Losar, also called the Tibetan New Year, is based on the Tibetan Calendar that consists of twelve (sometimes thirteen) months, according to the lunar calendar. The festival begins on the first day of the Tibetan calendar’s first month when the new moon is seen. Most of the time, Chinese New Year and Losar would start on the same day, but sometimes, it might vary by a day or two. To mark the beginning of the New Year, Tibetans all over the world will hang their prayer flags, dance, pass fire torches, and pray with their family and friends. It is one of the most widely celebrated festivals of Tibet and is a time when Tibetan cultural values are embraced. In 2022, Losar is set to begin on the 3rd of March.
History of Losar Festival
The festival has its roots in custom of winter incense-burning of the Bon religion and the festival predates to the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet and its neighboring regions like parts of Nepal, Bhutan, and India. It is believed that the custom was combined with the harvest festival during the reign of the Pude Gungyal, the ninth King of Tibet, to form the annual Losar festival. It is also believed to have been the winter ceremony where people offered and burned large quantities of incense to drive away evil spirits and appease deities. Gradually, with the changes in the Tibetan predication and astrology system, the festival has become a warm festival welcoming the New Year and the harvest season. Today, Losar festival is one of the most important festivals for the Buddhists of Tibet and is celebrated in many parts of the world.
The Eight Auspicious Symbols
- Parasol: A parasol is a representative of a Royal Dignity.
- The pair of Golden Fish: This represents the great fortune that will come in the New Year.
- Lotus Blossom: This is a symbol for the clarity of mind that would help people lead to a path of nirvana and attain enlightenment.
- Conch Shell: This helps to spread the peaceful and powerful sound of Dharma.
- Victory Banner: This is a representation of victory over other mortal pleasures like desires, lust, and fear of dying. This also leads to nirvana.
- Vase: A vase is a symbol of longevity and prosperity.
- The Eternal Knot: this acts as a symbol for the union of compassion and wisdom, reminding a person of the far-reaching effects.
- The Wheel of Dharma: this is the most important symbol in Buddhism. It is a Noble Eightfold Path that leads a person to Nirvana, ending all earthly suffering.
Preparing for the Festival
During the month of the festival, all the houses in Tibet draw all the auspicious symbols on the walls of their houses with white powder. The protector deities in the monastery are honored with various devotional rituals. When the festival reaches its final day, the houses are decorated very elaborately. Here is a typical schedule for the three-day festival.
Day 1: Lama Losar
The new year begins by the devout Tibetan honoring his/her dharma teacher. The disciple and the guru greet each other with wishes of progress and peace. It is also a tradition to offer tsampa, sprouted barley seeds, and other grains to ensure a very great harvest.
All the high lamas and his holiness, the Dalai Lama, gather to make an offering to Dharmapala (high dharma protector). The other activities of the day include sacred and traditional dances and debates on the philosophy of Buddhism.
Day 2: Gyalpo Losar
The second day of the festival is to honor the national leaders and the community. Many centuries ago, it was the day when the royals handed out gifts. In Dharamshala, his holiness exchanges greetings with the Tibetan government officials in exile and with other foreign dignitaries.
Day 3: Choe-Kyong Losar
This is the day where people make special offerings to their protectors. They burn incense and juniper leaves and raise prayer flags from mountains, hills, and rooftops. The Dharmapalas are asked for blessings and praised in songs and chant. This is where the spiritual part of the festival ends. However, so many parties and activities may go on for over 10 days.
During this joyous festival, ancient ceremonies are held by the people, and these represent the struggle between good and evil. Lamas will pass fire torches and chant. People will perform traditional dances and cheer for the New Year. Tourists will have a chance to watch the Tibetans make their New Year dishes and get to know more about their activities and history.
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