Unveiling of the Buddha – Thangka festival near Labrang Monastery

The Labrang Thangka Festival is an important festival at the old Labrang Monastery that was one of the six leading monasteries of the Geluk tradition of Tibet. The monastery was founded in 1709 during the Qing Dynasty era. It was founded exactly 300 years after the Ganden Monastery near Lhasa was built. Due to its location, the Labrang Monastery was the focal point of conflicts between the Tibetans, Muslims, Chinese, and Mongolians.

Every year, warmly dressed people ascend to the high-elevation monastery to pray and get blessed. Before the unveiling, some people stand on the roofs of some of the buildings. The buildings have a traditional look, and one roof is covered with gold leaf. Crowds are usually huge. Thangka is brought from the monastery through the city by the monks. In the ceremony, first come men on horses and try to disperse crowds. A line of monks dressed in red and violet robes, wearing yellow hats, quickly march out. The first ones clang symbols, and most of the rest carry a large rolled yellow thangka on their shoulders. Thangka is rolled around 20 meters long (in total it measures 20×30 meters).

They take the thangka to a place where they can unroll it down a flat, especially prepared slope. The thangka is in two layers. Two big sheets of cloth initially cover it, and they are pulled off like a curtain to unveil the Buddha figure to the waiting crowd. The Buddha figure has figures of deities around it, every year there is a different Buddha presented – this year it was a Buddha that represented the future. People throw up white pieces of cloth at the thangka to pray, this pieces of cloth sometimes also include money.

The whole ceremony last approximately one hour, when monks begin to roll the thangka. Crowds starts pushing and running towards the sacred thangka, to touch it. In the similar manner the procession came, now heads back towards the monastery, closely followed by people. For an external observer the crowds are huge, and we were one of the rare foreigners (there also weren’t too many Chinese tourists). Ceremony, the unveiling is something special, interesting – it’s similar to what they do in Lhasa, just the crowds are smaller. Tibetans were extremely friendly, approachable, even though we didn’t speak any of their language. The sight is exotic, people are warmly dressed in their traditional clothes.