Losar. Happy New Year, Tibetan Style!
Best wishes and Tashi Delek on Losar (Tibetan New Year) to everyone. May the year bring much happiness and fulfilment in all your lives. For the uninitiated, Tibetans follow the lunar pattern in their calendar, and the Tibetan New Year commences on the first day of the first month of each lunar year, and is celebrated for three days in February. Although the customs and rituals for commemorating the new year are deeply rooted in Buddhist beliefs, Losar was celebrated in Tibet way before the advent of Buddhism, when the Bon religion was largely practiced.
It is also a harvest festival, to celebrate new beginnings, purification and the warding of evil. Homes and buildings are scrubbed clean and incense is generously lit to help cleanse spaces of negative energies. Traditionally, juniper, cedar and rhododendron were dried and used as incense, but they usually come rolled in incense sticks now, often with a dash of sage.
A beautifully decorated shrine is central to the celebrations in all homes. Fresh flowers are used for decorations and flour (plain or coloured) is used to paint auspicious symbols like the sun, moon and the Swastika on walls and entrances. Barley seedlings are sown in small containers and offered to the Buddhas as a request to be blessed with a good harvest in the coming year. A big basket of grain is also put together with two flowery boards inserted in it. Coloured yak butter sculptures are usually made with love and reverence at home, and a sheep head carved out of butter is bought as an offering. Each of these have deep symbolism, and the underlying wish is that all the elements of nature come together, along with the people and farm animals to work towards a good harvest.
Everyone buys new clothes, the spirit of forgiveness is in the air and kegs of chhang or barley beer are made at home to take the festivities to a new high :) It is served warm with bowls of deep fried twisties called kapse. There is also plenty of other delicious food that fills the kitchen, especially Gutu, which is a barley soup made with barley flakes, peas, dough balls and radishes.
The first day of Losar is generally spent with the family, while the second is when people step out to visit meet friends and relatives and exchange gifts and greetings., Sometimes there are community events with local performances. Third day is when everyone gathers at the monastery, where monks chant and offer prayers on behalf of everyone, and put up a performance to ward off evil by wearing scary masks and blowing large horns and playing drums, cymbals and other instruments. There are also many other rituals outside of the monastery that are performed by locals to ward off evil spirits. These include street walks with loud instruments, fire torches, hooting and the like.
Irrespective of your personal faith, step out this evening and be blessed by the gentle energies of the moon. Enjoy the waxing crescent is the first phase after the New Moon.