Tibet is known as ‘The Roof of the World’. It has the highest plateau region on earth. It neighbours China on the north and India, Nepal, and Bhutan on the south. The country is the source of river Brahmaputra, Indus, and many other major rivers flowing to India and south Asia. It is the homeland to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and 6 million Tibetans scattered all across the globe. We have been in India as refugees for the last 60 years.
Tibetan New Year also known as Losar (‘Lo’ literally means ‘Year’ and ‘Sar’ means ‘New’) is the most important festival on the Tibetan calendar. It falls very close to the Mongolian and Chinese New Year following a lunar calendar. The festivities last for 15 days and the first three days are the most important. This year, it falls on the 2nd of March. According to Tibetan Calendar, it will be the first day of the Wood-Horse year 2141. We go to temples and worship, hang colourful prayer flags, sing and dance. We drink ‘chang’ (fermented rice beer typically made from barley.) We prepare special delicacies for the occasion.
The celebration of Losar begins on the 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar, the day before Tibetan New Year's Eve (known as Nyi-Shu-Gu- which means ‘the 29th’). We do a thorough cleaning of our houses and the surroundings with a view to driving away misfortunes and negativities that may come during that year. On the evening of that day, every household prepare a special dish called "Gu-thuk" which is prepared from nine different ingredients including dried cheese and various grains. After the dinner, one person from the family carries a flaming torch around the house to cast out evil spirits. We also make a small effigy out of dough which we call ‘Lue’. This represents all the misfortunes and sicknesses, and diseases that we remove that evening. We usher in the New Year with hopes and aspiration for brighter days ahead.
The First Three Days Are The Highlight of the Event: The first day of Losar is called ‘Lama Losar.' We welcome the New Year by honouring our spiritual teachers. Gurus and disciples greet each other with wishes of peace and prosperity. We offer barley sprouts and Tsampa (roasted barley flour with butter) and other grains to warrant a good harvest for the year. People visit their friends and tish ‘Tashi Delek’ which means “Best Wishes” in Tibetan.The second day of Losar is called ‘Gyalpo Losar’ (Kings' Losar). We honour community and national leaders on this day. Back in Tibet in olden times, people offer gifts to kings at public festivals with much funfair. The third day of the Losar is ‘Choe-Kyong Losar.' (Choe-kyong means ‘a Dharma Protector.’) On that day, we make special offerings to deities. We string up colourful prayer buntings on the hills, mountains, and rooftops and burn juniper twigs and incense to propitiate gods and goddesses to bring luck. 1. Chang koel: Also known as Tibetan rice beer, it is made of barley in Tibet but in exile, it is also made from millet or rice. The New Year wraps up with ‘Choe-nga Choepa’ which is the 15th day of New Year celebrations. ‘Choe-nga’ in Tibetan means ‘fifteen’ and ‘Choepa’ means ‘offerings.’ Monks exhibit colourful sculpted cones out of butter with images of deities. They perform purification rituals before crafting elaborate works of art that are put on display in the monasteries.
The most important place in a Tibetan home is the family shrine. We put up stacks of New Year pastries, roasted and buttered flour, fermented rice beer and dry fruits on the altar draped with ceremonial scarves called 'Khatak.' The offerings placed on the altar is called Derga. Every household has a Derga each on their altar. Apart from 'Derga,' other food and drinks offerings vary from family to family.
A wooden box with double compartments, carved with intricate design is filled with roasted and buttered barley flour in one compartment and wheat in the other. This is called 'Chemar.' When a visitor comes in, they go straight to the family shrine and take a pinch of roasted barley flour, say a prayer and throw it in the air.
The typical Losar food and drinks are as follows-
2. Khapsey: It is a crispy pastry prepared for Losar by every Tibetan family. They are made days ahead of the New Year. It is also made for other formal festivals like; marriages, enthronement of lamas etc.
3.Guthuk: This is a type of soup with dough balls that Tibetans have for dinner a day before the New Year eve. We also put nine large dough balls which clearly stand out among the rest that contains a small rolled up piece of paper at their center and on these pieces of paper are written certain words that stand as metaphors for certain human characteristic, both positive and negative.
4. Dresil: It is a sweetened rice with butter and raisins that we serve on special occasions like weddings and special Buddhist holidays.
5. Bhoe-jha: The ‘Tibetan Butter Tea’ is made with Tibetan tea leaves, a little amount of milk, butter and salt.
6. Momo: This is the most popular Tibetan dish. They are steamed dumplings stuffed with either meat or vegetables or potato. Pan fried momos are called 'Kothay.'
I am a 19 year old Tibetan girl. Born in India to a refugee parents, I have never seen my own homeland. I long for the day when I will be able to celebrate our New Year in my homeland, with my fellow country men and women, in front of the great Potala Palace!
LOSAR TASHI DELEK!