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Tibetan studies show new year is not black

February 21, 2009

Xinhua is the official press agency of the Communist Party of China and
the government of People’s Republic of China.

Backgrounder: Losar -- Tibetan New Year

LHASA, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) -- A leading expert on the Tibetan calendar has
dismissed assertions that the next Tibetan calendar year will be a
"black year", and warned against "playing politics" with Tibet's culture.

Gongkar Rigzin, a senior researcher of astrology and Tibetan calendar
calculations, says the new year starting next Wednesday will be "red", a
sign that it will be "festive and auspicious, but dry."

Under the Tibetan calendar, each year is assigned one of a spectrum of
colors as well as other features, such as an animal like those of
China's lunar calendar.

Gongkar Rigzin refuted calls from the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) last
month for Tibetans to forgo celebrations for the "black year" as an
abuse of a centuries-old tradition.

Members of the TYC, one of the most active advocates of "Tibet
independence", made the calls about three weeks ago in the north India
hilltop town of Dharamsala.

"The TYC, by calling red black, was playing politics and misleading the
public," said Gongkar Rigzin, 67. "They apparently have ulterior motives."

The Lhasa-based researcher is a native Tibetan and a 1957 graduate of
Lhasa-based Mentsekhang, or Tibetan Traditional Hospital, that served as
the research institute for Tibetan medicine and calendar calculations
for the former Tibetan local government.

"The Tibetan calendar is derived from the Indian calendar tradition, but
has taken in elements from China's interior regions, too, such as the
five elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal," he said. "In the
Tibetan calendar, years were indeed identified with different colors
including white, black, brown, green, yellow and red."

Black years, however, occur about once every nine years and almost
always fall in years of pig, tiger, snake and monkey, said Gongkar
Rigzin, who has been compiling the Tibetan calendar for 30years at the
hospital's astrology and calendar calculation institute.

"This year will be an 'earth ox' year and by no means connected to
'black'," he said.

The most recent black year, he added, fell in 2007, the year of pig and
the next would come in 2016.

Tibetans traditionally believed natural disasters were common in "black
years", when they avoided building homes or getting married, he said.
"Such beliefs were based solely on astrology and were never related to
politics."

These subjective elements were rarely included in the Tibetan calendars
published today, he added.

Astrological calculations and calendar compilations were a hereditary
profession of Gongkar Rigzin's family. Today, the calendars he compiles
sell more than 100,000 copies a year to Tibetan communities in Tibet
Autonomous Region, the west China provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan
and Yunnan, as well as in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

"My parents have made their annual pilgrimage to Lhasa and we'll
celebrate the new year here together," said Minyag Kungze, abbot of
Mindroling Monastery in Shannan Prefecture, who is seeking medication at
the Tibetan Traditional Hospital.

The abbot, 39, shrugged off the "black year" claim with a laugh. "It's a
centuries-old tradition for Tibetans to color the years. But if anyone
intends to politicize the issue, that'd be ridiculous."

Six days before the week-long Tibetan new year holiday, stores and
markets in downtown Lhasa are seeing a buying spree by festive crowds.

"I've sold out my 50 homemade earthen pots in four days," said Tsering,
a farmer from Medrogungkar County, 75 km from downtown Lhasa. Like most
Tibetans he has no family name. "Families and restaurants need the pots
to stew their new year dishes."

A few steps from his stall in Lhasa's commercial street near the Jokhang
Temple, dainty wooden chests about the size of a chair also sell well.

"It's our new product, called the 'Buddhist casket'," said Sonam
Tsering, who sold more than 200 of the caskets in two weeks." You put
the Scripture on top and your Buddhist beads, prayer wheels and other
stuff in the drawer below."

He said most buyers loved the elegant "eight auspicious symbols"
engraved on the casket, namely the precious umbrella, golden fish,
inexhaustible treasure vase, lotus flower, white conch horn, interwoven
knot of life, banner of victory and golden wheel of Dharma. "We believe
these will bring good luck for the new year."
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