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Festivals and Dances of Sikkim


Despite their conversion to Buddhism, Lepchas continue to celebrate many of their ancient festivals. These are usually occasion for great feasting, sometimes lasting as long as three nights. Not surprisingly, therefore, most of the festivals take place in the autumn and winter months when the harvest has been brought in and it is a time of plenty.

This festival celebrates the harvest and the advent of the New Year. It falls on the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar (corresponding to December). People gather to enjoy the harvest and pray for a prosperous New Year.

The Feast of the River Gods
The confluence of the Tista and the Rangit rivers is a holy sport for the Lepchas. And every year during December-January, the Lepchas gather here from distant places to celebrate the feast of the river gods. Young girls and boys take a dip in the river then sing and dance late in the night, celebrating the great love of these two rivers.

Buddhist Festivals
The monasteries are the venue for the Buddhist festivals which in terms of spectacle and grandeur, are unmatched. The Buddhist calendar is studded with many festivals and ceremonies throughout the year and many are celebrated in Sikkim with great pomp and splendor. The monasteries are the venues of these celebrations and the people come from distant places to witness them. At many of these festivals, chaams are performed. These are masked dance dramas with liturgical significance, performed in the monasteries by monks. The ornate masks and costumes are of resplendent color and the dances are finely choreographed sequences requiring skill, training and vigor.

Drukpa Tsechi
The festival celebrates Buddha's preaching of the first sermon at Sarnath. It falls on the 4th of the 6th Tibetan month (roughly, August). In Gangtok it is marked by Prayers at the Deer Park. And in Muguthang, situated in the remote Lhonak in North Sikkim, there are prayers followed by a yak race.

The festival is celebrated at Tashiding in January / February. During this festival, the pot containing the holy water is opened by the lamas. The level of water in the pot foretells the future of the coming year: brimful foretells bloodshed and disturbances; if the pot is almost dry famine is predicted; and if the pot is half-full then it promises a year of peace and prosperity. A part of the holy water is distributed among the pilgrims and then the pot is sealed until the next year.

This is an important chaam of the Ruktek Dharma Chakra Centre. It falls on the tenth day of the fifth Tibetan month. It presents the eight manifestations of the Guru Rimpoche. The masked dances celebrate various episodes from his life and his battle against de demons of the Bon tradition.

The Kagyet Dance
This dance is performed two days before Losoong at Tsuklakhang and are also celebrated at Phodang. This religious dance-drama enacts various themes from the Buddhist mythologies and culminates with the burning of effigies made of flour, wood and paper symbolizing the destruction of evil by the forces of good. The participants are always monks from the monastery and the performance is accompanied by liturgical music and chanting. Prior to the dance prayers are held in the chapel and for the thousands who flock to see the dance, worship as well as participation is itself an act of worship as well as participation in the exorcising of evil and ushering in the prosperous new year. The solemn nature of the dances is interspersed with comic relief provided by prancing jesters.

Pang Lhabsol
This festival is unique to Sikkim and celebrates the consecration of Mount Kangchendzonga into Buddhist region. It also is a commemoration of the blood brotherhood sworn the Lepchas and the Bhutias at Kabi. The chaams which accompany this festival are spectacular, and the warrior dance or pangtoed dance especially is superbly choreographed. Kangchendzonga is represented as wearing a red mask wreathed with five human skulls, in top of which are planted flags and riding a snow lion. Yabdu, the mountain's chief commander, wears a black mask. The warriors who accompany him wear the traditional Sikkimese battle dress with helmets, shields and swords. The dramatic entry of Mahakala who commands Kangchendzonga and Yabdu to defend the faith and bring peace and prosperity to Sikkim. A week prior to the chaams, the lamas of Pemayangtse monastery offer prayers to Kangchendzonga asking it to protect the land and look after the people. The festival is held on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the Tibetan calendar, corresponding to late August/early September.

Saga Dawa
The fourth month of the Tibetan calendar (approximately early May), is an auspicious month for the Sikkimese Buddhists and prayers are held throughout the period in various monasteries. On the full moon from this month , the Buddha is supposed to have been born, attained Buddhahood and achieved Nirvana. This is the day of the main celebration. A colorful procession of monks go around the major thoroughfares of Gangtok with the holy Kangyur texts. Similar processions, invariably beginning from the gompas, are taken out the villages.

This is a festival marked with great gaiety. The Black Hat dances take place at this festival commemorating the victory over evil. These chaams are held at Enchey, Ralong, Phodang and Rumtek monasteries two days prior Losoong.

This is the Tibetan new year and is celebrated with festivities and chaams depicting the ritualized destruction of evil by good being performed at Pemayangtse and Rumtek Dharma Chakra.

Lhabab Deuchen
This festival symbolizes the descent of the Buddha from the 33rd heaven after visiting his mother to convert her to the Dharma. It falls on the 22nd days of the 9th month of the Tibetan calendar.

The major Nepalese festivals are festivals of the Hindu calendar. However, the Nepalese add their own color to these festivals so that their celebration in Sikkim is not identical to their observation in the plains, and thus unique.

This festival generally falls during the month of October and celebrates the slaying of the demon Mahisasura by the Goddess Durga - symbolic of the destruction of evil by the forces of good. While this is the same as the Dussehra festival in other parts of India, the Nepalese have added the tika ceremony - a holy sign of blessing, usually a mixture of curd, rice and vermillion, put on by the elders of the family on the foreheads of the younger members

Corresponding to the Diwali festival in other parts of India, this is generally celebrated a fortnight after Dasai and symbolizes the return of the epic hero Rama from his fourteen-year exile. According to legend he reached his kingdom during the new moon and hence people lighted lamps to dispel the darkness. The Nepalese celebrate this festival for five days and boys known as Daoisi visit neighboring houses singing dewsi for small tips.

Chaiti Dashain
This marks the birth of Rama and is celebrated as the Nepalese New Year. The festival falls during April.

Bhai Tika
Usually celebrated on the fifth day of Tihar - a ceremony during which sisters put sandalwood tika on their brother's forehead and bless them with a long life and happiness.

Maghey Sankranti
Held in January, this is a major secular festival for the Nepalese and celebrates the change of seasons as the sun shifts towards the Tropic of Cancer. During the ceremony, a bathing festival called Makkar is observed, when people take a dip at the confluence of the Tista and Rangit. Traditionally, this bathing commemorates the time when Gurkha soldiers bathed at the confluence to wash away the blood stains after a victorious battle.


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