mountain, Tibet Vista is very experienced in doing this, and can easily obtain all the permits you will need, with no trouble to you.

Another good place to visit while you are in the area of Mt. Kailash is the holy Lake Manasarovar. During the Saga Dawa, the lake is full of swans, which bring their own form of grace to this holy lake. There is a kora that runs around the lake, and you can often see Tibetans or Hindus circling the lake and praying on its shores. Manasarovar is one of the three holy lakes of Tibetan Buddhism, and is the highest freshwater lake in the world at 4,590 meters. It is the source of four of the greatest rivers in Asia, the Brahmaputra, Ghaghara, Sindhu, and Sutlej. For Buddhists and Hindus, it is believed that by bathing in the clear blue waters of the lake you will wash away all your sins.