Losar

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Not to be confused with loser.
For other traditions of celebrating the lunar new year, see Lunar New Year (disambiguation).
Losar
Also called Tibetan New Year
Lhochhar
Observed by Tibetans, Tibetan Buddhists
Type Tibetan culture, Tibetan Buddhist
Frequency Annual
Related to Other Asian Lunar New Year festivals

Losar (Tibetan: ལོ་གསར་Wylie: lo-gsar; "new year"[1]) is a festival in Tibetan Buddhism.[2] The holiday is celebrated on various dates depending on location (Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan) and tradition.[3][4] The holiday is a new year's festival, celebrated on the first day of the lunisolar Tibetan calendar, which corresponds to a date in February or March in the Gregorian calendar.[1]

The variation of the festival in Nepal is called Lhochhar and is observed about eight weeks earlier than the Tibetan Losar.[5]

History[edit]

Losar celebration in Lhasa, 1938

Losar predates the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet and has its roots in a winter incense-burning custom of the Bon religion. During the reign of the ninth Tibetan king, Pude Gungyal (617-698), it is said that this custom merged with a harvest festival to form the annual Losar festival.[1]

The 14th Dalai Lama (1998: p. 233) frames the importance of consulting the Nechung Oracle for Losar:

For hundreds of years now, it has been traditional for the Dalai Lama, and the Government, to consult Nechung during the New Year festivals.[6]

Tenzin Wangyal (2002: p.xvii) frames his experience of Tibetan cultural practice of Losar in relation to elemental celebrations and offerings to Nāga (Tibetan: Klu):

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.[7]

The Gumpa dance being performed in Lachung during the Buddhist festival of Losar

Practice[edit]

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,[8] 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.[9]

Prior to the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1950, Losar began with a morning ritual ceremony at Namgyal Monastery, led by the Dalai Lama and other high-ranking lamas, with government officials participating, to honor the Dharmapala (dharma-protector) Palden Lhamo.[10] After the Dalai Lama was exiled, many monasteries were dissolved during the Cultural Revolution. Since that time, Tibetan Buddhism practice in Tibet has been somewhat restored, and "Losar is now celebrated, though without the former ceremonies surrounding the person of the Dalai Lama."[10]

In Tibet, various customs are associated with the holiday:

Families prepare for Losar some days in advance by thoroughly cleaning their homes; decorating with fragrant flowers and their walls with auspicious signs painted in flour such as the sun, moon, or a reversed swastika; and preparing cedar, rhododendron, and juniper branches for burning as incense. Debts are settled, quarrels are resolved, new clothes are acquired, and special foods such as kapse (fried twists) are made. A favorite drink is chang (barley beer) which is served warm. Because the words "sheep's head" and "beginning of the year" sound similar in Tibetan, it is customary to fashion a sheep's head from colored butter as a decoration. Another traditional decoration that symbolizes a good harvest is the phyemar ("five-grain bucket"), a bucket with a wooden board that creates two vertical halves within. This bucket is filled with zanba (also known as tsamba, roasted qingke barley flour) and barley seeds, then decorated with barley ears and colored butter.[1]

Losar customs in Bhutan are similar to, but distinct from, customs in neighboring Tibet.[11] Modern celebration of the holiday began in Bhutan in 1637, when Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal commemorated the completition of the Punakha Dzong with an inaugural ceremony, in which "Bhutanese came from all over the country to bring offerings of produce from their various regions, a tradition that is still reflected in the wide variety of foods consumed during the ritual Losar meals."[11] Traditional foods consumed on the occasion include sugarcane and green bananas, which are considered auspicious.[11] In Bhutan, picnicking, dancing, singing, dart-playing, archery (see archery in Bhutan), and the giving of offerings are all traditions.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Losar Festival Celebration in Nepal

  1. ^ a b c d William D. Crump, "Losar" in Encyclopedia of New Year's Holidays Worldwide (McFarland & Co.: 2008), pp. 237-38.
  2. ^ "Buddhism: Losar". BBC. September 8, 2004. 
  3. ^ Peter Glen Harle, Thinking with Things: Objects and Identity among Tibetans in the Twin Cities (Ph.D dissertation: Indiana University, 2003), p. 132: "In Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and other areas where Tibetan Buddhism is practiced, the dates for Losar are often calculated locally, and often vary from region.".
  4. ^ William D. Crump, Encyclopedia of New Year's Holidays Worldwide (McFarland & Co.: 2008), pp. 237: ""Different traditions have observed Losar on different dates."
  5. ^ Tibetan Borderlands: PIATS 2003: Proceedings of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, Oxford, 2003, p. 121: "Yet though their Lhochhar is observed about eight weeks earlier than the Tibetan Losar, the festival is clearly borrowed, and their practice of Buddhism comes increasingly in a Tibetan idiom."
  6. ^ Gyatso, Tenzin (1988). Freedom in Exile: the Autobiography of the Dalai Lama of Tibet (rev. ed.: Abacus Books, London. ISBN 0-349-11111-1
  7. ^ Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (2002). Healing with Form, Energy, and Light. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-176-6
  8. ^ Ligeti, Louis (1984). Tibetan and Buddhist Studies: Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Csoma De Koros. 2. University of California Press. p. 344. ISBN 9789630535731. 
  9. ^ Hastings, James (2003). Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Part 10. Kessinger Publishing. p. 892. ISBN 9780766136823. 
  10. ^ a b J. Gordon Melton, "Losar" in Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals, Solemn Observances, and Spiritual Commemorations, Vol. 1 (ABC-CLIO), 2011), pp. 530-31.
  11. ^ a b c d James Mayer, Losar: Community Building and the Bhutanese New Year, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Institution (February 15, 2013).