Tibetan New Year
Tibetan New Year (1st-3rd day of the 1st lunar month) is the greatest festival in Tibet. In ancient times when the peach tree was in blossom, it was considered as the starting of a new year.
Since the systematization of the Tibetan calendar in 1027 A.D., the first day of the first month became fixed as the New Year. On the New Year's Day, families unite "auspicious dipper" is offered and the auspicious words Tashi delek" are greeted. The Tibetan New Year is known as 'Losar', the most popular of all the festivals of the year, when even young Tibetans wear chuba and pay their first visit of the year to a temple with their family early in the morning. On New Year's Day, Tibetans are supposed to offer ornaments called 'Chemar' and chang beer to their households'deity and to the water dragon that takes care of their water supply. Be careful as the chang served is strong enough to get drunk.
After saying 'Tashi Delek' and exchanging greetings with neighbors, Tibetans do nothing but feast on the food and drink that they have painstakingly prepared. They visit each others feasts and have parties full of drinking and singing. The men don't miss an opportunity to enjoy gambling, with games of 'Sho' (dice), 'Pakchen' (mah-jong), etc. On New Year's Day everyone spends time with their family or neighbors and then start paying visits to their relatives on the second day. Children also have a good time New Year's gifts of candies, etc.
On the 3rd day they replace the year old tar-choks and dar-shings on the roof of their houses with new ones and burn thick bunches of 'Sang' (fragrant grasses). After so much feasting it is no wonder that Tibetans take days off after the celebrations. Other nationalities such as the Han and Hui have their own New Year celebrations according to different calendars but the shopkeepers among them are said to be too scared to even open their shops during Tibetan Losar, due to the mobs of drunk Tibetans.
The Story of Losar
Happy Losar (Tibetan New Year). Tibetans all over the world celebrated Tibetan New Year. The word Losar is a Tibetan word for New Year. LO means year and SAR means new.
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. 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.
The 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. It is made of nine different ingredients including dried cheese and various grains. Also, dough balls 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 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".
The last day of the year is a time to clean and prepare for the approaching New Year. In the monasteries it is a day of preparations. The finest decorations are put up and elaborate offerings are made of called "Lama Losar". In the early dawn of this day, the monks of Namgyal Monastery offer a sacrificial cake (Tse- tor) on top of the main temple (Potala in Tibet) to the supreme hierarchy of Dharma protectors, the glorious goddess Palden Lhamo. The abbots of three great monasteries, lamas, reincarnated monks, government officials and dignitaries join the ceremony and offer their contemplative prayers, while the monks of Namgyal Monastery recite the invocation of Palden Lhamo. After the completion of this ceremony, all assemble in the hall called Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana for a formal greeting ceremony. Seated on his or her respective cushions, everyone exchanges the traditional greeting, "Tashi delek".
Consecrated long-life pills (tse-ril) made out of roasted barley dough is offered to him by the representatives of the three great monasteries, the two Tantric Colleges, etc. Then entertainers (garma) perform a dance of good wishes. And two senior monks stage a debate on Buddhist philosophy, and conclude their debate with an auspicious recitation composed especially for the event, in which the whole spectrum of Buddhist teaching is first briefly reviewed. A request is made to His Holiness and to all holders of the doctrine to remain for a long time amongst beings in samsara in order to serve them through their enlightened activities. The official ceremony of the day then concludes with a ceremonial farewell.
The second day of Losar is known as King's Losar (gyal-po lo-sar) because officially the day is reserved for a secular gathering in the hall of Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana. His Holiness and his government exchange greetings with both monastic and lay dignitaries, such as representatives of China, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia and other foreign visitors.
Then from the third day onwards, the people and monks begin to celebrate and enjoy the festive season. In Tibet before the Chinese came, Losar had been celebrated for fifteen days or more. In India today we celebrate for three days, and in America we have minimized it to one day. In this way the three days of the New Year celebration officially concludes.
Dates of the Tibetan New Year
The Tibetan New Year is reglemented by the systematization of the Tibetan calendar in 1027 and follows the Chinese New Year. Before that, the year started in Tibet with the blossoming of the peaches. On this day, families unite greeting with the auspicious "tashi delek".
22 January 2004 Thursday
9 February 2005 Wednesday
29 January 2006 Sunday
18 February 2007 Sunday
7 February 2008 Thursday
26 January 2009 Monday
14 February 2010 Sunday
Tibetan New Year in different areas
Different from the Han people, however, Tibetans living in different areas celebrate their Lunar New Year in different ways and in different time.
In the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, the holiday begins on the 29th day of the 12th Tibetan month.During the holiday which usually lasts one week in urban areas of Lhasa and two weeks in the countryside, new clothes are made, houses and monasteries alike are cleaned from top to bottom, various shapes of kase (fried wheat twists) are made, and walls are painted. The family's best carpets and finest silver are also brought out.
The Eight Auspicious Symbols, which appear as protective motifs throughout Tibetan-populated areas, are painted in strategic locations. Butter lamps are lit. Flowers are placed on altars. Piles of juniper, cedar, rhododendron, and other fragrant branches are prepared for burning as incense. On Tibetan New Year's Eve, the family gather around a steaming hot pot of dumpling soup called gortu.
Some of the dumplings have surprises wrapped in them. As the meal begins, each person opens one of these special dumplings. The object one finds will indicate, much like a fortune cookie, that person's personality. If one finds salt, that is a good sign and means that one is all right; the one who finds wool is very lazy; coal indicates maliciousness; a white stone foretells a long life; pepper means that one has a glib tongue. Everyone takes what is left in their bowl and dumps it back into the pot, as well as a piece of hair, a fingernail, and an old piece of clothing at the end of the meal.
A dough effigy which represents the collective evil and ill will of the past 12 months is made and put in on top of everything else. A woman carries the pot out of the house. A man follows her with a burning torch made of wheat stalks shouting: "Get out! Get out!" Then, the whole family moves to the middle of an intersection of roads or paths, where they throw away the remains of the gortu and the burning torch while the children set off firecrackers. So the city of Lhasa is illuminated by torches and resonant with the sound of firecrackers.
This ceremony is conducted to get rid of all the negative forces at the end of the year so that the New Year will begin unencumbered. In the morning of New Year's Day, the family rise early, put on their new clothes and finest jeweler, make offerings of barley flour mixed with butter and sugar at the family shrine, and then go to monasteries after breakfast. On that morning, tens of thousands of Tibetans swarm into the Jokhang, Zhaibung and Sera monasteries, and the Potala Palace, all in Lhasa, to worship Buddha. People add roasted highland barley, wheat, and juniper and cedar branches into the burning incense burners on Barkhor Square. Smoke fills the area.
On the second day of the Tibetan New Year, people begin visiting their relatives and friends. They feast on rich holiday foods, drink highland barley liquor, play mahjong, dice and card games, and sing and dance around huge bonfires at night. The revelry continues for from three to five days.
Like their peers in Lhasa, Tibetans in Xigaze Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region launch their Tibet Lunar New Year holiday on December 29th of the Tibet lunar calendar.
On that afternoon, local Tibetan men wash their hair after cleaning their houses and painting the Eight Auspicious Symbols on the walls. It is said that this will help the men have black and shiny hair and bring good luck to the family. Women cannot wash their hair that afternoon because it would have the opposite effect.
On New Year's Eve, the same ceremony to drive out evil spirits is carried out in every family. Instead of throwing away the remains of the gortu and the burning torch, the men of the family climb onto a hill far from the house and burn a boiled sheep head until black, which will be offered at the family shrine as a sacrifice. As a result, the day has become known as "the smelly last day."
The young men and women get up around dawn on New Year's Day. Dressed in their festive best, some of them climb onto hills to erect new prayer flags for the village. Prayer flags are square pieces of fabric with prayers printed on them, strung together and hung from a large timber flagpole. Each flutter of a flag in the wind is another recitation of the prayer printed on it, for the benefit of the community. The others go to streams or wells for "new water." Then the family will have a lunch at which they share a sheep's head, sausages and wheat porridge, and drink highland barley liquor on the first day of the first Tibetan month.
In the second day of the new year, all families gather in their neighborhood squares to burn juniper branches and offer highly alcoholic barley liquor and snacks as sacrifice to the area's deity of the land and protector deities. Starting on the third day of the New Year, banquets for friends and relatives are held one after another.
The Amdo region refers to Tibetan areas in Qinghai Province, southwestern Gansu Province and northwestern Sichuan Province. Most of the region is covered with vast grasslands. Tibetans living there are mainly nomads. For the Amdo Tibetan nomads, the first thing to be done on the morning of the Tibetan Lunar New Year is always to climb to the top of a hill near their settlement and try to be the first person to burn juniper branches to worship the local protector deities.
It is a great honor to be the first to burn juniper branches, for he or she has the right to sound the white conch to inform the others living around the hill and the first smoke can be seen for a great distance. Other people at the top of the hill will then add more juniper and cedar branches to the fire and offer liquor and highland barley flour to the local protector deities.
Different from Lhasa and Xigaze, house cleaning and water drawing are prohibited on New Year's Day in many areas of the Amdo region. In some Amdo areas, men get up early in the morning of New Year's Day and run toward the cow or sheep sheds to see in which direction the animals are pointing while they sleep.
Wherever their heads point, whether east, south, west or north, that direction will have auspicious conditions in the New Year. Cows and sheep will be painted with three colors or tied with five-color cloth stripes, and made to move in that direction for some distance to ensure the good luck.
In this Eastern Tibet prefecture, the holidays for the 2004 Tibetan Lunar New Year will at this time actually be over, because the residents of the prefecture in eastern Tibet celebrate the Tibetan Lunar New Year on the first day of the 10th Tibetan lunar month.
The special local custom began in 1904. That year, news came to Nyingchi that the invading British troops were arriving. Local Tibetan men in Nyingchi Prefecture began preparing to join the fight against the British invaders to defend their home villages. In order not to miss the new year celebrations, the local people decided to hold the festival events before the men left for the battle field.
This happened on the first day of the 10th Tibetan lunar month, and the tradition has stuck until this day. The locals are fond of dogs, as the region boasts dense forests and dogs are not only guards of houses, but also men's hunting helpers. During the New Year's Eve, dogs are invited to share food with their masters. Traditionally, the food the dogs choose to eat will be abundant in the coming year.
So, if people miss the chance of enjoying the Tibetan Lunar New Year in Nyingchi in the 10th Lunar Month, they still have another chance to enjoy it in other parts of Tibet.
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