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Losar: Buddhist New Year of Tibet

Losar: Buddhist New Year of Tibet

Like many others Losar also marks the advent of New Year. It is also called Ladakhi or Tibetan Buddhist New Year. The festival is celebrated for two weeks during the months of December and January of the lunar calendar. The dancing of the ibex and the drastic battles between the King and his ministers add to the happy atmosphere, and this festival is characterized by ancient rituals, stage fights between good and evil, chanting, fire torches passing through the crowds and other activities.
Singme Namgyar, King of Sikkim, is said to have put forward the Buddhist New Year celebrations for a month because he was going to war on New Year's Day.

Buddhists from Tibet and India gather together to celebrate this festival. Losar is a sacred time for all Buddhists, and a time for feasts and celebration. It is a time to be with the family and to ensure that bad omens are not carried through to the New Year.

During Losar homes are decorated with flour paintings of the sun and moon and with small lamps illuminating the house at night, new clothes are stitched, debts and quarrels are resolved, and good food is cooked. The first few days of the festival celebrations are mainly among family, as are the first days of the other New Years. Later, the festivities roll out to the streets.

On the fifth day of Losar in Sikkim a special broth, made from boiled barley grain, peas and sheep’s stomach, is prepared. At night, the swishing sound of burning torches can be heard around a Buddhist house, as menfolk whirl flaming torches over their heads to ward off evil spirits, sickness, dog bites and other misfortunes. Buddhist families take special care to ensure that positive things happen all the time.

One male goat and one female goat are sacrificed after a purification ceremony in which the animals are washed, their ears are stitched with ribbon, their bodies are smeared red, and they have drunk chang, the local brew.

At another ceremony named Mesol, the family visits the resting places of their ancestors. They light a lamp and offer food and drink. The family then eats the food, which is considered blessed. In some homes, the men race through the house firing guns or crackers. There are costume dramas, archery contests and horse races and, as always, they drink chang, their special brew.

On New Year’s morning, families rise before dawn to bathe and dress in their new clothes and fine jewelry. They make offerings of barley flour mixed with butter, sugar and yogurt at the family shrine, which represents their hope for a good grain harvest. After a visit to local monasteries, the family settles down to feasting and drinking.