Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Religious (Tibetan Buddhist)
Date of Observation: February; twenty-eighth day of the twelth Tibetan lunar month
Where Celebrated: Tibet, northwestern India
Symbols and Customs: Black Hat Dancers, Butter Sculptures, Dosmo, Dumplings, Tsamba
Related Holidays: Losar


Dosmoche, or the Feast of the Dying Year, is celebrated by Tibetan Buddhists in Tibet and northwestern India. Tibetan Buddhism is defined by Tibetan indigenous religious traditions and folk practices as well as by Buddhist teachings. Tibetans observe a form of Buddhism known as Lamaism, Lama Buddhism, or Tibetan Buddhism. It involves belief in evil spirits, magic, and the spirits of nature. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.

Buddhism, one of the four largest religious families in the world, is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B . C . E .) who came to be known as Buddha, or "The Enlightened One." The basic tenets of Buddhism can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the truth and reality of suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) the way to end suffering is to end desire; and 4) the Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of 1) right view or right understanding; 2) right thoughts and aspirations; 3) right speech; 4) right conduct and action; 5) right way of life; 6) right effort; 7) right mindfulness; and 8) right contemplation.

Tibetan Buddhists celebrate Dosmoche for five days just before LOSAR, the Tibetan New Year. The festival centers around the magical wooden pole known as the DOSMO , which is erected on the morning of the first day, and on various rituals designed to frighten away evil spirits that might cause harm during the coming year.

In preparation for the yearly festival, Tibetans plant barley seedlings in small dishes that they offer to Buddha in the hope that he'll bring them a bountiful harvest. They also put together the droso chemar, which is a grain dipper that has been decorated with flowers and ears of barley and then filled with a mixture of TSAMBA (barley flour), roasted wheat, butter, and ginseng to symbolize-much like Americans' THANKSGIVING cornucopia-the wish for a bountiful year. Preparations are particularly elaborate at the palace in Leh, capital of the region of Ladakh in northwestern India, where the traditions associated with Dosmoche originated many centuries ago. Lamas (Tibetan monks) from various monasteries congregate in the courtyard below the palace gates, and there is a festive procession featuring the well-known BLACK HAT DANCERS .

Sacrificial offerings play an important part in the celebration of Dosmoche. They include thread crosses made by the lamas and designed to catch evil spirits in their webs as well as cakes made from TSAMBA dough that are ceremonially burned or brought out to the desert as scapegoats and smashed. Because Tibetan Buddhists believe in magic and evil spirits, most of the activities associated with Dosmoche are aimed at scaring off or placating these spirits and ensuring that no disastrous events will take place in the coming year.

The festival reaches its climax on the fifth day, when the dosmo is torn down and burned. As the people participate in this abrupt end to the celebration, they feel they have done everything in their power to banish any hostile spirits who might wish to do them harm.


Black Hat Dancers

The Black Hat Dancers, also known as Black Hat Magicians, who participate in the celebration of Dosmoche at Leh Palace take their name from the wide-brimmed black hats they wear. Their dance is designed to drive out evil spirits and purify the place where the festival is to be celebrated. It reenacts the story of Langdarma, a king known for persecuting Buddhists. Langdarma was assassinated by a ninthcentury Tibetan monk named Pelkyi Dorje, who hid himself among a group of dancers performing for the king and, without warning, pulled out a bow that he had kept concealed in his costume. The Black Hat Dancers are therefore symbolic of the victory of good over evil.

Butter Sculptures

Tibetans celebrate Dosmoche by making figures out of yak butter. These sculptures range from free-standing figures 30 feet tall to the small flower-like discs that adorn the sacrificial tsamba cakes, and they are sometimes illuminated by special "butter lights." They're not designed to last very long -although the intense winter cold in the Himalayas means that melting isn't a great concern-and for this reason they are a symbol of one of Buddhism's most basic tenets: the transience of the physical world.

Tibetans who don't live in a cold climate make their butter sculptures out of ghee (a clarified liquid butter), wax, and fat. These sculptures are typically displayed as part of a family shrine or in monasteries.


The dosmo is a ceremonial pole decorated with streamers and religious emblems, including stars, crosses, and pentagrams. While such poles are used on other ceremonial occasions-for example, when a new building is dedicated-the one used at Dosmoche is usually higher and has much larger decorations. Like the BLACK HAT DANCERS and other ritual aspects of the holiday, the dosmo is designed to ward off evil spirits.


One of the most popular dishes served during Dosmoche is dumplings, each of which has a symbolic item hidden inside. As family members chew carefully to see what surprise awaits them, they may discover a pebble (symbolizing a hard heart), a small amount of chili (symbolizing the tendency to speak cruelly of others), or a twist of wool (symbolizing a kind heart).


Tsamba, or barley flour, is a staple of the Tibetan diet and plays an important role during Dosmoche. It is common for people to throw handfuls of tsamba at each other as a good-luck gesture, because white is considered an auspicious color. Tsamba is also used to make special offering cakes shaped like cones or pyramids, which the lamas fling on the ground so they break into small pieces. They then invite the evil spirits to help themselves and, in exchange, to leave people alone during the coming year. Small lumps of tsamba-mixed with tea, butter, curds, and sugar-are a popular Tibetan snack.


MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.


Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009


February; first lunar month
Early in the new Tibetan Year the Dosmoche festival is held in Leh in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir State, India. A large dosmo, or pole, decorated with streamers and religious symbols is erected. The lamas make a food and drink offering to the Buddha and the gods after the dosmo is in place as a ritual to drive away evil spirits for the new year. Later the dosmo is torn down and burned, symbolizing that the spirits have been driven away.
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 789
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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