The New Year of Tibetan lunar calendar, the Linka Festival and the Xuedun Festival
Tibetan festivals are rich and varied. Among the numerous festivals, there are festivals about producing, commemorating, social intercourse, and recreational and sports activities. There are also many religious festivals. The New Year of Tibetan lunar calendar, the Linka Festival and the Xuedun Festival are the three most famous festivals among them.
The New Year of Tibetan lunar calendar is called "Luosa" in Tibetan, which means "new year". It starts from the first day of the first Tibetan lunar month, and the period of time differs from 5 to 7 days. It is the grandest festival for Tibetan people. People start to prepare for the New Year since the twelfth Tibetan lunar month. Every household cultivates seedlings of highland barley, and presents them on a tea table before the niche for statues of Buddhas to wish a good harvest of grain in the coming New Year. In the middle ten days of the twelfth Tibetan lunar month, every household deep-fries puffed fritters made of butter and wheat flour. When the end of the year is coming, they prepare a food crops case which is filled with such food as Zanba, fried wheat grains and wild "gensing". Spikes of highland barley and two color flowery boards are inserted in it. They also prepare a color sheep head carved by butter. All these contain the meaning of celebrating the good harvest, and wishing good weather for the crops and flourishing of population and domestic animals. Several days before the New Year's Eve, people do thorough cleanup, change new Tibetan mat and put up new New Year pictures. Before supper at the day before New Year's Eve, they spread "Eight Auspicious Symbols" with dry flour on the middle wall of the kitchen, and paint a symbol with lime on the door, which symbolizes safe and sound every year. At that night, members of the whole family reunion and eat dough Tuba. Stone, chili, charcoal or wool is put in the dough. If someone gets the dough wrapped with stone, it shows he has a hard heart; Charcoal stands for black heart, chili stands for sharp tongue, and wool stands for soft heart. This is an entertaining activity, and no matter what you have got, you must spill it out impromptu. This often causes roaring of laughter of the whole room, which increases joyous and happy atmosphere of the festival.
At the first day of the Tibetan lunar calendar, all members of the family get up early to wash and dress elaborately, and light up consecrating light to worship gods. Then they are seated according to the turn of age, and the senior carries the food crops case. Everyone takes several grains from the case and spread them to the air, which means to offer them to gods. Then everyone takes a little and sends them into the mouth. The seniors wish everybody "Zhaxidele" (good luck) in turn, and the younger generations wish them "Zhaxidelepengsongcuo" (good luck and complete beneficence) in return. After the rite is finished, they eat oatmeal Tuba and wild "gensing" mixed with butter, and propose toasts to one another with blessings.
According to Tibetan traditional custom, they are not allowed to sweep the floor at the first day of the Tibetan lunar New Year, can't say any unlucky words, and can't pay visits to other houses. Relatives and good friends begin to pay New Year call to one another from the second day to celebrate the New Year together.
Linka Festival is called "Zimulinjisang" which means "happy day of the world". Someone also call it "suburb feast". It is traditional entertaining day for Tibetan people in Lhasa, Rikeze, Changdu, etc in the Xizang Autonomous Region. It is held at the 11th of the fifth Tibetan lunar month, and the period is not fixed. It lasts more than ten days in some places. When the time comes, Tibetan people bring along the old and the young, and bring food, highland barley wine, buttered tea, Tibetan mat, tent and all kinds of entertaining equipments and instruments to tranquil and tastefully laid out Linka (transliteration of Tibetan which means gardens and parks planted with willows, so common people also say "playing in the willows" instead of strolling around the Linka). People erect white tents on lawn or under old trees, enclose it with several pieces of cloth sheet or plastic sheet and spread Tibetan mat on the ground. They play six-stringed instrument while drinking buttered tea or highland barley wine, and gather happily to have picnic. Some of them play cards, some play chess, some play Kelang ball or chat and laugh, and some sing and dance happily on the green grassland. Besides, some religious rites and such recreational and sports activities as horse race and archery are held during the festival.
Xuedun Festival is one of the traditional festivals that have long history in Tibet. In Tibetan, "xue" means yoghurt, and "dun" means "feast". So "Xuedun Festival" is a festival of drinking yoghurt. Later, because the joint performance of Zang opera became the main content of the festival, it is also called "Zang Opera Festival". It is held at the first day of the seventh Tibetan lunar month, and the period varies from 5 to 7 days.
Before the 17th century, "xuedun" activity in Tibet was a kind of pure religious activity. According to Buddhist regulations and discipline, monks were not allowed to leave temples for dozens of days in the summer, and they should live in peace until the prohibition was lifted. During the days when the prohibition was lifted, monks left temples and went down mountains one after another. Common people would prepare yoghurt to give as alms. Lamas not only drank yoghurt to their hearts' content, but also played happily and heartily. This is the origin of the "xuedun".
At the middle of the 17th century, Zang opera performance was added in "xuedun" activities, and the fixed "Xuedun Festival" was formed. But religious and entertaining activities were still restrained in temples. The Zhebang Temple was the center of Xuedun Festival in Lhasa. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Luobulinka was constructed, and it became summer palace of the Dalai. So Xuedun Festival began to be held in it. City residents and common people around the city were allowed to enter the garden and watch the opera. Then it became a fixed form of festival gradually.
The content of Xuedun Festival today is much richer, and the atmosphere is warmer. When the festival comes, people wear festival rich dresses, carry such daily articles as food, tent, etc, and gather in the Luobulinka to watch opera while playing and resting. People of commercial departments set up stalls around the Luobulinka, and carry out exchange of commercial goods and materials, which makes the old Xuedun Festival present new life and vitality.
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