The Monlam prayer festival is actually almost a two week event. The festival starts on the fourth day of the Tibetan calender and ends of the fifteenth day that is the day called the Butter Lamp Festival that is the greatest and last day of the Monlam Festival. So one long festival season that lasts for fifteen days starts on the 1st day of the Tibetan year that is the Tibetan New Year Festival and ends on the 15th called the Butter Lamp Festival. During the Monlam Festival, Buddhists pray and commemorate the miracles Buddha contribution for the past 2,500 years.
The goal of the entire Monlam Festival season is to remember Buddha and his activities and to pray. So if you go to Tibet during that time, you can see Buddhists go to the monasteries and temples to pray. It is said by many that the goal of the festival season is to pray for the long life of all the holy gurus of all traditions, for the survival and spreading of Buddha’s teachings in the minds of all sentient beings, and for world peace.
In the temples, people will light more butter lamps. Butter lamps are simply yak butter or vegetable oil in a bowl with a wick. The lamps produce a smoky light. In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, a lot of lights together are conducive for meditation and focusing the mind. According to the Root Tantra of Chakrasamvara, “If you wish for sublime realization, offer hundreds of lights.” So on special holidays, people and monks at the temples light thousands of lamps. On the last day of the Monlam festival called the Butter Lamp Festival, people put many more up and even put them on scaffolds.
During the festival, Tibetans listen to teachings and donate to the monasteries, monks and nuns. They also engage in making merry. A good place to see this happen is on Barkhor Street in Lhasa where the traditional buildings still stand and where the most important Tibetan Buddhist temple called Jokhang Temple stands. During the Butter Lamp festival on the night of the full moon, Tibetans traditionally stay out and make merry and sing until dawn, and thousands of Butter Lamps burn filling the air with their smoke.