Maghe Sankranti, or the first day of the tenth month of the Bikram Sambat calendar which heralds the onset of warmer weather is a major secular festival of the Nepalese. Known as Makker Sakranti in other parts of India, the festival is observed for three days, usually in mid January. It falls on the fourteenth of January every year. A bathing festival called Makkar is observed, when people take a dip at the confluence of the Tista and Rangit.
On this day huge Fairs and melas are held in many places along the river banks and confluence of rivers. The biggest and most awaited is the Jorethang Maghe Mela, held in Jorethang in south Sikkim. It has now become a major event, attracting hordes of locals and tourists. The mela is said to have evolved from the agricultural fair that was held in Jorethang for the first time in 1955. Hundreds of stalls selling and exhibiting various products are put up for the huge number of people who visit the fair.
Losar is the Tibetan New Year which falls in the month of February and is likewise celebrated by inviting friends and relatives for family gatherings. Two days prior to Losar, the Gutor Chaam is performed at Rumtek monastery depicting the battle between good and evil and the ritualized destruction of evil.
Sonam Lochar is an important festival of Tamang community. The festival falls in the month January - February (Magha Sukla Pakcha) Spring season. Like other communities, the Tamangs also celebrate their festival with great joy and religious fervour which lasts for five to fifteen days from place to place.
Ramnawami (Chaite Dasain)
‘Chaite Dashain’ makes for one of the most important religious festivals for the Nepali community inhibiting the Himalayan state of Sikkim in India. The festival, also known as ‘Small Dashain’ is commonly celebrated as ‘Ram Navami’ in other parts of the country, commemorating the birth of Lord Rama on this auspicious day during the Pre-Vedic times. People on this day, visit Lord Rama temples, hold family get-togethers and enjoy festive meals.
Saga Dawa or the Triple Blessed Festival is an auspicious month for the Sikkimese Buddhists with prayers held throughout the month in various monasteries. On the full moon of this 4th month of the Tibetan calendar [celebrated as Buddha Purnima in the rest of India] is the main celebration.
Nepalese people commemorate 29th Asar as “Bhanu jayanti” (usually on 13 July), the birthday of Bhanubhakta Acharya, who is also more popularly known as “Nepal ka Adikavi” (Nepal’s first poet).
Bhanubhakta was a first Nepali poet who translated the great epic “Ramayana” from Sanskrit to Nepali. His writing was significant in the then Nepalese society where common people did not have access to this great epic. Only people belonging to Brahmin families were educated and could read and write Sanskrit. His translation of Ramayan in Nepali language was a milestone in Nepali literature as it was written in common language understood by all.
Drukpa Tsheshi is celebrated on the 4th day (Tsheshi) of the 6th month (Drukpa) of the Tibetan Calendar. According to the English Calendar, it falls somewhere around July or August each year.
Coming to the legend behind the festival, it is observed to celebrate Lord Buddha and his first preaching of the Four Noble Truths. This preaching was granted to his five disciples at the Deer Park in Sarnath. The first noble truth acquaints with suffering. The second noble truth acclaims the truth of the origin of suffering, accident, chance, illusion and their causes. The third noble truth confirms the termination of suffering or the realization of 'Nirvana'. The fourth noble truth says about the truth of the Eight Fold Path, which eventually leads to Nirvana.
Tendong Lho Rum Faat
Tendong Lho Rum Faat is one of the oldest festivals of the Lepchas and is usually held in August. The 3 day celebrations begin with the offering of prayers to Mount Tendong in South Sikkim. Legend has it that Mt. Tendong saved the Lepcha people during the great deluge which flooded the entire Mayel Lyang country, now known as Sikkim. The festival is an annual thanksgiving to the saviour mountain.
Various literary and cultural programmes are held in the state capital to commemorate the occasion. On the concluding day, exhibits on traditional Lepcha food, costumes and ornaments are displayed.
Guru Rimpoche’s Thunkar Tshechu
The birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Sikkim is celebrated with great pomp in the state. It falls on the tenth day of the fifth Tibetan month. In Gangtok a procession carrying the statue of the Guru is taken around town. Chaams are held at Rumtek monastery celebrating different episodes from his life.
Indra Jatra or “Yenya” is the biggest festival for the Nepalese “NEWAR” community in Sikkim and is celebrated with much fanfare throughout the state. Named after the Hindu God of Rain and also the King of Heaven, Lord Indra, the festival’s prime objective is to seek his blessings in the form of rains and showers.
The legend of the festival goes back to the Vedic times when Lord Indra was imprisoned by the people of Kathmandu Valley, after having him caught stealing the rare and fragrant ‘Parijat Flowers’ from the valley for his mother. It is then when the people realized who he actually was, they released him and promised to dedicate one of the most colourful festivals to him, also in return requesting him to visit the valley every year, thereby blessing it with rains and prosperity.
While it is pre-dominantly a Nepalese festival, it is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm by the Nepalese Newar Gutthi community in Sikkim too and was introduced here in the year 2000 followed by its declaration as the state holiday in 2011.
This festival is unique to Sikkim and commemorates the consecration of Mount Khangchendzonga as the guardian deity of Sikkim. It is believed that the mountain god played an active role in introducing Buddhism into this former kingdom. According to a handwritten biography by Lhatsun Chenpo, the chief propagator of Buddhism in Sikkim, it was divine visions sent by the mountain god which guided him to Demajong (the hidden valley of rice, as Sikkim is referred to by the Bhutias).
To this day the mountain god is invoked and prayed upon at Pang Lhabsol to continue protecting Sikkim. The festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th month of the Tibetan calendar corresponding to late August/early September. The ‘chaams’ which are part of this festival are unique and the spectacular Pangtoed or warrior dance was choreographed by the third Chogyal Chador Namgyal, which is said to have appeared to him in a vision.
The festival also marks the commemoration of blood brotherhood sworn between the Lepchas and the Bhutias at Kabi in the 15th century.
Durga Puja (Dassain)
This is the main festival of the Hindu Nepalese of Sikkim. It takes place in the month of September-October. It is celebrated in the same way as Dushera in other parts of the country. The puja of Goddess Durga is performed from the first day (Prathama) to the ninth day (Navmi).
On the tenth day, the elders in every family apply 'tika' on the young ones and bless them. Cash or gift in kind is also given by the elders. The very next day, the statue of Goddess Durga is taken in a colourful procession for its immersion in a lake or river. This marks the end of Dassain.
Deepawali (Laxmi Puja)
It corresponds to the festival of Diwali, the festival of lights. It is celebrated exactly a fortnight after Dasain. According to the legend, Lord Ram's return to Ayodhya after fourteen years in exile was celebrated on this particular day by lighting of earthen lamps all over. Before the festival, all the Hindus clean, white wash and paint their houses and surrounding areas. These are also decorated with marigold flowers and buntings. Earthen lamps and candles are lit and electrical decoration also takes place. People worship Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth too at night.
The festival goes on for five days. As per tradition, each day is dedicated to worship of a particularly entity or living being. On the first day i.e. Kag Tihaar, crows are fed with home prepared delicacies. The second day known as Kukoor Tihaar, is dedicated to the dogs. They are garlanded and fed special food prepared from meat and rice. On the third day, i.e. Gai Tihaar, cows are honoured, garlanded and fed a specially prepared food. The day four is known as Gom Tihaar, when oxen are worshipped and fed. On the last day, Bhai Tika is performed when the girls put coloured rice mixed 'Tika' on the forehead of their brothers. Group of girls gather together to sing traditional carols known as 'Bhailo' at night. From the next morning, group of boys and men go on singing 'Deusi'. The dancing and singing parties keep visiting several houses for a couple of days.
On the sacred day of Lhabab Duchen, followers of Buddhism throng to monasteries to light butter lamps, burn incense and offer special prayers to Lord Buddha; monks and lamas spend whole day reading the holy scriptures and purifying the air with their chanting of mantras. An important highlight of this holy festival is marked by placing freshly painted ladders on the rocks by the monasteries to symbolize holy descent of Buddha from Trayastrimsa (The Heaven of Thirty Three).
Teyongsi Srijunga Sawan Tongnam
Observed by the Limboo Community in Sikkim, Teyongsi Sirijunga Sawan Tongnam, marks the birth anniversary of the famous 18th century scholar Teyongsi Sirijunga, who is greatly remembered for his legendary role as a revivalist of the Limboo’s age old traditional legacy in the state. The festival is one of the most significant for these native tribes, who celebrate it every year with great zeal and passion. Various cultural programs and award ceremonies felicitating some great personalities for their contribution towards the literary, social and cultural development of the Limboo ethnic group, are few of the integral highpoints of the celebrations.
Barahimizong is a festival observed by the Mangar Community in Sikkim. One of the most significant festivals for this tribe, it is celebrated as a day when Mangar people come together to pay homage to their forefathers and kuldevtaas by performing various religious rituals and rites. These ceremonies are followed by a number of cultural performances and on-the spot competitions. Traditional Mangar food is also an integral part of the celebrations and provide for an exotic treat to avid foodies and gastronomes.
The first Barahimizong Festival was held in 1998 with the prime objective of keeping alive, the cultural and traditional heritage of the community. It was with the efforts of the “Akhil Sikkim Mangar Sangh (ASMS)” and the “State Government of Sikkim” that the festival was a great success at its first event itself. Today, Barahimizong has reached even greater heights and provides for a wonderful spectacle of communal harmony in the state to the outsiders.
Sakewa is one of the most significant cultural and religious festivals for the Kirat Khambu Rai community in Sikkim. Celebrated as a homage to Mother Earth, it commences by performing Bhumi Puja followed by community dances and other rituals. Entire state comes alive during the colourful festivities of Sakewa with sounds of drums and cymbals reverberating in the air, and people all around the corners soaking themselves in the aura of merry making and celebrations.
The Kirat Rai people are believed to be some of the most ancient people of Himalayas. They are said to be nature worshippers and this tradition of theirs offering reverence to nature gods, praying for the well-being of all living creatures around the world, has been existing since ancient times.
One of the most popular Buddhist festivals, Kagyed Chaam, is a celebration that is marked by masked monks and lamas performing some rigorous dance moves, symbolizing destruction of all the evil and negative forces, thereby bringing in peace and prosperity for one and all in the upcoming new year. Various important scenes from Buddhist mythology are enacted during this dance, which eventually comes to a closure by burning off effigies made with flour, wood and paper. The festival is not only held in high regards by the locals but, also by international tourists who believe in teachings of Buddha and find seeing this dance as an eternal blessing.
Kagyed is a form of Cham Masked Dance performed by Buddhist monks and lamas as their reverence to the almighty and as a means to ward off evils. The history of cham dances dates back to the times of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism in Sikkim, who is said to have performed this dance to a vanquish a demon from this holy land. A number of variants of these cham dances are performed on different festivals, with one thing remaining common in all i.e. the masks representing scores of human, deities and animal faces enacting an interesting story from the Buddhist mythology.
Losoong also called Namsoong by the Lepchas is the Sikkimese is usually the time when the farmers rejoice and celebrate their harvest. Although the festival is celebrated privately among family members and friends there is an air of festivity all around. The Black Hat dance takes place at this festival commemorating the victory of good over evil, with ‘chaams’ held in many monasteries two days prior to Losoong.
The festival of Lossong is mostly celebrated in the month of December every year with traditional gaiety and colour both by the Lepchas and Bhutias. Certain competitions are also held in traditional skills, such as, archery and bouts of merry making go on for days.
Tamu Lochar is one of the traditional festivals of the Gurung Community. It marks the beginning of the Gurung New Year which falls on the 15th day of Pusa, according Vikram Sambat and 30th December in English Calendar. The festival is celebrated with the family and community as a whole.