Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the Buddha, is celebrated in April/May. Referred as the Saga Dasa in Sikkimese and Vishakha Puja in the Theravada tradition, it is the most important of all the Buddhist festivals. Fa-Hien, the famous Chinese traveller who visited India in the fifth century, recorded the celebration of this festival. The main centres of its celebration are Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh and Bodh Gaya in Bihar. The rituals of this day include prayers, sermons on the life of Gautama Buddha, continuous recitation of Buddhist scriptures, meditation by monks and devotees and worship of the Buddha as well as the Bodhi tree. The rituals connected with this festival are different among various sects of Buddhists in India.
The Mahayana Buddhists organise a procession of monks with gyalings and rabdungs and read Kangyur texts. The Theravada Buddhists offer ceremonial prayers to the idols of Buddha.
Losar is the New Year Festival of Mahayana Buddhists, generally known as Sonam Losar in Sikkim, which falls on the 25th day of the 10th month of the Tibetan calendar, corresponding to December. The festival is generally celebrated with great merriment and revelry over a period of seven days as a thanksgiving feast by farmers. An important ritual of this festival is called Meto that involves lighting of three bundles of willow and juniper branches and making special offerings to appease the deity. Losar also involves a rite called Mesol in which male members of a family visit the crematoria to honour the ancestors.
The Tsechu Festival is held in many monasteries of the Indian subcontinent to commemorate the birth of Padmasambhava. In Sikkim it is observed for three days from the 10th day of the Buddhist month of Dawa Napha (May-June), while in Ladakh it is celebrated from the tenth day of the month of Dawa Dhunpha (July-August). The festival symbolises the strength of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and virtue over vice. Some also consider this festival as mark of the victory of ‘Lamaism’ over ‘Shamanism’.