Category Archives: Saga Dawa

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays 2021

This is an illustrated list of some of the major Tibetan Buddhist holidays in 2021, as well as some other important dates in the Tibetan calendar.

Front and back of the 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar

Front and back of the 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar

Each year, the Tibetan Nuns Project publishes a calendar with the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and other important ritual dates, plus the phases of the moon, inspirational quotes, and major US and Canadian holidays. This beautiful 2021 calendar is available from our online store, along with prayer flags, incense, malas and much more. By purchasing the calendar, you help provide education, food, shelter, and health care for over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in northern India. Thank you!

February 12 2021: Losar, Tibetan New Year

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan butter sculpture, Losar, Tibetan New Year

Tibetan Buddhist nuns make butter sculptures for Losar Tibetan New Year 2020. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team.

Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is a very special time of year.

This year, Tibetan New Year or Losar falls on February 12th, 2021. The year of the Iron Ox, 2148, begins on this day.

In the traditional Tibetan calendar, each year is associated with an animal, an element, and a number. January 1st through February 11th, 2021 are the last weeks of the Tibetan year 2147. Next year, Losar begins on March 3, 2022, and is the year of the Water Tiger, 2149.

Tibetan Buddhist nun, prayer flags, hanging prayer flags

It is customary to hang new prayer flags and to burn incense at Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The animals in the Tibetan calendar are somewhat similar to those in the Chinese zodiac and are in the following order: Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, and Boar. The five elements are in this order: Wood, Fire, Earth, Iron, and Water.

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, the nuns, like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home or room from top to bottom.

Losar, khapse, Tibetan New Year

Nuns at Dolma Ling making khapse biscuits for Losar These deep-fried Tibetan cookies made into different shapes and sizes are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations everywhere. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team, 2020.

After that, the Losar or “new year” is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives. Special food is prepared such as khapse and a  noodle soup called guthuk. See this recipe for vegetarian guthuk. Tibetans hang new prayer flags and also burn incense and juniper bows to welcome the new year.

March 10 and March 12: Tibetan Uprising Day

March 10th, Dharamsala, March 10th, March 10th demonstration, Tibetan nun, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Uprising Day

Nuns, monks, and lay people hold Tibetan flags and banners as they take part in a demonstration in Dharamsala, India to mark March 10th, Tibetan Uprising Day. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

While not a Tibetan Buddhist holiday, March 10th is a very important date in the Tibetan calendar. This year marks the 62nd anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. Around the world, Tibetans and their supporters remember and pay tribute to all those who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet’s struggle. An estimated one million Tibetans have perished and 98% of monasteries and nunneries were destroyed under the Chinese occupation.

In 1950, Chinese Communist forces invaded Tibet. On March 10, 1959, Tibetans attempted to take back their country with an uprising in Lhasa. The protests were crushed with brutal force.

March 12th 2019 marks the 62nd anniversary of the Tibetan Women’s Uprising. Following the National Uprising Day on March 10th, thousands of Tibetan women gathered in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa to demonstrate for Tibetan independence.

Read this blog post to learn more about these important dates and why Tibetans are in exile.

May 26 2021: Saga Dawa Düchen

The most important month in the Tibetan calendar is Saga Dawa, the 4th lunar month which runs this year from May 12 to June 10, 2021. The 15th day of this lunar month, the full moon day is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Tibetan Buddhists.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Saga Dawa, reading words of the Buddha

Every year, during the month of Saga Dawa, over a period of several days, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. During 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the nuns had to observe physical distancing while reciting. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

In 2021, Saga Dawa Düchen falls on May 26th. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni. In other Buddhist traditions, this occasion is known as Vesak or is sometimes called Buddha Day.

Saga Dawa is known as the month of merits. Tibetan Buddhists make extra efforts to practice more generosity, virtue, and compassion in order to accumulate greater merit. Tibetans believe that during this month, the merits of one’s actions are multiplied. On the 15th day of the month, the merits of one’s actions are hugely increased.

Every year, during the month of Saga Dawa, over a period of several days, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha.

Last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown in India, the nuns had to adapt their regular celebrations and rituals for Saga Dawa.

June 24, 2021: Universal Prayer Day

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, burning juniper

As on other auspicious occasions, such as Tibetan New Year and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday, nuns burn fragrant juniper boughs. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team

Universal Prayer Day or Dzam Ling Chi Sang falls on the 15th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar, so in June or July. It is a time for spiritual cleansing. Tibetans hang prayer flags and burn juniper twigs.

July 6: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Birthday

His Holiness the Dalai LamaAround the world, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6th will be celebrated with happiness and prayers for his good health and long life. This year, His Holiness the Dalai Lama turns 86. The nuns will pray and make special offerings of tsok, khataks (prayer scarves), and sangsol (incense offering) to His Holiness. It’s a day of celebration with special food, such as Tibetan momos, the steamed savory dumplings that are much loved by Tibetans around the world and that are often made on Tibetan Buddhist holidays.

July 14, 2021: Buddha’s First Teaching

Called Chokhor Düchen, this important day falls on the fourth day of the sixth lunar month. This day is the third “great occasion” (düchen) in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. It celebrates the first teaching by the historical Buddha, named Siddhartha at birth and commonly known as Shakyamuni Buddha.

On this day, over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha gave the teaching of the Four Noble Truths in Sarnath, shortly after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. This event is known as the “turning of the wheel of dharma”. In Theravada traditions, this event is remembered on Dhamma Day, also known as Asalha Puja, and is generally marked on the full moon of the eighth lunar month. To celebrate Chokhor Düchen, Tibetan Buddhists make pilgrimages to holy places, offer incense, and hang prayer flags.​​

October 27, 2021: Buddha’s Descent from Heaven

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Buddhist holidays, praying, Olivier Adam, Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhist nuns praying. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Another “great occasion” or düchen in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar is Lhabab Düchen. This date commemorates the Buddha’s descent from the heavenly realm following his visit there to teach his deceased mother. Lhabab Düchen occurs on the 22nd day of the ninth lunar month, according to the Tibetan calendar.

On this day, the karmic effects of our actions are multiplied millions of times. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, people engage in virtuous activities and prayer to gain merit and to mark this special occasion.

March 3, 2022: Losar (Tibetan New Year)

butter sculptures, Losar, Tibetan Buddhist holidays, Tibetan New Year, offerings, Tibetan Nuns Project

Butter sculptures and offerings made by the Tibetan nuns for Losar, Tibetan New Year.

Losar in 2022 falls on March 3rd and is the Year of the Water Tiger 2149 according to the Tibetan calendar.

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays in 2021 and the Tibetan Nuns Project Calendar

It is still possible to order copies of our 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar. It’s a great way to keep track of the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and all the special events throughout the year.

About Saga Dawa

The most important month in the Tibetan lunar calendar is Saga Dawa, the 4th month. This year Saga Dawa starts on May 23, 2020, and runs until June 21.

The 15th day of this lunar month, the full moon day is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the holiest day of the year for Tibetan Buddhists. This year, Saga Dawa Düchen falls on June 5, 2020. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni. In other Buddhist traditions, it is known as Vesak or is sometimes called Buddha Day.

Tibetan nun, Buddhist nun, Tibetan Nuns Project, nun reading scripture, Tibetan Buddhism, Saga Dawa, Dolma Ling Nunnery

A young Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery reads scriptures to mark Saga Dawa. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo.

Saga Dawa is known as the month of merits. Tibetan Buddhists make extra efforts to practice more generosity, virtue, and compassion in order to accumulate greater merit. Tibetans believe that during this month, the merits of one’s actions are multiplied and that on the 15th day of the month the merits of one’s actions are hugely increased.

Tibetan nun, Buddhist nun, Tibetan Nuns Project, nun reading scripture, Tibetan Buddhism, Saga Dawa, Dolma Ling Nunnery

A senior Tibetan Buddhist nun prostrates at Dolma Ling Nunnery during special ceremonies to mark Saga Dawa. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo.

The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project celebrate Saga Dawa in special ways.

Normally practices undertaken during this month include:

  • Praying and reciting of mantras
  • The lighting of butter lamps
  • Making pilgrimages to holy places
  • Refraining from eating meat
  • Saving animals from slaughter and releasing them
  • Making prostrations and circumambulations
  • Giving money to beggars.
Tibetan nun, Buddhist nun, Tibetan Nuns Project, nun reading scripture, Tibetan Buddhism, Saga Dawa, Dolma Ling Nunnery

Each year over 230 nuns who live at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India read the entire Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha, during the month of Saga Dawa. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo.

Every year, during the month of Saga Dawa, over a period of several days, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. Because this month includes some of the holiest days in the Buddhist calendar, the nuns believe they can accumulate more merit by doing such practices at this time. Butter lamps will also be lit during the full moon and everyone will try to practice positive deeds during the full month.

On this day many individuals from the monastic and lay communities also take Thekchen Sojong. In previous years, His Holiness at the main temple gives the vow if he is in town or it is given by an Abbot or Geshe. The vows are to follow the eight Mahayana precepts for 24 hours. Individuals taking this vow to take just one meal that day before noon, after which they fast. One can drink water or light drinks, but not whole milk, thick juice with pulp etc.

Tibetan nun, Buddhist nun, Tibetan Nuns Project, nun reading scripture, Tibetan Buddhism, Saga Dawa, Dolma Ling Nunnery

Another sacred text is finished and placed carefully on the stack. It takes several days for the nuns to read the entire Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo.

In Dolma Ling Nunnery many nuns eat only twice a day during the month of Saga Dawa. Nuns refrain from eating any solid food after finishing their lunch. They can drink water and are served light tea (with little milk) at 6 p.m.

At Tilokpur Nunnery, the nuns participate a number of pujas such as the Nyugney puja, Vajra puja, Avalokiteshvara mantra, Guru Rinpoche puja, Green Tara puja, Phakmo Dakini puja. The nuns also do prostrations and offer thousands of butter lamps during the month. The other nunneries like Geden Choling also do the Nyugney puja (fasting).

This year, with the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing, Saga Dawa will be different at the nunneries than in the past.