Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival is also called Gaden Ngachen Chenmo Festival. In the daytime, people will go to the temple to pray, display butter sculptures and eat traditional foods, at night, people in that day will gather together to light butter lamps, in order to commemorate the victorious debate of Shakyamuni Buddha with his rival in India about 2500 years ago.
The great debate took place on the January fifth of Tibetan calendar. The Butter Lamp Festival is celebrated a week after the Monlam Prayer Festival, and is traditionally taken to be the last and greatest day. In the western calendar, the festival is on December 2 in 2018, but it changes every year in the western calendar.
Usually, the Butter Lamp Festival enjoys a full moon at night. Butter lamps are made in different shapes, some like flowers, trees, birds and beasts. With the beautiful and round moon, people light colorful butter lamps represent the light of Buddhism. It is a great scene in Lhasa, capital of Tibet.
These colorful and delicate butter sculptures are called “Tormas” in Tibetan Language. These butter sculptures display the story of Buddha and his oral victory. There will be a big exhibition for Tormas. It is a traditiona for Tibetan people to make these sculptures by themselves. At night, all the sculptures are lit which is a stunning and meditative scene. People will pray in the light of burning sculptures and make good wishes.
Butter lamps are very simple. People only need to put yak butter or vegetable oil in a bowl with a wick. With the lamps burn, they can create smoke as well as light. In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, people can easily focus their mind with a lot of lights. So, on every special holiday, temples in Tibet will light thousands of lamps to enlighten people and banish darkness.
Except for seeing the butter sculpture and lights, people will dance and sing in the streets to celebrate in this festive time. With the crowds move forward, they will burn the cypress branches put in front of Jokhang Temple, and pray and shout “La-Soro” which means “God wins” in Tibet.
Then, they will eat various and delicious Tibetan foods and drinks. And the most famous food is the Tsampa porridge which is made of barley flour, tea and little salt. This porridge has an interesting history. One day, a little Lama practiced sutra on the roof of a temple. After a long time, he became very hungry and read the scripture into “butter lamp lighting on the top, Tsampa porridge boiling in the pot”. And this porridge becomes popular.
January is hot travel time with several Tibetan traditional festivals. And now, the Butter Lamp Festival is open for tourists. Besides, the Butter Lamp Festival is also a part of the Tibetan New Year holiday which may last 15 days. The Tibetan New Year Festival starts with the New Year Losar Festival, continues with the Monlam Festival, and ends with the Butter Lamp Festival. For tourists who want to learn the essence of Tibetan Buddhism and culture, they are recommended not to miss this time.