Tibetan New Year - February 18th 2007 / February 7th 2008
Butter Lamp Festival - March 4th 2007 / March 26th 2008
Saka Dawa Festival - May 31st 2007 / June 18th 2008
Shoton Festival - August 12th-18th 2007 / August 30th-September 5th 2008
Bathing Festival - Middle ten days of September 2007 / Last ten days of September 2008
Ghost-Exorcising Festival - February 5th 2008 / February 23rd 2009
As well as being used to create sculptures, yak butter is also utilised as a fuel for butter lamps. Tibetans burn bowls of yak butter instead of candles as light, and the smell of yak butter is all over Tibet, in every temple, chapel and monastery. The faithful will carry either a thermos flask from which they will top up the burning lamps with hot, melted butter, or a plastic bag with hard butter which they will spoon into the containers in the chapels. Yak butter lamps are quintessentially Tibet, and one of the things I will remember most about my visit.
Yak butter has a significant use in ceremonies. In particular, the 15th day of the first month is a high point of the Great Prayer Festival (Smom-lam), and is known as the "Butter lamp day." The festival started after Tsong kha-pa had a dream where beautiful flowers and trees appeared in front of Buddha. He commissioned monks to make flowers and trees with coloured butter for the first Smom-lam in 1409.
The fifth Dalai Lama. Known as ‘The Great Fifth’, Lobsang Gyantso, is known as the Dalai Lama who unified Tibet and extended his authority to the fringes of Tibetan territory from Mt Kailash area in the west to Kham in the east. During his reign, Tibetan culture flourished – many monasteries were erected, and the Potala Palace was rebuilt. The Dalai Lama also invited Indian scholars to Tibet. At that time, Tibet operated under a form of government called theocracy, a system whereby the spiritual leader is also a king figure. Hence the fifth Dalai Lama became known as a god-king, combining religious and political responsibilities. He is shown holding the wheel of life to symbolise his new-found political power. He died in 1682.
Another very bizarre incident was inside the ground floor chapel in Utse. As we were walking around the chapel, a mobile phone started ringing. I was rather annoyed with my fellow travellers, that they couldn’t switch off their phone when in such a holy place, when I noticed a monk reaching inside his robe and bring out the latest fold-up camera phone. Unreal!
In the ground floor chapel within the Utse, is a row of Red Hat Sect masters. The correct term for what many people call the Red Hat Sect, is the Kagyupa Order. This order of Tibetan Buddhism takes its lineage back through Milarepa and Marpa and eventually to the Indian mahasiddhas. It is divided into numerous sub-orders. The order emphasises the perfection stage of meditation and the practice of the Great Seal, which were introduced to Tibet by Marpa Lo-tsava in 1050 and Zhang Tselpa in 1150 respectively.
One of the more bizarre items I saw inside the ground floor of Utse, the main chapel at Samye, was this candle holder. It is fashioned from a human skull!