What Is Losar?
Losar is the name of the Tibetan New Year. In the Tibetan language, “Lo” means “Year” and “Sar” means “New”. The Losar festival pre-dates Buddhism in Tibet and goes back to the time when the Bon religion held sway in that country.
In those days, incense was burned every winter in purification rituals used to placate the gods. As irrigation, cultivation, and refinement techniques were introduced, Losar ceremonies became more celebratory, as a gesture of thanks to the gods for the budding innovations. Eventually with the advent of rudimentary astrology, Losar became more than a farmer’s festival, finally mutating into a Buddhist festival, celebrating the New Year.
History of Losar Festival
The Losar festival dates back to the pre-Buddhist era in Tibet. The story behind these festivities goes back to the 17th century when Buddhism arrived in Tibet and the incense-burning custom of the Bon religion merged with the harvest festival to form the annual Losar festival in Ladakh during the reign of the 9th Tibetan King, Pude Gungyal.
The celebrations usually begin with a Metho ceremony with a procession of people chanting prayers and carrying flame torches. It is believed to cleanse the evil spirits and the negativity that was accumulated in the entire year. The preparations begin a month in advance of the festival, the locals start with cleaning their houses and discarding the old materials, unused items so that all evil omens are chased away from their life to maintain the prosperity and harmony. The entire region is decorated with flashy and bright colours, and rehearsals take place at various venues.
When and Where Is Losar Celebrated?
Tibetan New Year festivities take place in January or February. Tibetan Buddhists follow the lunar calendar so the date of Losar is different each year. While Losar celebrations once lasted for as long as two weeks, in modern times, Losar is normally a three-day festival. Losar is celebrated by Buddhists in Tibet, India, Bhutan, Sikkim and in Tibetan expatriate communities throughout the world.
How Is the Losar Festival Celebrated?
In the days leading up to the Tibetan New Year, as part of the purification required for the new year, new clothes are made or purchased, houses are cleaned and decorated and new Buddhist prayer flags are raised.
People usually spend the first day of Losar with members of their immediate family. They wear their new garments and eat celebratory foods such as guthuk noodles, made from cereals and dried cheese, and various types of vegetable soups. They often drink Changkol, a type of rice wine similar to Japanese sake.
Dough balls containing small hidden items, such as chilies or coal may be served to guests. Whatever you find inside your dough balls is supposed to be a light-hearted reflection of your character. A white article such as rice or salt found in your dough ball indicates that you are going to be lucky in the forthcoming year; a black article such as a small piece of coal suggests the opposite.
On the second and third days of Losar, people visit friends and other family members who do not live close by. They may also pay a visit to their local Buddhist temple, monastery or shrine and make offerings as part of the purification rituals for Losar.