The month-long Saga Dawa Festival of Sikkim, one of the most important festivals of the state, is about to commence on June 17. In keeping with the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, Saga Dawa is celebrated to mark the birth, enlightenment, and the attainment of Nirvana of Gautam Buddha.

The festivities mostly happen across Gangtok in the form of processions, prayers, and extending alms to the needy. Since it is observed on the full moon day of the 4th month of the Buddhist Lunar Calendar, a fixed date on the Gregorian calendar is not available for Saga Dawa.

The festival commences with a procession being carried out through the streets of Gangtok; a surreal spectacle for the onlooker. The parade commences from Tsuk La Khang Monastery, and passes through the streets of Gangtok. That is accompanied by lightning of butter lamps, carrying idols of the Buddha, and sacred scriptures being read out across various temples.

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While the festival is celebrated in different countries under different names, Saga Dawa has a history of its own. It is believed that the Mahayana Buddhists of Sikkim have been observing Saga Dawa for centuries now. However, the period for celebrating it was officially decided only in 1950, and since then, the festival has been celebrated on an annual basis.

The highlight of the festival is giving alms to the needy; a virtue practiced throughout the month, conforming to the message of Buddha’s life. Also, as in most festivals of the Northeast, masks play an important role in Saga Dawa as well; the monks wear elaborate masks during the processions.

Gangtok is a major Buddhist pilgrim site in the country; it has some of the most significant temples and monasteries such as the Enchey Monastery and Phodong Monastery. If you’re here during Saga Dawa, make sure you indulge in some hiking and trekking, because June is just the perfect time for some adventure activity here.