CulturallyOurs Losar New Year Celebrations Monks Dancing in Tibet

Losar Festival – Celebrating New Year In Tibet

01.05.20
CulturallyOurs Losar New Year Celebrations Monks Dancing in Tibet

The Losar festival in Tibet is a festival of Buddhism that celebrates the end of the old year and the beginning of a new year that is set to usher in goodness, prosperity and well-being of Tibetans.

Losar is considered as the Tibetan New Year festival and unlike the traditional western New Year, it is not celebrated on January 1st.  Instead this most popular and vibrant festival is held during the months from January to March and the actual dates are fixed as per the Lunar calendar. Losar is said to start on the first day of the first month of the Tibetan Calendar when the new moon is seen. This is very similar to the Chinese New Year which is also based on the Lunar calendar. Often Losar and the Chinese New Year will begin on the same date, but sometimes they might have a difference of a day, or even a lunar month.CulturallyOurs Tibet Losar New Year Festival And CelebrationsTo signify New Year or Losar, a three-day festival is celebrated by Tibetans worldwide. Losar is celebrated with prayers, displaying prayer flags, religious ceremonies, folk dances, passing fire torches among gatherings, and family reunions. Losar is one of the most widely celebrated Tibetan festivals. Typical cuisine during Losar festival in Tibet consists of foods such as different varieties of meat, bread, butter tea made with yak’s milk and other dishes are served to guests who are invited into homes. Families visit temples to offer prayers and give gifts to monks.

History of Losar

Tibetan customs and rituals for commemorating the new year are deeply rooted in Buddhist ideas and beliefs. But historians believe that the celebrations of Losar in Tibet dates back to a period even before Buddhism came into existence when Tibetans were followers of the Bon religion.

Every winter, a spiritual ceremony was organized in which local spirits and deities were given offerings such as incense to please them. Later on this religious festival became an annual Buddhist farmers’ festival held during the blossoming of flowers on apricot trees. Over time, when the lunar calendar came into being, the farmers’ festival journeyed to becoming the festival of Losar.

Celebrating Tibetan Losar

In most homes in Tibet, preparations for Losar festivities typically begins a month before the end of the year. Similar to festivities around Diwali, the Indian New Year, homes are cleaned discarding unused and old materials so that all evil omens are warded off from life and well-being and prosperity of the family members. New clothes are made for the family to wear during the festival. And just like in Dia De Los Muertos, the day of the dead celebrations from Mexico, families make an altar for Losar. Even monasteries are decorated and protector deities are respected with devotional rituals.CulturallyOurs Tibet Losar New Year Festival And CelebrationsDifferent food offerings are prepared and decorated on the family alter. Deities like Dharampalas (the eight frightful deities who protect Buddhism from evil) and wrathful deities are commemorated with rituals in monasteries. In homes, eight auspicious symbols and other signs are drawn on the house walls using white powder or are hung as wall hangings.

The eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism are

  • A parasol representing royal dignity
  • A pair of golden fish representing good fortune to follow the coming year
  • A conch shell that helps in spreading the sound of Dharma
  • A lotus blossom that represents clarity of mind leading to enlightenment or nirvana
  • A Vase representing prosperity and longevity of life
  • A victory banner representing victory over worldly pleasures like lust, desires and fear of death
  • The wheel of Dharma representing the noble eightfold path that leads to Nirvana ending all suffering
  • The eternal knotrepresenting the union of wisdom and compassion

Losar festival in Tibet

Tibetan Losar is celebrated over a six-day period with each day representing a different ritual practice that has its own meaning and interpretation. Losar related rituals and festivities are divided into two distinct parts. The first part centers around closing out the old year and saying goodbye to all the negative and bad aspects of that year. The second half is centered around welcoming the new year – all that is good and auspicious that comes with something new.CulturallyOurs Tibet Losar New Year Festival And Celebrations

 

Day 1 of Tibetan Losar Festival (Lama Losar)

The first day of the New Year is called Lama Losar when all the Tibetan Buddhists greet their respective gurus (spiritual leaders) and wish each other good health and prosperity for the year ahead. Tibetan farmers offer barley seeds and tsampa as a symbol for a good harvest season in the new year. Tibetan women get up early to cook barley wine and prepare a dish called Dresi. Families visits the local monastery to offer prayers.

Day 2 of Tibetan Losar Festival (King Losar)

The second day is called King’s Losar where His Holiness, the Dalai Lama exchanges greetings with national leaders. In ancient times, on this day a tribute was paid to the kings and hence this second day of Losar is dedicated to the Kings. The kinds would offer gifts to the public.

Day 3 of Tibetan Losar

Offerings are given to the various Gods and protectors on Choe-kyong Losar, the 3rd day of the New Year. Prayer flags are hung and devotees visit monasteries, shrines and stupas. Dances are performed at Buddhist monasteries and people go in large numbers to these monasteries to offer their prayers. All the shops are shut and the people take to the streets decked with colorful prayer flags. The locals celebrate the day with special meat and the local beer Chang flows freely.CulturallyOurs Tibet Losar New Year Festival And CelebrationsAfter the three days, Tibetans engage in parties and get-togethers for 15 days ending the festivities with Chunga Choepa, the Butter Lamp Festival at the first full moon.

Losar is celebrated with much pomp and festivities all over Tibet. Some celebrations range for almost twenty days with lots of parties, performances and religious festivities during that time.

The Losar altar / shrine

During Losar, each family home will have a beautifully decorated altar as a symbol of the new year celebrations. The Losar altar serves as a wish to cultivate a generous heart, and to invoke blessings into the lives of family, friends and community for the New Year.

As such there are no set rules or instructions on how to set up the Losar shrine and because of this there are many different styles and objects that are placed on these altars. Generally speaking, a Losar shrine is a basic Tibetan Buddhist shrine, with additional items for invoking auspiciousness and abundance for the New Year.CulturallyOurs Tibet Losar New Year Festival And Celebrations Tibetan AltarAll Losar altars will have the basic following elements – a statue or photo of Buddha Shakyamuni, Buddhist scriptures either in Tibetan or Sanskrit that represent the words of Buddha, a stupa that represents Buddha’s mind, a photo of the spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a thangka which is a Tibetan silk painting with embroidery, usually portraying the Buddha Shakaymuni, or other Buddhist deities or scenes, seven offering bowls filled with water or food and butter lamps or candles which signify dharma or light.

These items are considered the spiritual core of Losar. Most Tibetans will also add objects that signify abundance and auspiciousness for the New Year.

The quintessential food that is made in almost all Tibetan homes for Losar is the popular New Year deep-fried cookies called Khapse. This fried-sweet comes in many shapes and sizes and is used to decorate the altar as well. On the altar, you will often find stacks or piles of the various styles of khapse tied with strings of dried dri ( yak’s milk ) cheese and colorfully wrapped candies.  All these are added for a visually decorative altar as it attracts good vibes and positive energy. Wine or chang, a very popular barley or rice beer often brewed at home for Losar. In Tibet, families will commonly offer butter (from the female yak, the dri), salt and a brick of tea.

Traveling to Tibet during Losar

Traveling to Tibet may sound complicated at first. Different information sources seem to contradict each other and even different travel agencies post different things online. But in reality, travel to Tibet is quite easy and straight forward. All foreign nationals going to Tibet must have their travel arranged through a travel agency before arriving in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Unfortunately, no independent travel is allowed in Tibet.

All foreigners need to obtain is a Tibet travel Permit which is only issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau. A Tibet Travel Permit is not a visa and is not placed in the passport. It is a two form that lists all details of the travel route while in Tibet. It will have the seal of the Tibet Tourism Bureau on the front page and the license number of the travel agency who is arranging the tour. If you want to travel to Tibet during the Losar festival, it is best to get in touch with a Tibetan travel agency at least two to three months in advance.CulturallyOurs Tibet Losar New Year Festival And CelebrationsFor more information on traveling to Tibet, check out The Land Of Snows.

The Losar festival of Tibet is deep rooted in culture and tradition. This ‘land of snows’ as it is known in much of the region has had a tumultuous history but for most Tibetans festivals like Losar are a way to unite people, community and religion in hopes of a brighter peaceful future.

Have you been to Tibet and experienced Losar?

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Leave your comments below

  1. Ann says:

    Oh wow, you are living the dream girlfriend!
    This is absolutly one of those trips that I ahve been dreaming of as a kid, but kind of never thought possible. Thank you so much for reminding me that dreams do come true 😀

    • Karthika Gupta says:

      Thank you Ann! Anything is possible right. Being in a place with such a beautiful culture and heritage is so enriching.

  2. Sarah says:

    Fascinating! I so want to visit Tibet and especially to witness a festival like this. I saw a similar one once in Bhutan. Didn’t realise I still can’t travel independently in Tibet, that’s a shame!

  3. Jan says:

    I enjoyed reading and learning about the Losar festival in Tibet. It is interesting that some things like the ‘ring out the old, ring in the new’ theme for New year, cleaning of the houses before the festival, having a festive rejoicing week or two – are common between many cultures and traditions. However, not being able to travel independently to Tibet is really not encouraging for tourism!

  4. Jay artale says:

    I like the idea of celebrating the new year over a longer period of time. It seems to add an additional significance to this passing of time.

  5. Georgina says:

    This is such a colourful celebration and a rewarding experience! I would love to visit Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan but often worry about logistics. The licence is something I was not aware of – so glad I read your post, so now I know.

  6. Slavka says:

    So interesting to read about different cultures and traditions. Tibet is fascinating and I hope to make it there one day 🙂

  7. Angela says:

    This festival looks and sounds amazing. I love the costumes and the explanation of the Buddhism symbols. What an experience to have witnessed !