Date: Thursday, February 19, 2015 – Traditional Tibetan New year is known as Losar, and it is calculates following a lunar calendar which comprises of twelve months. Tibetan New Year or Losar is celebrated on the first day of the first month of the lunar year.
History: The celebrations of Losar are deep rooted to the traditions and customs of Buddhism. The celebrations however can be traced back to times that are even before Buddhism came into existence. This is the time of the year when people try to appease the local deities so that the deities protect them from all forms of evil round the year. For the purpose it is a custom to light up a huge number of incense sticks. But as people got involved with Buddha and his principles, the traditional Losar celebrations also went through some changes.
People believe that during the reign of the ninth King of Tibet, Pude Gungyal, there lived an old woman who taught all the people how to calculate time based on the lunar phases. In the ancient times, when the society was primarily agrarian, Losar was also the time when the farmers celebrated their harvest. Losar is also known by the name of Bal Gyal Lo. Here, Bal means Tibet, Gyan means King and Lo means year. Losar celebrations get this name since this is the day when people also celebrate the enthronement of the King.
Significant Symbolism: There are some significant symbolisms related to the celebration of Losar. People sketch these symbols on the walls of homes and monasteries using white powder. These symbols are meant to be representations of the offerings that the Gods made to Buddha when he attainted enlightenment. These eight symbols are –
- Parasol – Signifies Royal Dignity.
- A pair of golden fish – Signifies Good Fortune.
- Conch Shell – Carries the sound of Dharma far and wide.
- Lotus Blossom – Signifies Clarity of Mind that would lead to Enlightenment.
- Vase – Signifies prosperity and longevity.
- Victory Banner – Victory over worldly desires, lust and the fear to die.
- The Wheel of Dharma – A very important Buddhist Symbol that remind of the Noble Eightfold Path that would help to end sufferings.
- The Eternal Knot – Signifies the union of wisdom and compassion and the far reaching effects thereof.
Traditions: Tibetan New Year traditions have their base rooted both in local traditions and in Buddhist principles.
- Spring Cleaning – About a month before the New Year, people get into a serious cleansing mode of their abodes. Homes are also beautifully and ornamentally decorated by putting on display the best possessions. It is also the time to change the prayer flags that adorned the house, and new colorful ones are put up. New clothes are must for every member of the family.
- New Year’s Eve Customs – There exists a special New Year’s Eve tradition of making special noodle soup which is known by the name of Guthuk. This soup is made up of dumplings. Each of these dumplings encase one of the nine fortune symbols, namely, pebble, chili pepper, sugar, paper, cotton ball, wool, wood, charcoal, or raw bean. It is believed that the object that one may find while having the soup is probably either the character of the person or an indication of her/his fortune in the New Year. For example, Chili pepper implies a talkative person, Wool symbolizes a person warm at heart, Charcoal implies meanness, Sugar indicates good fortune, and so on.
- New Year’s Day Customs – On the New Year, people generally rise early to dress up in new clothes. It is a common custom for the ladies of the family to rise even before sunrise to cook a wine made of barley. At sunrise, the leading lady of the household goes to a nearby source of water like well, river or pond, to bring home the year’s first bucket of water. The members of the family greet one another after that while enjoying the barley wine. Once the in house rituals are complete people visit their friends and family to exchange greetings and to spread the joy and cheer.
- Evening of the New Year’s Day – In the evening of the New Year’s Day people light up torches and roam around their house and its vicinity yelling all the while which is believed to be an attempt to scare away all that is evil.
Rituals at the Monasteries: In the traditional celebrations of the Tibetan New Year, religious traditions too are involved. In fact, the celebrations for Losar start at the monasteries on the twenty ninth day of the last (twelfth) month according to the traditional lunar calendar that is followed by the Tibetans. On this day a special ritual is performed at the monastery that is believed to appease the deities so that they protect the people all the while in the upcoming New Year. The custom of making Guthuk is also prevalent in the monastery.
People consider it auspicious to wish the Dalai Lama good luck for the New Year and pay Him their respects. For that purpose people often make Ril Bu which are nothing but sacred pills made out of dough of roasted barley. The representatives of the monasteries then offer these Ril Bu to the Dalai Lama as a mark of respect. Entertainers also perform traditional dances before Him. There is also a custom to organize for a debate between two senior monks. The topic of the debate is always related to Buddha, Buddhist principles, his life or teachings. People then thank the Dalai Lama and the senior monks for blessing the common man with their guidance all round the year and to make the common man stay in the path of virtue. The Dalai Lama is then given a ceremonial farewell as He leaves for his own abode.
It is a mandate for all the Tibetan people to visit the monasteries on the third day of the New Year. They do so to pay their respects to the monks. Monks in turn bless them with a mark of chalk which is considered auspicious. People also carry gifts for the monks like food, clothing, blankets etc.
Greetings: The Traditional forms of Tibetan New Year greetings are –
- Happy New Year — Lo Sar Bzang’
- Prosperity and Goodwill — ‘Lo Sar Bey Tashi Delek’.
- Happy and prosperous New Year — ‘Gtan Du Bde Ba Thob Par Shog’
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