The word Losar is a Tibetan word for New Year. LO means year and SAR means new. Tibetans celebrate their New Year as Losar. The Tibetan New Year is commemorated on the first day of the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, which usually falls in the month of January or February or even in March.The Losar festival is considered to be the most significant of all Tibetan festivals. This festival is celebrated in other countries, such as India, Bhutan and Nepal, as well. Celebrated with immense splendor and grandeur, the Tibetan New Year is characterized by its music, dances and a general spirit of merrymaking. One can witness different traditions and rituals followed to mark this religious occasion.
Commemorated with immense splendor and grandeur, the Tibetan New Year is celebrated across 15 days of which the first three days are the most significant. The Buddhists mark the festival as a victory of good over evil. Symbolizing purification and freshness, Losar is a best excuse for the Tibetans to have a grand feasts and celebrations.
Story behind Losar (Tibetan New Year)
The celebration of Losar can be traced back to the pre-Buddhist period in Tibet. During the period when Tibetans practiced the Bon religion, every winter a spiritual ceremony was held, in which people offered large quantities of incense to appease the local spirits, deities and protectors. The Losar is celebrated even now with lots of fervor among the Tibetan Bon Practitioners here in Exile too. This religious festival later evolved into an annual Buddhist festival which is believed to have originated during the reign of Pude Gungyal, the ninth King of Tibet. The festival is said to have begun when an old woman named Belma introduced the measurement of time based on the phases of the moon. This festival took place during the flowering of the apricot trees of the Lhokha Yarla Shampo region in autumn, and it may have been the first celebration of what has become the traditional farmers' festival. It was during this period that the arts of cultivation, irrigation, refining iron from ore and building bridges were first introduced in Tibet. The ceremonies which were instituted to celebrate these new capabilities can be recognized as precursors of the Losar festival. Later when the rudiments of the science of astrology, based on the five elements, were introduced in Tibet, this farmer's festival became what we now call the Losar or New Year's festival.
How Is The Tibetan New Year Celebrated
A month before the festival arrives, people get engrossed in cleaning their home thoroughly removing every bit of dirt and whitewashing them new. The most attractive and finest decorations are put all across the house and elaborate offerings are made on the family alter. The older prayer flags are replaced with fresh colorful ones. New clothes are made for every member of the family. Eight different auspicious symbols are displayed wherever possible, representing the different offerings made by the Gods to the Buddha, after his enlightenment.
Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is a three-day festival that combines sacred and secular practices of prayers, ceremonies, hanging prayer flags, sacred and folk dancing and partying. A month in advance, homes are painted, new clothes are stitched, debts and quarrels are resolved, good food is cooked and intoxicants are drunk in the run-up to New Year's Day. Homes are decorated with flour paintings of the sun and moon, and small lamps are illuminated in the houses at night. Moreover, the eight auspicious symbols are drawn on the walls using white powder although presently in exile the drawing of the eight auspicious symbols are not done since it requires an professional artist to draw them, however the walls of the home would be having the symbols either as wall hangings or on their doorway curtain or on their family alter. In the monasteries, the monks honor the protector deities with devotional rituals. The first few days of festivities are exclusively family affairs, as are the first days of the New Year. Later, the festivities roll out onto the streets and others.
On the Tibetan New Year's Eve, cakes, candies, breads, fruits and beer are offered on the family altars. The family alter would be decorated its best on the eve of the New Year and would be kept the same for the coming 15 days. The family alter will have a Derga, a heap of cookies called as khapsay (literally "mouth-eat") heaped together on eachother. Khapsay are generally prepared with flattened dough, deep fried with lots of different designs. They are usually made for the formal celebration like marriages, enthronement of lama and so on; however khapsay is an absolute requirement for the proper celebration of the Tibetan New Year. The Derga is made from a heap of a very popular khapsay known as bhungue amcho (donkey ears) but which should properly be called the khugo, it will look like a large old telephone handset. And along with the derga, the alter will also have a bottle of chang (barley wine), a tuft of green grassy leaves of wheat grown in a small vase called loboe, a propitious funneled container called bow with two parts in which one would have tsampa (powdered barley) and the other would have barley seeds. During the losar, the ting (a set of small container) usually used to offer water on the family alter would be filled to the brim with different dry fruits, rice, candies or even chocolates.
The Tibetan calendar is made up of twelve lunar months and Losar begins on the first day of the first month. In the monasteries, the celebrations for the Losar begin on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month. That is the day before the Tibetan New Year's Eve. On that day the monasteries do a protector deities' puja (a special kind of ritual) and begin preparations for the Losar celebrations. The custom that day is to make special noodle called guthuk.
This traditional soup called guthuk is prepared from meat, wheat, cheese, peas, green peppers, vermicelli and radishes, along with small dumplings is a kind of family gathering pre-losar party, sometimes few family join together to celebrate it. The dumplings are filled with nine different fortune symbols that indicate a person's fortune in the coming year. The dough balls or the dumplings are given out with various ingredients hidden in them such as chilies, salt, wool, rice and coal. The ingredients one finds hidden in one's dough ball after it is served in your bowl are supposed to be a lighthearted comment on one's character. If a person finds chilies in their dough, it means they are talkative. If white-colored ingredients like salt, wool or rice are inside the dough it is considered a good sign. If a person finds coal in the dough it has much the same meaning as finding coal in one's Christmas stocking; it means you have a "black heart".
These dumplings would later be discarded with looe (a small mannequin of a small man) and a small lamp lit up with a little amount of oil, made from dough to a road crossing where three roads meet to discard all the evils of the year and ward off all the evils of the New Year. The healthiest of the family is usually the one who is to dump it and he is not supposed to look back towards the direction of the looe till he gets inside his home. It usually ends with lots of firecrackers and yelling to ward off evil spirits from approaching their homes.
On the first day of the New Year, the leading lady of each of the house wakes up early and cooks a pot of barley wine for the family. In the olden times, she then sits by the window and waits for the sunrise. At the first ray of the sunshine, she takes bucket and heads to the nearby river to get the first bucket of water of the New Year. And now in exile in India, certain settlements, having only a common public tap would display a fierce competition for the first water from the tap on the first day of the Losar. Most of the other homes do have water flowing directly from the tap in their home, therefore they make the tap auspicious by putting a khatak (traditional greeting scarves) and marking it with butter on its mouth.
The rituals for the first day of the losar start with the leading lady serving the barley wine to the family at the dawn of the first day. The family rises up much earlier than usual and dresses in their finest and new clothes. A sweet buttered rice preparation garnished with dry fruits and a dish considered very auspicious called dresi, is served as breakfast, after offering prayer to the family alter and wishing luck to each other.
The first day of Losar is usually restricted to the immediate family or the closest friends or for praying or for visiting the Local monastery. The second day is for get together parties and the third is usually reserved for visiting the monasteries, shrines and stupas making offerings to the monks and nuns in the form of gifts and money, where the monks and the nuns honor the protector deities with devotional rituals. On this day, everybody meets everybody else of the locality with their finest clothes and jewelry.
Importance of Tibetan New Year
Losar is marked as the most significant festival and the biggest celebration of the year for the Tibetans. It is a time for them to exchange the warmest greetings with their fellow relatives, family members, neighbors and everyone around. Tibetans consider Losar to be a mass celebration, complete relaxation and plenty of festivities. The festival gives them an opportunity to dress in their best clothes and feast on numerous luxurious festive meals. The Tibetans offer Khatak (traditional greeting scarves) on the home altars and in monasteries. These scarves are rested on one another also while greeting heartfelt 'tashi delek' (good luck). This resembles conveying auspiciousness and prosperity to them in the coming year.
Losar is a time for people to meet one another and spent some quality time with them. One can see family gatherings, lavish spending and joyous atmosphere at every Tibetan home. The Tibetans follow the culture of welcoming guests with a kind heart and great hospitality. However, on this special occasion, the cultured values are highly noticeable. Tibetans believe that one has to be highly warm hearted, generous and welcoming during this religious occasion. The temper of the person determines how the person would be throughout the next year. Hence, every Buddhist is required to be in a jovial and bright mood, so that he is blessed with good and happy expressions round the year.
The guests are welcomed with a hearty meal and the overflowing Chang beer. Preparations for the festival begin well in advance. People clean their homes and shops and decorate them with religious offerings. Numerous luxurious foods and drinks are made marking the occasion. The most popular Losar delicacies include the traditional Tibetan dish, Dresi (sweet buttered rice with raisins and small fibrous potatoes called dromas), Kabsay (a fried sweet or salted baked snack in different shapes and forms), different meat varieties, fruits, breads, butter tea and others. Prayers and offerings are made in monasteries by the whole family, together.
What is in there for me?
It is a festival of life, celebration and prayers. The festival brings out the true nature of the Tibetans as a happy people no matter what the situation is. The New Year is celebrated three days and even the government offices are closed for those three days which marks the importance of the festival by the Tibetans. It is during this festival when the Tibetans mostly feel at home in exile.
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