Tibetan New Year
The New Years festival falls on the 25th
day of the 10th month of the Tibetan calendar.
Celebrated over a week, it is a feast of thanksgiving.
An interesting folk tale offers to explain
why the New Year festival falls at the end
of Dawa Chuchipha and not at the end of the
twelfth month, as is customary.
Singe Namgyar was an ancient king of Ladakh.
He decided to attack Skardo (now in Pakistan).
Since the date of his eventual return was
uncertain, he chose to celebrate the important
festival of Losar before leaving for the battle
field, as it was considered obligatory for
all family members to be present at the feast.
This happened in the 11th month, and the tradition
has carried on ever since it falls at the
time when the larders are stocked full with
grain and meat that is expected to last for
the two long snow-bound months of winter,
when no work is possible.
However, before the coming of a new year
can be celebrated, unfinished business and
unhappy memories must be dealt with. And so,
on the 29th day of the last month in the old
year, there is a festival called Gutor, in
which everyone whitewashes and cleans their
houses. The last day of the old year is spent
preparing for the New Year. People go to monasteries
to make offerings, and to participate in the
ceremonies conducted during the day. Many
rituals take place that are designed to chase
away any evil spirits. One of these is a play
in which the lamas perform masked dances to
symbolize the triumph of good over evil. New
Year's Eve is Lu Yugpa, an opportunity to
banish evil spirits from the old year and
clear the way for starting the new year right.
At dawn on New Year's Day, Tibetans visit
monasteries, shrines, and stupas to make offerings.
Colorful new prayer flags are hung out over
each home and the smell of incense wafts through
the villages. Then families venture out to
drink the new year's chang (unhopped beer)
with friends, to picnic in the parks and meadows,
or to watch an archery tourney. There is great
merriment and revelry as people thank the
gods and pay homage to their ancestors for
providing abundant food. The festivities are
spread over almost a fortnight. During the
first four days of the festival, there are
a series of private family feasts.
The lamas are the initiators of the rites
and play the main role, but the entire village
participates. The residents of each little
township decorate their houses with flour
paintings of the sun and the moon. They also
make offerings to the moon asking for happiness
in life, in the New Year, on New Year's day
and in the stars for the future. Lamps lit
with mustard oil illuminate the house at night.
All the members of a family are expected to
stay at home for the New Year celebrations
and eat a bread called tab-zan. Made of parched
barley dough kneaded in mustard oil, the tab-zan
is an essential offering to the family deity.
Devotees journey to the Jokhang temple in
Lhasa to donate yak butter that keeps the
lamps burning well into the year. At Barkor
Plaza the giant incense burners work overtime
to handle hundreds of people queued up to
throw in their offerings of juniper branches.
New sculptures of yak butter and tsampa (roasted
barley flour) are displayed. Made by the lamas,
the sculptures depict deities and Buddhist
scenes, and will be unveiled at the Butter
Sculpture Festival at the first full moon
of the year (15 days after New Year's Day).