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After Buddha attained Nirvana, differences of opinion arouse in the religion causing the formation of new sects. Finally in about 100 AD a split took place and caused the formation of two schools, which later became known as the Hinayana (Southern) and the Mahayana (Northern). The Hinayana adhered to more primitive Buddhism, which was primarily a primarily a philosophy with rules and ethics and emphasized on realisation of Nirvana (freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth) only for oneself by directly worshipping the Buddha. The Mahayana schools believes in attaining Nirvana by worshipping the deities called Bodhisattvas who do not want to attain Nirvana until they have freed all the humanity from suffering. The Mahayana has a wider base as it believes in attaining Nirvana for oneself as well as all suffering humanity.

The native religion of Tibet was called Bon which is said to be founded by Shenrab Mibo. This religion was fused and refined by Buddhism by Guru Padmasambva and this gave



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birth to the Red Hat Sect of Buddhism. The Red Hat Sect was further reformed by Atisha and the Kadampa sect was established. Tsong-kha-pa modified the Kadampa and led to the formation of the Yellow Sect.

Tibetan Buddhism is therefore divided into the Red and Yellow Sects. The Red Sect comprises of the Nyingma, Kargya and Sakya lineages and the Yellow Sect consists of the Gelugpa lineaga. Whereas the Nyingma Sect is associated with Guru Padmasambva, the founders of Kargyu and Sakya are said to be Marpa and Sakya Muni respectively. The sects and the lineages are differentiated from each other by the rituals performed, monastic discipline and the founder. However the differences tend to blur with rituals of one lineage overlapping the other.

The Tibetan sacred books are called the Kanjur and the Tanjur. The Kanjur correspond to the teachings of the Buddha whereas the Tanjur are related to the teachings to the Bodhisattvas. Each year of the Buddhist calendar is named after an animal.

This fortnight long festival usually falls in the month of October. Also known as Durga Puja, this festival symbolizes the victory of the Hindu Goddess Durga over the forces of evil. On the first day barley seeds are sown in the soil and their growth a few inches foretells a good harvest. The next important day, a week later is Fulpati meanintgt the "day of flowers". Maha Astami and Kala Ratri follow Fulpati. The next day is Navami. The 10th day of the festival is known as Vijay Dashmi and also marks the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana. During this day people smear their foreheads with coloured rice and the barley sprouts which were sown on the first day of Dasain are picked and place over the ears.

Tihar is the "Festival of Lights" and symbolises the return of Lord Ram to his hometown from exile after victory over Ravana and covers a period of five days. The festival honours certain animals on successive days. The first day known as "Kak Tihar" is dedicated to crows and they are offered rice and some if caught are even garlanded. On the second day, which is known as "Kukkur Tihar", dogs are garlanded. On the third day the cows are honoured with garlands and their horns are painted in bright colours. It is the turn of the bullocks on the fourth day.

Diwali, which falls on the third day is considered to be the most important day when goddess Lakshmi comes visiting every home which is lit bright with candles and electric lights. The fifth day is also known as Bhai Tika in which brothers visit the homes of their sisters and they apply tikas vermilion to each other foreheads. It is also an occasion for exchanging gifts. During Tihar, traditional carols called Bailo or Deusi are sung.

This festival falls in the month of January and honours the Hindu Goddess of knowledge "Saraswati". School children place their study books in front of the statue and seek blessings for doing well in their studies.


This festival takes place in mid January. Makar sankranti signifies the day the sun enters the constellation of makar or capricorm. It marks beginning of the lengthening of days. Fairs are held on the banks of the confluence of rivers. It is an occasion for villagers to gather, meet each other and make purchases.

This festival commemorates the birthday of Lord Krishna.

This festival takes place on 17th September every year and honour Vishwa Karma - the God of Machines, statues of this deity are put up in temporary sheds called pandals and worshipped especially by those who are involved in handling machines like drivers and mechanics.

This is the Triple Blessed Festival and is considered as the holiest of the holy Buddhist Festivals. On this day in different years of his life, Lord Buddha took birth, achieved Enlightenment and passed away attaining Nirvana, three important events celebrated in the festival of Saga Dawa.

Lord Buddha was born in Lumbini in Nepal to King Sudhodhna and Queen Maha Maya of the Sakya Clan around 560 BC. He was named Sidhartha and his parents took all the pains to make his life comfortable and keep him ensconced from the miseries of the world. At the age of twenty nine, realisation dawned upon Prince Siddhartha that all the worldly pleasures were transient and unreal and that the ultimate truth lay elsewhere. He renounced the world and after wandering for many years in search of the truth reached Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh (India), where he meditated under the Bodhi trees and attained Enlightenment at the age of thirty five. Buddha, the Enlightened One, left for his heavenly abode at the age of eighty one at Kusinara on attaining Nirvana or deliverance into bliss.

At Gangtok a highlight of Saga Dawa is the procession carrying the Holy books of the teachings of Buddha from the Tsuklakhang Monastery in the Palace around the town.

This festival is held on the full moon of the 4th month of the Buddhist calendar around the end of May and early June.

This festival symbolises the Descent of Buddha from the heaven of the thirty three gods after visiting his mother. Dhuechen means festivals, Lha means heaven and Bab means descent.

Legends says that Queen Maha Maya, the mother of Lord Buddha, did not live long after his birth and took rebirth in Trayastrimsa or the heaven of the thirty Gods. After attaining Enlightenment, Lord Buddha through spiritual powers came to know about the whereabouts of his mother and at the age of forty one ascended to the heavens along with thousands of his followers. Lord Buddha stayed in heaven for three months during which he delivered sermons to his mother and other celestial beings. Lord Buddha had left behind on earth one of his disciples, Maudgalyayana, as his representative. This disciple and other devotees of the Lord could not bear the long separation and longed to hear his preachings, Maugalyayana, who possessed miraculous powers, was exhorted to go up to the heaven to request the Lord to return back to the earth. The gods were not willing to let Lord Buddha return back to earth but Maugalyana suggested that as the earthly beings did not have the powers to visit heaven, the celestial being could come to the earth to attend his preaching. Lord Buddha finally relented and descended to the earth at a place called Sankasya along a triple ladder that was prepared especially for the occasion by Viswakarma, the God of Machines.

This festival celebrates Buddha's first preaching of the four Noble Truths to his first five disciples in a deer park at Sarnath. The first is the Noble Truth of suffering. The Second Noble Truth is the truth of the origin of suffering Karma and Delusion and their causes. The third Noble Truth is the cessation of the suffering or the attainment of Nirvana. The fourth Noble Truth is the truth of the Eight Fold Path leading to Nirvana. The day falls on the fourth day (Teshi) of the sixth Tibetan month (Drukpa).

This festival is held on the 4th day of the month of the Buddhist calendar around August. At Gangtok, Drupka Teshi is marked by prayers at the Deer Park and at a secluded place called Muguthang in extreme North Sikkim the festival is celebrated by holding a Yak race.


This festival is quite unique to Sikkim. It was popularised by the third Chogyal of Sikkim, Chakdor Namgyal. In this festival the snowy range of Kachendzonga is worshipped for its unifying powers. This festival marks the signing of the treaty of brotherhood between the Lepchas and Bhutias by Khye Bumsa and Tetong Tek when the local deities were invoked to witness the occasion. In fact Phang means witness. On this day, the guardian deity is portrayed by masked Lama dances as a fiery red-faced deity with a crown of five skulls, riding a snow lion. To lighten the mood of the spectators, jesters called 'Atchars' play antics during the Chaams.

This festival is held on the 15th day of the 7th month around the end of August.


Losoong marks the end of the harvest season and also the end of the tenth month of the Tibetan Year. Chaam dancing's at the monasteries at Palace (Tsulakhang), Phooding and Rumtek, archery

competitions and festivities mark the event. Men become gods during the dances and don attires with mystical symbols. The dances symbolise the exorcizing of the evil spirits of the year and the welcoming of the good spirit of the new year.

It is the Tibetan New Year and is marked with lot of gaiety and festivity. It falls normally in the month of February.

This festival is held at the monastery at Tashiding in the month of January or February. During the festival, the pot containing the Holy water is opened by the lamas of the monastery. The level of water in the pot foretells the future for the forthcoming year. If the water is to the brim, it foretells a year in which peace and prosperity will prevail. If the water is over the brim and is spilling signifies a year with natural disaster and flood , it prophesies bloodshed and disturbances. If the water lever is low or almost dry it signifies famine. Bum in fact means "pot or vase" and chu means "water". A part of the holy water is distributed amongst the gathering of devotes and the pot is replenished with river water and sealed at the end of the festival to be opened only in the next Bumchu.