Mönlam & Labrang festival
What is the meaning ?
The third day of the year begins the festival Mönlam Chenmo, “the great prayer”, which is the continuation of the festivities of the Tibetan New Year. The Mönlam ends around the middle of the first lunar month.
This ceremony was instituted in 1409 by the reformer Tsongkhapa, initiator of the Gelugpa School who lived at Kumbum Ta’ersi Monastery near Xining. It is particularly followed in Gelugpa monasteries (sect of yellow caps), and therefore in the Amdo – cradle of this school.
The New Year is a harbinger of the renewal of nature and the Mönlam symbolizes spiritual renewal.
What are the festivities?
See below in the part “places” because the festivities vary from one monastery to another.
The Mönlam of Labrang (Xiahe in Gansu) is reputed to be one of the most popular of Amdo and its progress is well representative.
Where the festivities take place?
Xiahe, monastery of Labrang
Populations in the Xiahe area and monks from all over the country gather in the monasteries of eastern Tibet, including Labrang to celebrate the Mönlam holiday. It has several highlights:
The 13th day: On the banks of the Daxia River, in front of the golden-roofed Chorten Gongtang, the unfolding of the Thanka, a godly image (30 × 20 meters) spread out on the side of the hill.
The 14th day: Dances and sacred theater show take place, it is in Kham that develops the Nyingmapa school renowned for the high spirituality of its masters and its sacred art: rituals, songs, music and dances. Dances are laden with symbols such as the eradication of the ego by means of the sword of knowledge.
The 15th day: Ceremony of the Torma and yak butter sculptures. Of Indian origin, it is a cake-offering, specially prepared and dedicated to Buddha, Bodhisattva, and Dharma Protectors, during a ceremony of ritual offering. This practice lead to the creation, at Kumbum Ta’ersi in Xining, of an art form unique in the world.
Traditionally, these multicolored sculptures made of flour and butter were the subject of competition between the monks of the different colleges. Those of Labrang unveil spectacular giant hand-carved Tormas, around the third day of the Mönlam.
The 16th day: Huge processions dedicated to the Buddha of the future Matreya Buddha unfold in order to bless the believers and in the hope of improving the future for all.
Great philosophical debates are organized, which attract the members of the most important monastic universities of the Lhasa region: Drépung, former seat of the famous sect of “Yellow caps”, Séra, Ganden … The festival attracts many pilgrims and is punctuated by impressive ceremonies. On the fifteenth day, for example, gigantic yak butter statues are displayed around the Barkhor, the pilgrimage path that surrounds the sacred temple of Jokhang, and there are singing and dancing performances.