The Saga Dawa festival is the biggest celebration in the Buddhist calendar. It’s especially celebrated in Tibet, where celebrants participate through light, giving, and pilgrimages. What is it all about, though, and why should you go?
What Is Saga Dawa?
Saga Dawa is one of the four major Buddhist holidays, celebrating the Buddha’s life and achievement of enlightenment. The festival spreads over the fourth lunar month, although the actual holiday coincides with the day of the full moon itself. That day represents the single holiest time of the year. It’s importance and cultural gravity roughly equate to Christian Christmas observances in the west.
The festival is a time of “making merit,” or doing good deeds and cultivating self improvement. Many people make pilgrimages to temples, natural wonders, and other holy sites. Participants light butter lamps and give to temples, monks, and beggars. Practicing Buddhists also adjust their lifestyles to reflect ideal Buddhist habits. This means eating less, avoiding meat, and even buying animals meant for slaughter in order to set them free.
Tips for Visitors
You have options. Tibet has the biggest Saga Dawa celebrations. This is thanks in part to the fact that the region contains many of the most important sacred sites in Buddhism, including Mt. Kailash. Although Tibet’s festivities are not to be missed, other countries with large Buddhist populations, such as Nepal, also celebrate Saga Dawa. If, for whatever reason, you can’t make it to Tibet, you don’t have to miss out.
Come in the spirit of Saga Dawa and embrace the culture! There will be more beggars looking for donations than usual, and it’s a very good idea to give an offering to any temples or holy sites you visit. Keep cash in small denominations on hand so you can participate and make merit with the other festival goers.
Although tourist-heavy destinations will probably still offer meat and other dishes visitors typically expect, be prepared to make some temporary alterations to your diet. Going vegetarian for a few days may help you discover new foods and experiences you would have passed over for something more familiar. It’s all in the spirit of Saga Dawa!
If you have two weeks, take the time to go on a pilgrimage to Mr. Kailash. It’s the single most popular journey for celebrating Buddhists, and in many ways it’s the heart of Tibet’s Saga Dawa festivities. This adventure takes you deep into the region’s cultural, natural, and religious wonders. It’s truly the experience of a lifetime.
Light your own butter lamp. This simple devotional practice is a bright and beautiful way to engage with the culture. Be respectful of local regulations, and ask your guide, group leader, or travel planner where it is most appropriate to participate.
There are many ways to celebrate Saga Dawa, and you can find them all in Tibet. It’s a beautiful festival showcasing the best of human spirit: generosity, kindness, and discovery. Instead of asking why you should go, stop and ask: why not?