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Losar (Tibetan: ལོ་གསར་, Wylie: lo-gsar) is the Tibetan word for "new year". lo holds the semantic field "year, age"; sar holds the semantic field "new, fresh". Losar is the most important holiday in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Before the Tibetan New Year, Nyi Shu Gu is celebrated on the eve of the last night of the year.
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 predate 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 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. Yolmo Losar is observed on the same day as of the Chinese New Year.
The celebration of Losar 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: chos skyong; Sanskrit: dharmapalas). 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 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.
Losar is also known as Bal Gyal Lo. Bal is Tibet, Gyal is King, Lo is 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.
For hundreds of years now, it has been traditional for the Dalai Lama, and the Government, to consult Nechung during the New Year festivals.
During Losar, the Tibetan celebration of the new year, we did not drink champagne to celebrate. Instead, we went to the local spring to perform a ritual of gratitude. We made offerings to the nagas, the water spirits who activated the water element in the area. We made smoke offerings to the local spirits associated with the natural world around us. Beliefs and behaviors like ours evolved long ago and are often seen as primitive in the West. But they are not only projections of human fears onto the natural world, as some anthropologists and historians suggest. Our way of relating to the elements originated in the direct experiences by our sages and common people of the sacred nature of the external and internal elements. We call these elements earth, water, fire, air, and space.
The Tibetan 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 called "Lama Losar". In the early dawn of this day, the monks of Namgyal Monastery offer a 'sacrificial cake' (Tibetan: tor ma) on top of the main temple (Potala in Tibet) to the supreme hierarchy of Dharma protectors, the glorious goddess Palden Lhamo. Led by the Dalai Lama, the abbots of three great monasteries, lamas, reincarnated monks or tulku, 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".
In order to wish the Dalai Lama good luck for the coming year, consecrated 'sacred pills' (Tibetan: ril bu) made out of roasted barley dough are 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 the Dalai Lama and to all holders of the doctrine to remain for a long time amongst beings in Samsara (Sanskrit) in order to serve them through their enlightened activities. The official ceremony of the day then concludes with a ceremonial farewell to the His Holiness, who then retires to his palace.
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 many parts of Tibet, Losar is celebrated for fifteen days or more. In India it is celebrated for three days. In other countries celebrations may be as little as one day.
The Losar is also celebrated in Nepal and India as well, where there is a strong concentration of the Buddhist population in the states like Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Himachal and Ladakh in Kashmir. The Monpa tribe of Tawang and the Memba of the Mechukha valley of Arunachal celebrate Losar. Yet the Memba of Mechukha celebrate Losar one month earlier than the other Losar-celebrating peoples.
Phurbu Thinley states that:
It is time again for Tibetans around the world to celebrate their Losar; this time- the Year of the Earth Mouse 2135.
Tibetans and a section of Buddhists around the world will celebrate Losar on Thursday, February 7, 2008. The celebration normally lasts for three days, and it all means time for greetings, togetherness and abundant festivities, and time for prayers as well.
|Gregorian Year||Year of Rabjung 60-year Cycle||Tibetan Year||Losar Date***||Gender, Element, and Animal|
|2008||rab byung 17 lo 22||2135||February 7||Male Earth Mouse/Rat**|
|2009||rab byung 17 lo 23||2136||February 25||Female Earth Ox|
|2010||rab byung 17 lo 24||2137||February 14||Male Iron Tiger|
|2011||rab byung 17 lo 25||2138||March 5||Female Iron Hare/Rabbit**|
|2012||rab byung 17 lo 26||2139||February 22||Male Water Dragon|
|2013||rab byung 17 lo 27||2140||February 11||Female Water Snake|
|2014||rab byung 17 lo 28||2141||March 02||Male Wood Horse|
|2015||rab byung 17 lo 29||2142||February 18/19||Female Wood Sheep/Goat**|
|2016||rab byung 17 lo 30||2143||February 8||Male Fire Monkey|
|2017||rab byung 17 lo 31||2144||January 28||Female Fire Bird/Rooster**|
|2018||rab byung 17 lo 32||2145||February 15/16||Male Earth Dog|
|2019||rab byung 17 lo 33||2146||February 5||Female Earth Pig/Boar**|
|2020||rab byung 17 lo 34||2147||January 25||Male Iron Mouse/Rat**|
- * Note: Rabjung (Wylie: rab byung) is the name of the 60-year cycle of the Tibetan calendar that started in 1027 CE, and is currently in its 17th cycle.
- ** Note: These year names have more than one translation into English with differerent terms used by different groups.
- *** Note: Losar is celebrated by some international communities at more or less the same time it is celebrated in Asia. For example, for a year when Losar starts on February 1 in Asia time zones, it may be celebrated by some in United States time zones on January 31. Losar celebrations are normally for three days.
- BBC - Religion & Ethics - Losar, bbc.co.uk
- Festival Nepal 2014: Tamu, Sherpa: Gyalpo Losar 2014 Nepal, imnepal.com
- Ligeti, Louis (1984). Tibetan and Buddhist Studies: Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Csoma De Koros, Volume 2. University of California Press. p. 344. ISBN 9789630535731.
- Hastings, James (2003). Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Part 10. Kessinger Publishing. p. 892. ISBN 9780766136823.
- Gyatso, Tenzin (1988). Freedom in Exile: the Autobiography of the Dalai Lama of Tibet. Fully revised and updated. Lancaster Place, London, UK: Abacus Books (A Division of Little, Brown and Company UK). ISBN 0-349-11111-1
- Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (2002). Healing with Form, Energy, and Light. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-176-6
- About Buddhist Holy Days, hayagriva.org.au
- Venerable Salden, Namgyal Monastery (2000). The Story of Tibetan New Year, buddhapia.com accessed: Losar, 2008
- Losar, Nouvel An tibétain en 2011 : année 2138 du Lièvre de Fer
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