Losar is the Tibetan word for New Year (‘lo’ referring to ‘year’ and ‘sar’ referring to ‘new’). It is one of the most anticipated events in our Tibetan Calendar. It is a time for greetings, togetherness and abundant festivities. It is also a time for prayers and earning merit. It is a time when Tibetans inside Tibet and all over the world proudly assert our Tibetan identity.
Losar is normally celebrated for 15 days, with the first three days being an official holiday. We Tibetans follow the lunar calendar and hence the date of Losar changes every year: this time, it falls on 9 February 2016. In Tibetan, it is written as the Tibetan Royal Year 2143 of the Male Fire Monkey:
In my hometown, a Tibetan settlement in south India, our preparations for Losar begin a month before the actual date. Tibetans whitewash the exteriors of their houses, apply fresh paint to all doors and windows, change all old curtains and home furnishings for new ones, clean thoroughly inside all the rooms of the house; new clothes are stitched or bought for everyone in the family, and debts, disputes or any unfinished work is settled before the start of Losar.
Losar is a way to reaffirm our Tibetan identity and preserve our culture, with a host of rituals, foods and celebrations to look forward to...
I heard from my mother that the Losar celebrations in Tibet in the good old days, when Tibet was a free country, were on a much larger and grander scale under a clear blue sky, compared to the celebrations in exile. Tibetans have always been happy and fun loving and celebrations continued for more than a month, my mother would say. As she reminisces about those celebrations, I see the glow in her eyes, and a look on her face as though to wish back those days of joy and happiness.
Still, I always look forward to marking Losar here in exile: it's a way to reaffirm our Tibetan identity and preserve our culture, with a host of rituals, foods and celebrations to look forward to...
Every Tibetan house vies with one another, during Losar, to resemble a bride in wedding dress.
Firstly, there are a whole set of preparations to decorate the family altar – which finds its pride of place in every Tibetan household, given the pivotal role religion plays in the Tibetan way of life. The finest and best of the first lot of homemade Kha-Sey (deep-fried Tibetan biscuits), Bhungue-Amcho (donkey-ear style biscuits) and Chang (home-brewed Tibetan beer) are placed on the altar as offerings to the gods and deities. Besides these, local produce from the family-land is also offered to thank the deities for the abundant harvest. Every Tibetan house vies with one another, during Losar, to resemble a bride in wedding dress.
A very important ritual that sets the tone for the New Year is observed in every Tibetan monastery and household on the 29th day of the twelfth month of the previous year. It is called Nyi-Shu-Gu (literally meaning 29). Tibetan Buddhist monks perform an elaborate Cham dance – a purification ritual, which starts with prayers in the morning, dance through the day on the monastery courtyard, and culminates in the burning of an effigy, symbolising the end of all negativity and ill-fortune of the preceding year and encouraging happiness, good fortune and success in abundance the coming year.
In every Tibetan home that night, it is customary to prepare a handmade noodle (Guthuk) for the supper. It contains nine different ingredients and dough balls with a small piece of various objects like wool, coal, salt, chili (literally in Tibet!) or a piece of paper with the name of the object written or drawn (a modernised version in exile) hidden inside it. These hidden objects are supposed to be a light-hearted comment on one’s character.
The first day of Losar rises and shines quite early. Chang-koe (barley wine) is served to the family at dawn. After putting on new clothes and making offerings, sweet buttered rice garnished with dry fruits is served for breakfast and everybody wishes each other Losar Tashi Delek. It is a common belief that whatever you do on the first day of Losar, you will end up doing for the whole year. Hence, everyone is cautious and avoids indulging in any negative things. The first day of Losar is also called Lama Losar. Tsi-tor (sacrificial cake) rituals are performed at the first ray of sunshine in monasteries and people visit to pray and earn merit.
The second day of Losar is called Gyalpo (king’s) Losar. It is for honouring the community and national leaders and official ceremonies are organised on that day.
The third day of Losar is called Choe-kung (deity’s) Losar and it’s on this day that an incense-burning ceremony is held and people raise new prayer flags.
For remaining days of Losar, we take it in turns to visit each other’s homes and celebrate together, eating, drinking, dancing and playing traditional games such as “sho” (a dice game).
May Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet see a joyous reunion soon and may the sun of happiness shine on the Tibetan plateau once again.
Born in exile and having never seen my beloved country, Tibet, I very much wish for my mother and likewise for all Tibetans to celebrate Losar in a free Tibet once again. Join us in ushering in this Losar with a renewed sense of commitment and determination to strive for freedom in Tibet. May Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet see a joyous reunion soon and may the sun of happiness shine on the Tibetan plateau once again.
Bod Gyalo! Free Tibet!
About the author: Namgyal is Free Tibet’s Finance Officer. Born in south India, Namgyal has been living in the UK since 2014. Previously, Namgyal worked for the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala and the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New Delhi. When not working, Namgyal enjoys cycling, swimming, playing basketball, dodgeball and exploring London.