Saga Dawa Festival : Greeting the Lord
Saga Dawa is a festival that is celebrated at Mount Kailash - the abode of Lord Shiva in Tibet and is considered as the holiest of all. The activities that include is Kora or parikrama or Circumambulation around Mountain itself. It is performed by all sects, religions such as Hindu, Buddhists, Bon as a part of their pilgrimage. After taking both in Holy Manas Sarovar they set out on adventure going around Mountain.
The sound of Chams and trumpets was reverberating in the air. The hymns chanted by Llamas and local folk were soothing for mind and soul. I almost was soaked in silence and felt that lord also was witnessing the event as a silent spectator beyond the mountains. Saga Dawa is a festival celebrated in the month of Disu ( April ) by Buddhists to mark three momentous events in Buddha's life – his birth, to celebrate Sakyamuni's enlightenment, and his departure Parinirvana from the human world.
The Holy Kailash Mountain in Tibet is considered holy by Hindus, as well as Buddhists and Jains. In ancient texts, it is referred to as the center of the Universe. The reason can be understood from the geographical significance of it's place. Within 30 miles radius, are the sources of mighty rivers Indus (north called "Sindhu" in India), Sutlej (in the west), Brahmaputra (the Yarlung Tsangpo in east), and Karnali (the largest tributary to the Ganges in the south). According to the religious belief, most sacred and worthy time to make the Mt.Kailash pilgrimage is in the year of the horse, as this holy site is believed to be opened first for pilgrims in the year of the horse, and 2014 is horse year and happens once in twelve years, so there would have hundreds of pilgrims gather at foot of Mt.Kailash to carry their ritual ceremony. This celebration differs from country to country, but generally, activities are centered on the Buddhist temples, where people gather to listen to sermons by monks. During the festival, many people refrain from killing animals and give out alms to everyone who comes asking for it. There may not be overt celebrations everywhere, but even then you can easily discern the festive spirit in the air during the Saga Dawa festival
Hindus regard the peak as Shiva's symbolic 'Lingam' and worship Mt Kailash, which is the Sanskrit name for the mountain. Bonpos believe the sacred mountain to be the place where the founder of the Bon religion landed when he descended from the sky. Tibetan Buddhists believe Kang Rinpoche, which means Precious Snow Mountain, is a natural mandala representing the Buddhist cosmology on the earth and the Jains believe this is the place where their religion's founder was spiritually awakened.
During the festival, Buddhists undertake a parikrama of Holy mountain. A pilgrimage to Mt Kailash involves nothing more or less than making circuits around the sacred mountain. The Outer Pilgrimage Circuit (Chikhor) is about 42km, and Tibetans can complete a circuit in a day. The majority of pilgrims try for 13 circuits if they can. Some pilgrims do a circuit performing Kyangcha (Prostration). While the average circuit takes about 14 hours to complete, those doing prostration can take a couple of weeks. Those seeking to secure their path to enlightenment try for 108 circuits. Buddhists and Hindus travel clockwise around the mountain while Bonpos travel counter-clockwise.
Each year, the Tarboche flagpole is replaced, the huge pole that stands on the Kailash outer core , south of the mountain. People from all over Tibet gather here that day to attach their prayer flags they brought from home, to pray, and to help erect the flagpole. The flagpole should stand perfectly upright, or else things are not good for Tibet. Along the sides, on the slope an hour before the actual rising of the flagpole, people circulate the flagpole that is down on the ground now. They pray and throw 'Windhorse' (little pieces of coloured paper with Buddhist scriptures on them) into the air. They help to remove last years prayer flags and attach new ones. As a visitor you are almost forced nearby hills, a lot of people are sitting to watch the 'spectacle' and there are musicians which play all the time on their horns, trumpets and Cymbals.
The flagpole is first erected half-way, using A-structures and ropes. The Lama continually gives instructions on how to do it, when to stop and when to go on. Everyone can help pulling the ropes, that's the 'non-organized' part of it, but there are always plenty of people doing this spontaneously.
Photo by Arvind Kutty
The Saga Dawa festival is truly a celebration that encompasses everyone into its fold casting aside all barriers of nationality, religion or color. In fact, being a part of this holy event is such a moving experience that you come back with a deep sense of inner satisfaction that stays with you for a long time.