The Saga Dawa Festival honors the life of Buddha. According to their tradition, when Buddha was dying, he instructed one of his followers not to honor him merely with flowers, incense and lights but by striving to follow his teachings about leading a noble life and being kind and compassionate. He urged people not to weep about his death but to remember that all compound objects like the human body must eventually disintegrate. In various Buddhist countries, people celebrate the holiday in different ways and on different days.
Each year on this day near a place called Kailash Kora, the old prayer flagpole is taken down and the new one is put up. The prayer flagpole is a tall pole from which are hung hundreds if not thousands of multicolored prayer flags. Each prayer flag represents a prayer that someone wants fulfilled. The flags fly in the air so as to increase the potentialities for answering. There is a tradition that if the pole is not set well upright, it means that Tibet is in trouble. So it is thought to be very important to set the pole up accurately, and only the best pole setter-upper is allowed to perform the duty. People are relieved and joyous if it is set up accurately. Adding to the spectacle of the Tibetans worshiping, the scenery in the area is ruggedly beautiful with rocky cliffs and high snow-capped mountain peaks.
The main point of the festival is to pray. Tibetan Buddhists go to monasteries and temples to pray during the Saga Dawa Festival. One place in Lhasa where crowds of Tibetans gather to pray is the Potala Palace. Hundreds of people pray in front of it. People also go to a park near the Potala Palace that is called Dzongyab Lukhang Park for a large-scale outdoor picnic in the late afternoon.
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 holiday, people and monks at the temples light thousands of lamps.