LOSAR Tibetan New Year

From being a farmer’s festival to a Buddhist festival it now represents a time of cleansing and evaluation

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

Known as the Tibetan new year, Losar is also celebrated in Bhutan and by certain ethnic groups in other nations as the new year. The word translates to new year or fresh age. It is also known in Tibet as BalGyal Lo with Bal standing for Tibet, Gyal for king and, Lo for year. As such the Tibetan new year has been celebrated since the time when the first Tibetan king ascended the throne.
The Himalayan tribes of Yolmo, Sherpa, Tamang, Gurung, Bhutia, Monpa, Sherdukpen among others celebrate Losar. In India, regions with a concentration of Buddhist population, states like Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, celebrate the festival.

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ORIGIN & EVOLUTION
Some celebrate it for three days and others for 15 days. In earlier times, it had occurred on the winter solstice. The Bon religion is said to have risen in the 11th century in Tibet and it was during this period that Losar rose in significance. According to belief, a woman named Belma gave the measurement of time based on moon phases and this measurement gave rise to Losar.
It is believed that during the ninth Tibetan emperor, PudeGungyal’s reign, it evolved from being a regional
festival into a Buddhist festival.

CELEBRATIONS IN MONASTERIES

The Tibetan calendar has 12 lunar months. In monasteries, celebrations begin on the 29th day of the twelfth month, which is the Tibetan new year’s eve.A ritual is performed to the protector deities and celebrations for Losar begin.

A special noodle soup called Guthuk is made. After a thorough cleaning, monasteries are decorated and elaborate offerings known as Lama Losar are made.

When it is early dawn, monks at the Namgyal monastery offer a sacrificial cake atop the Potala temple in Tibet to PaldenLhamo, the goddess protector of Dharma and invoke her. The Dalai Lama would lead the abbots of three great monasteries, lamas, monks, officials and dignitaries in prayers. At the end of it they would assemble in the hall of the Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana and exchange the traditional greeting – TashiDelek.

Representatives of three great monasteriesand others offer sacred pills made of roasted barley dough to the Dalai Lama to wish him good luck for the new year. Entertainers perform a dance of good wishes. Two senior monks conduct a debate on Buddhist philosophy after which a specially composed recitation takes place in which the entire Buddhist teaching is reviewed in brief. The Dalai Lama would retire to his palace after the ceremonial farewell.

The second day is the King’s Losar, in which the Dalai Lama and the government exchange greetings with monastic and lay dignitaries, including foreign visitors. The celebrations are open to the public from the third day.

SIGNIFICANCE OF GUTHUK

Guthuk, a noodle soup with nine ingredients, including Asian radish, mushrooms, celery, cilantro, dried cheese, green peas among other ingredients, is made on the eve of Losar. The noodles are small, shell-shaped and hand-made. A large dough ball is added to each bowl of soup, large enough that it is not mistaken for the normal noodles. It has one of the following ingredients hidden in the centre, each symbolising a certain trait which is meant to refer to the person’s character:

festival-3Wool – kind-hearted
Thread rolled inward – the person attracts luck and money
Thread rolled outward – the person spends luck and money
Sun –goodness of light
Moon – goodness of light
Chilli – sharp tongue or talkative
Salt – lazy
Glass –person is happy during fun times, but disappears when work is to be done
Coal – black-hearted
Prickly ball – prickly person

You can find the recipe on https://www.yowangdu.com/tibetan-food/ guthuk-recipe.html.

It occurs on or near the Chinese New Year since the Mongols and Tibetans adopted the Uyghur calendar and the Uyghurs themselves had adopted the Chinese calendar.
For the farming community it holds a special significance. Apricot trees flowered in autumn and Losar may have been the beginning of what later became the farmers’ festival. Cultivation and irrigation was undertaken at the time, iron ore was refined and bridges were built for the first time in Tibet. Thus when Losar evolved it became a festival for farmers signifying the panchamahabhutas or the five elements – wind, water, air, space, fire.
SonamLosar which is the Tamang New Year falls on the Chinese New Year while Tamu Losar, the Gurung New Year falls in December. In 2017, Losar is said to fall on February 27. In 2018, it falls on February 16.

CELEBRATIONS
On the last two days of the old year, which is called Gutor, preparations for the new year begin. On the first Gutor, houses are cleaned, particularly the kitchens. Since food is prepared here, kitchens are considered an important part of the house. At night, straw torches are burnt at crossroads and firecrackers are burnt to drive away ghosts and evil spirits. On the second day of Gutor, people undertake religious ceremonies and visit the monastery to worship and to give donations to monks.
Windows are covered with fragrant curtains. Barley shoots, fried dough balls and dried fruits are placed in shrines within houses.
On the new year day, people wake up early, have a bath, dress in new clothes and place offerings of animals and demons made of dough in front of the household shrines and pray as a family. The first water of the year is drawn very early in the morning and meals are prepared with this water, which is considered auspicious. Families have a reunion meal and
give gifts.

On the second day, they visit friends and relatives, carrying gemar which is filled with fried barley, barley powder, tsampa – roasted flour, usually of barley – strawof barley and flowers made of yak butter.
On the third day, people visit local monasteries and make their offerings. Pine tree branches, cypress and other herbs are burnt as an offering. People hang new prayer flags on housetops or on top of the mountain. At the same time, they splash tsampa in the air to bring peace and happiness during
the year.