Sunday, February 18, 2007


Today is "Losar", the Tibetan new year ('LO'=year; 'SAR'=new). It is also the Chinese New Year, but I am only going to discuss the Tibetan new year.

Losar is the most important holiday in Tibet. It is celebrated in February; the exact date varies each year according to the lunar calendar. It is primarily a 3-day festival with the first day generally reserved for family,and the second and third for friends and more distant relatives. Tibetans also visit monasteries and make offerings at this time.

Losar is marked with activities that symbolize purification, and welcoming in the new. The last day of the year is a time to clean and prepare for the approaching New Year. During 'Gutor' everyone whitewashes and cleans their houses to prepare for the new year. A small amount of dirt is collected, which will later be thrown onto a place where spirits are thought to dwell. Homeowners race through their houses shooting off guns or firecrackers to drive out evil. On the first day of the New Year, when Losar begins, everyone gets up early to wash themselves in the nearest spring.

Monastaries begin their celebrations the day before Tibetan New Year's Eve by conducting a protector deities' ritual ('puja'). On the last day of the old year, decorations are put up and elaborate offerings made called "Lama Losar".

In the early dawn of the new year, the monks of Namgyal Monastery offer a sacrificial cake (Tsetor) on top of the main temple (Potala in Tibet) to the supreme hierarchy of Dharma protectors, the glorious goddess Palden Lhamo. Led by the Dalai Lama, the abbots of 3 great monasteries, lamas, reincarnated monks, government officials and dignitaries join the ceremony and offer their contemplative prayers, while the monks of Namgyal Monastery recite the invocation of Palden Lhamo. When this ceremony is over, everyone assemble sin the hall called Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana for a formal greeting ceremony, where the traditional greeting "Tashi delek" is exchanged.

To wish the His Holiness the Dalai Lama good luck for the coming year, consecrated long-life pills (tse-ril) made out of roasted barley dough are offered to him by the representatives of the 3 great monasteries, the 2 Tantric Colleges, etc. Then entertainers (garma) perform a dance of good wishes. And 2 senior monks stage a debate on Buddhist philosophy, and conclude their it with an auspicious recitation in which the whole spectrum of Buddhist teaching is briefly reviewed and a request is made to His Holiness and to all holders of the doctrine to remain for a long time amongst beings in samsara in order to serve them through their enlightened activities. The official ceremony concludes with a ceremonial farewell to the His Holiness, who then retires to his palace.

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 Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana. His Holiness and his government exchange greetings with both monastic and lay dignitaries and other foreign visitors.

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