The seventh month of the Tibetan calendar is thought to be the best time for bathing in Tibet. It is the time when the rainy season has just ended and the sunshine becomes caressing. What is more, the water temperature near the riverbanks is over 20 degrees at the time.
Therefore, when the sacred planet Venus appears for one week in the southern sky, all the people in Tibet go to the banks of the Lhasa River, the Yarlung Zangbo River and other rivers of the region for bathing. They go there by cart or horse, and take along buttered tea, wine and food as well. At the river bank, they set up tents or big umbrellas and then enjoy the whole day bathing.
Usually, Tibetans start the day by washing their quilts, clothes and shoes in the river first. At noontime, when the river water warms up, they jump naked into the river for bathing. Male and female, young and old, all swim, play games and bathe together. In the afternoon, most people like having a party inside the tents or under the trees, where they drink, sing and dance until Venus reappears in the sky. Then they pack up and return to their homes.
The Bathing Festival has a history of at least 700-800 years, and there is a legend behind it. It is said that a long time ago, there was an excellent doctor who was regarded as the “King of Medicine”. After he died, he became immortal.
One year, there was a terrible plague in Tibet and it brought death to both human beings and domestic animals. The people had no other remedy for it but to pray to the immortal. And when he came to know of the situation, he turned himself into a sparkling star; all the vegetables became herbs and the water became medicinal water, with the star’s light going down on the mountains and rivers. It was at that night that all Tibetans had the same dream, in which they saw a bright star rising from the sky over the south east Lhasa city and a faint and sick girl bathing in the clean water of Lhasa River, and when she emerged from the river, the girl was clean, healthy and beautiful. All the people said that it was the immortal who did it. So they went to the river for a bath, and 7 days later, the plague went out and every one recovered after the new star disappeared from the sky. Since then, bathing in the rivers during this seven-day period became a custom, and later turned into a festival.
Tibetan astronomical documents say that at the time between the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, the river is sweet, cool, soft, light and clean. Drinking it will do no harm to the throat or abdomen of human beings or domestic animals. Therefore, it is said that the Bathing Festival is the best for Tibetans.
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