From March 3 to 5, 2022 take place the festivities of Losar, Tibetan New Year. 3 days of popular and monastic festivities punctuated by ancestral Tibetan ceremonies!
Losar or Lhosar is the Tibetan New Year. In Tibetan, it means “new year”. It is one of the most important festivals in the Tibetan tradition: it marks the beginning of the year, based on a calendar of 12 lunar months. The new year always takes place the day after the new moon of February or March. The date is therefore variable from one year to another and is determined with precision by Tibetan astrologers.
It is the year of the enthronement of the first Tibetan king Nyatri Tsenpo in the year 127 BC that marks the beginning of the Tibetan calendar.
Thus in 2022, Tibetans enter the 2149th year of their calendar, placed under the sign of the water tiger.
To prepare for the arrival of the new year, Tibetans perform a ritual preparation very meticulous! (and much less alcoholic than our New Year’s Eve!)
LOSAR CEREMONIES – Tibetan New Year
A ritual of monastic and popular preparation
These preparation rituals aim to clear away the bad spirits and negative energy of the previous year in order to welcome the new year in the best possible way (a sort of spring cleaning).
In idea, the ritual, in the monastery, proceeds in the following way: The monks recite mantras and dance masked, to the rhythm of traditional instruments (Chäm dance).
As for the popular ritual, it lasts several days! For example, Tibetans clean their house thoroughly and eat Gouthouk (traditional soup cooked for the event) with their family. At the end of the same meal, they go to purify their body in a symbolic way (once again, we are far from the heaviness of stomach of the foie gras and the traditional French meal that we try -vainly- to make disappear with a digestive to roll towards the new year!)
Once these rituals are accomplished, the Tibetans are ready to welcome the new year with their family and friends!
And here we go:
The first day: Losar Tashi Delek!
It’s New Year’s Day! This day is a family day! Tibetan families get up at sunrise, dress in their prettiest traditional clothes and get behind the kitchen stove to prepare delicious dishes: Gouthouk (a delicious ravioli soup), Kapse (traditional cakes) etc… All this is accompanied by Chang (home-made alcohol which could be similar to beer).
The second day: Gyalpo Losar (King’s Losar)
On this second day of Losar, Tibetans visit each other and exchange their wishes for the new year. They also go to the monastery to leave offerings for the monks and receive a blessing.
The third day
New prayer flags are hoisted in trees, in temples, and high on the roofs of houses! Tibetans also light juniper fires to purify and diffuse protective energies.
(Non-exhaustive list and traced more or less faithfully from our French point of view – do not hesitate to contact us if you wish to complete/rectify/adjust/enrich…)! By the way, to continue in this way, we share with you an experience lived in Sikkim on the occasion of these same festivities of the new year! It’s here:)
Losar, in the heart of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition
We did not make on purpose, but our trip to Sikkim was in full during the festivities of Losar.
That’s it, after a long trip on mountainous and sinuous roads, we set foot in Gangtok, capital of Sikkim (small Indian State, nested between Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet). A city as peaceful as animated, where we feel immediately good!
We learn then that we arrive during Losar. The Tibetan Buddhist community being widely present, there are numerous celebrations.
Let’s go ! Direction the monastery of Rumtek (seat of the Karmapa in exile in India) in collective jeep, only to 34 km of Gangtok. So close and yet so far. Here the roads are steep and the shocks act like an arrhythmic lullaby. Sometimes with 9 or 10 people in the vehicle, we are snug and warm, like in a nest. The Tibetan ladies are on their 31 and dressed, for the occasion, of their most beautiful chupa (traditional dress)!
Finally arrived at the monastery, we decide to climb on foot the steep path to unload our luggage, 2km of ascent from there, full power (we had reserved a night in a guest house) and so to be able to join, free of weight, the ceremonies already begun.
Bad luck, once at the top, the manager announces us that his establishment is full and that it is necessary that we go down again to find another place. Oops. We take then the steep slope in direction of the monastery to find a room (not so evident at this period), we have only one hurry: to go to see what it happens!
Once lightened of some kilos, guided by the sound of the dunghen (Tibetan horn in bronze – kind of gigantic trumpet), we are in the heart of the ceremonies of Losar. WOW.
Everyone has already taken their places around the monastery courtyard, sitting cross-legged. Children are playing. Families are talking and laughing. The monks are praying and bustling around to make sure the ceremony goes smoothly and is well organized.
It vibrates very strongly and it is extremely powerful. Even if you don’t understand what is going on, nor the full meaning of the dances, it is impossible not to feel things: you feel the vibrations of an intense energy carried by the sounds, the incense smells, the mantras and the dances. Every sense is filled with new information that seems to envelop us in the sacred.
The monks who perform the various sacred dances of the Chäm are in harmony and masked: Buddhist deities (such as Mahakala or Garuda), or more animal forms (such as the deer).
Others, between each dance, play the caricature of villagers who seem to joke and mock, provoking laughter and general hilarity (especially on the Tibetan side: on our side, we still try to understand the joke!)
After few hours, we extract ourselves to go to taste delicious (and hot) Maggi noodles, in a small Dhaba, with a lot of Tibetan monks.
The dances continue, we hear the cymbals and we swallow our bowl quickly to join the monastery as fast as possible.
This time it is about fifty monks with colored costumes, on which appears the representation of Vajrakilaya (deity of the Tantric Buddhism). All of them wear black hats, significant (in connection with Mahakala). (see main photo of the article)
Then, in the middle of the courtyard, we see several giant, angry statues of what we think are representations of Mahakala (yes, again!) on horses, pushed by a crowd of monks perfectly synchronized again.
In fact, the ritual we are witnessing is not “Losar” per se but its preparation with the “Mahakala Puja“: a prayer for this protective deity.
What is quite incredible is that people are doing their life while this hyper codified and powerful ceremony is taking place.
We do not move any more from the courtyard of the monastery, caught and fascinated by the spectacle which offers itself to us.
Since our arrival there are impressive sculptures of Yak butter in the heart of the place, these represent the living and its impermanence (offerings dedicated to melt, meticulously realized during several days by the monks). They are very colorful and of a remarkable finesse! As the day goes on, the feet of the highest sculpture are covered with long white cloths, that each Tibetan brings, one after the other, ceremoniously.
The night begins to fall. It is rather cold (we are in February, at 1500 m of altitude), but the intensity of this ceremony makes us almost forget the fact that the extremities of our body are chilled! We are served tea to warm us up, and it feels good!
It is then that several monks begin to meticulously unroll a gigantic thangka (traditional painting) which covers all the frontage of the temple (imagine a painting of more than 15 meters height!). After a few minutes contemplating this gargantuan and oh so sacred work, the crowd starts to get agitated and to get up towards the exit, carried by the regular singing of dunghen played by the monks. It seems that it is the hour of the final bouquet.
Outside, a kind of bonfire is lit: they have set fire to the sculpture -the one that has been in the center of the temple courtyard all day- and that now reveals under the flames, the giant representation of… (you must have guessed by now) Mahakala!
The idea is simple: to chase away the evil spirits!
Everyone hurries to recover, on the structure, a piece of string -now sacred and blessed-, symbol of protection for this new year which starts under the best auspices.