Tibet New Year
New Year is the most important holiday in Tibet. In Tibetan language New Year is Losar - lo means year and sar means new. Generally, its celebration lasts during 15 days, but the main festivities take place only during the first three days. From a cultural perspective, Losar is closer connected to Tsagaab Sar (the Mongolian lunisolar New Year festival) than to Chinese New Year celebration.
According to Tibetan calendar, which consists of twelve lunar months, the Tibetan New Year begins on the first day of the first month. In monasteries, celebrations for the Losar begin on the day before the Tibetan New Year's Eve - the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month. With this occasion the finest decorations are put up and elaborate contributions, called "Lama Losar", are made. At the first light of this day on the top of the main temple Potala in Tibet, the monks of Namgyal Monastery offer a 'sacrificial cake' to the supreme hierarchy of Dharma protectors - the glorious goddess Palden Lhamo. Led by Dalai Lama, the lamas of three great monasteries - reincarnated monks or tulku - together with government officials and dignitaries join the ceremony and offer their contemplative prayers. During this ceremony the monks of Namgyal Monastery recite the invocation of Palden Lhamo.
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 His Excellence of Samsara (Sanskrit, refers to the cycle of reincarnation in Hinduism, Buddhism and other related religions) and Nirvana. His Holiness and the government exchange greetings with both monastic and lay dignitaries, such as representatives of China, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia and other foreign visitors.
Usually, homes are decorated with paintings of sun and moon, and small lamps illuminate the houses at night. On New Year's morning, families wake up before dawn, bathe, put on new clothes and fine jewels. Offerings of barley flour mixed with butter, sugar and yogurt are then made at the family shrine. This represents the hope for a good grain harvest. After visiting local monasteries, the families settle down to feast and drink. In another ceremony named Mesol, families visit the resting places of their ancestors, light a lamp and make offerings of food and drinks.
Beginning with the third day, people and the monks celebrate and enjoy the festive season. The traditional greeting on these days is "Tashi Delek". And, of course, there is no celebration without dances and costume dramas are played. After the traditional ceremony, the entertainers (garma) perform a dance of good wishes. There are also other interesting customs, such as archery contests and horse races.
On the first days of Losar, a beverage called changkol is made from chhaang - a Tibetan drink similar to beer. Making special noodles called guthuk is a custom on this day. Guthuk are made of nine different ingredients including dried cheese and various grains. Another custom is to make dough balls with various ingredients hidden in them such as chilies, salt, wool, rice and coal. The specific ingredient one finds hidden in a dough ball is supposed to tell about one's character. Chilies means the person is talkative, salt or rice or even wool is considered to be a good sign.
In the night, the swishing sound of burning torches can be heard around Buddhist homes, as men whirl flaming torches over their heads to ward off evil spirits, sickness, dog bites and other misfortunes from striking their families in the New Year. In Sikkim, goats are sacrificed after a purification ceremony in which the animals are washed, their bodies are smeared in red and ears stitched with ribbon.
The Losar is also celebrated across the Himalayas, in India, where there is a strong concentration of the Buddhist population in the states like Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Himachal and Ladakh in Kashmir. Losar is also celebrated in Bhutan, although different regions in the country have their own respective new years.