Overview of Losar
Tibetan New year It is the most significant festival in Tibet. Just as its name implies, the Tibetan New Year takes place on 1st Month of Tibetan calendar. The celebration begins from 29th day twelve month and the festival lasts for about 2 weeks. Tibetan calendar is based on Tibetan astrology and Lunar Calenders. That’s why it falls on an almost similar date like Chinese Spring festival and Mongolian New Year. Tibetan New Year Festival is not only celebrated in Tibet but also in Bhutan and Mongolia. Even in Tibet, different areas have different ways to celebrate it, and the festivities in Lhasa are the most representative.
The Losar Rituals have many Buddhist elements, but Losar is primarily a secular event with its own flavor.
History of Losar
The celebration of Tibetan New year known as Losar in Tibetan predates Buddhism in Tibet and can be traced back to the pre-Buddhist Bön period. In this early Bön tradition, every winter a spiritual ceremony was held, in which people offered large quantities of incense to appease the local spirits, deities and ‘protectors’ (Tibetan: Chokyong; Sanskrit: Dharmapala). 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.
The Tibetan New Year festival took place during the flowering of the apricot trees in autumn in the Lhokha Yarla Shampo region and Kongpo or Nyingtri in the eastern forest region of Tibet, 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 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.
The Tibetan New Year or Losar is also known as Bo Gyal Lo. Bo is Tibet, Gyal is King, Lo is a year. The Tibetan New Year has been celebrated since the first King’s enthronement celebration. It was started with the first King. That was why it has been known as Bal Gyal Lo.
Tibet Tibetan New Year or Losar is celebrated for 15 days, with the main celebrations on the first three days. On the first day of Losar, a beverage called Changkol is made from Chhaang (a Tibetan cousin of beer). The second day of Losar is known as King’s Losar (gyalpo Losar). Losar is traditionally preceded by the five-day practice of Vajrakilaya. Because the Uyghurs adopted the Chinese calendar, and the Mongols and Tibetans adopted the Uyghur calendar, Losar occurs near or on the same day as the Chinese New Year and the Mongolian New Year, but the traditions of Losar are unique to Tibet and predates both Indian and Chinese influences. Originally, ancient celebrations of Losar occurred solely on the winter solstice and was only moved to coincide with the Chinese and Mongolian New Year by a leader of the Gelug school of Buddhism.
Losar in different regions
The Tibetan New Year or Losar is also celebrated by Yolmo, Sherpa, Tamang, Gurung, and Bhutia, although different regions in the country have their own respective new year. Losar is also celebrated by Tibetan Buddhists Worldwide.
The Tibetan new year is one of the biggest and richest Losar festivals in the world and it is celebrated in different months in different regions such as Tsang Losar known as agriculture Losar, celebrated in the 12th month of Lunar month, Kongpo Losar, also celebrated in the 12th months of Lunar month. Nevertheless, the most well-known Losar is the King Losar which is very widely celebrated throughout Tibet.
The Tibetan New Year is colorful festival days with many traditional activities. Family members gather together in their parents home and celebrate Losar by dressing in their finest clothes. There are many activities in every town including horse racing, folk dancing and songs, body wrestling, rock lifting competitions and many other religious activities.
Losar in Lhasa
Lhasa is the best place to be. during Losar. There are many religious activities and family parties. Pilgrims throng to the Jokhang, Drepung, Sera and Nechung temples making incense and butter lamp offerings. During Losar, you can see full of Tibetans pilgrims go to Jokhang temple, Potala Potala etc in their beautiful traditional clothes.
As Buddhists, Tibetans believe that if you want good circumstances, you yourself need to establish good conditions. Losar rituals are concerned with inspiring a creative attitude, to establish a basis for a good new year. On these first days of the year, Tibetans engage in specific virtuous actions and acts that are considered auspicious. Moreover, in the days that precede Losar, the last days of the old year, everyone in the community is concerned with pacifying and removing left-over negativity. During this time, Tibetan monasteries and temples undertake specific rites to expel negative habits from the old year, so these will not be carried into the New Year. The lamas and monks will do a week of rituals, some of which culminate in the well-known lama dances. Moreover, in their homes, families prepare for the New Year by cleaning and making new clothes.
How to Celebrate Losar
On the first day of Losar, everyone gets up long before dawn, gathers in the temples with the monks and lamas, and participates in making good wishes for the New Year. Everyone is clean and wears their new, (or at least freshly washed), clothes. And also, although this is not a central theme, it is a communal birthday: everyone is one year older. For the rest of the day, most people will stay home, or visit the lamas they feel closely connected to. It is a day of relaxation and fun.
On the second day, Tibetans visit each other and this too is a day of being with family and friends. Tibetans are very fond of the good life, and this is an occasion for good eating, drinking, telling stories, laughing, and playing dice, cards, or mahjong. The kids are in charge of fireworks, and during Losar, one is regularly awakened to the present moment by powerful detonations.
On the third day, the Tibetans gather at the roof of the building or hills for a large communal offering. Everyone will wear their new clothes, and the Stupa will be very crowded. First, there will be the ceremony of lhasang – incense offering, which is essentially an offering of smoke from medicinal and fragrant herbs, directed at pleasing both the otherworldly beings such as non-humans, i.e. gods, nagas, and spirits, as well as the sublime beings such as the buddhas and bodhisattvas. This initial section of the ceremony will be lead by lamas and monks. At the end, everyone will take roasted barley flour, known as tsampa, and everyone joins in a common chant, and will then hurl the tsampa into space, also as an offering. This practice increases the prosperity, health, and happiness of beings, and ‘raises wind horse’, a Tibetan concept that implies uplifting the human spirit and its outer manifestations of good circumstances. This concept also occurs in the Tibetan practice of hanging up prayer flags, which will be done in the days following Losar.
Keep in mind that during this ceremony there may be a lot of good-hearted tsampa throwing, and you may possibly emerge covered in tsampa flour! A useful greeting to all the friendly people you run into is ‘Tashi Delek’. Originally a New Year greeting, this is now the standard Tibetan ‘hello’.
According to some traditions, this third day is the last day of Losar holidays, while other traditions have Losar lasting for up to two weeks.
Getting “Chayma” and “Kasai” Ready
Before the Tibetan New Year, each household makes or buys “Chayma” (a wooden measure for grain), expressing the wish of good harvest and auspiciousness in the coming year. They will also make “Kasai” (fried twisted dough sticks) in various forms, which looks golden and tastes crispy, and “luoguo” (a kind of food made of butter in the shape of sheep head), signifying thriving domestic animals and abundant life. In addition, they offer dried or fresh fruits, butter and brick tea to Buddhas.
Having a Family Reunion
On December 28~29 (Tibetan calendar), all the families clean their houses and draw “eight auspicious paintings” on the center of the kitchen wall. Before the dinner of December 29, they will spray lime in front of their houses to form designs of auspiciousness. New Year’s Eve is also the time of Ghost Exorcising Festival. On this day, all family members will get together to have a big dinner. They will eat Guthuk, made of beef and mutton, turnip and flour lump. What is interesting is that some stones, coins, salt, pepper, charcoal, and wool are wrapped in the flour lump. When people eat, they have to be very careful to see what is in their next mouthful of food. The laughter fills the room at that time. After the dinner, they hold a ceremony to drive away ghosts.
Welcoming New Year
On the first day of the New Year, the Tibetans get up early. Some even stay up through the whole night. But they could not go out so early. The first program for them will be “scrambling for water”. According to the custom, the one who gets the first barrel of water at day-break is the luckiest one of the year. Only when the morning star rises and someone shouts “Lajieluo (God wins! )” can Tibetans rush out. Another important activity in the morning is to go to the Jokhang Monastery to offer sacrifices to Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism. On this day, people must wear the most beautiful clothes and the most precious jewels.
Visiting Friends & Paying Pilgrimage
Tibetan people don’t visit each other on the first day of the year. Starting from the next day, they begin visiting relatives and friends, which will last three to five days. On the 3rd day of the 1st Tibetan month, they offer sacrifices to the “God of Roof.” All of them climb to the roof of their house and hang the new sutra streamer. Then they burn cypress branches and throw Tsamba into the air. Lhasa people go in groups to the Baoping (Treasured Bottle) Mountain in the east and Chakpori (King of Medicine) Mountain in the west to stick in scripture pole and hang sutra streamer to worship the gods of mountain and water. From the 4th day on, Tibetans start their largest religious festival – Great Prayer Festival, which will end on the 15th day of the 1st Tibetan month. On the 5th day, farmers in Lhasa suburbs hold grand ceremonies to starting plough the field.