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The Story of Tibetan New Year

February 6, 2008

Phayul
Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Happy Losar (Tibetan New Year)!

It is time again for Tibetans around the world to celebrate their Losar;
this time- the Year of the Earth Mouse 2135.

Tibetans and a section of Buddhists around the world will celebrate
Losar on Thursday, February 7, 2008. The celebration normally lasts for
three days, and it all means time for geetings, togetherness and
abundant festivities, and time for prayers as well.

Following is "The Story of Losar" contributed by Venerable Salden of
Namgyal Monastery (Personal Monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama) to
Tibet Center, Chicago


The word Losar is a Tibetan word for New Year. LO means year and SAR
means new.

The celebration of Losar can be traced back to the pre-Buddhist period
in Tibet. During the period when Tibetans practiced the Bon religion,
every winter a spiritual ceremony was held, in which people offered
large quantities of incense to appease the local spirits, deities and
protectors. This religious festival later evolved into an annual
Buddhist festival which is believed to have originated during the reign
of Pude Gungyal, the ninth King of Tibet. The festival is said to have
begun when an old woman named Belma introduced the measurement of time
based on the phases of the moon. This festival took place during the
flowering of the apricot trees of the Lhokha Yarla Shampo region in
autumn, and it may have been the first celebration of what has become
the traditional farmers' festival. It was during this period that the
arts of cultivation, irrigation, refining iron from ore and building
bridges were first introduced in Tibet. The ceremonies which were
instituted to celebrate these new capabilities can be recognized as
precursors of the Losar festival. Later when the rudiments of the
science of astrology, based on the five elements, were introduced in
Tibet, this farmer's festival became what we now call the Losar or New
Year's festival.

The calendar is made up of twelve lunar months and Losar begins on the
first day of the first month. In the monasteries, the celebrations for
the Losar begin on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month. That is
the day before the Tibetan New Year's Eve. On that day the monasteries
do a protector deities' puja (a special kind of ritual) and begin
preparations for the Losar celebrations. The custom that day is to make
special noodle called guthuk. It is made of nine different ingredients
including dried cheese and various grains. Also, dough balls are given
out with various ingredients hidden in them such as chilies, salt, wool,
rice and coal. The ingredients one finds hidden in one's dough ball are
supposed to be a lighthearted comment on one's character. If a person
finds chilies in their dough, it means they are talkative. If
white-colored ingredients like salt, wool or rice are inside the dough
it is considered a good sign. If a person finds coal in the dough it has
much the same meaning as finding coal in one's Christmas stocking; it
means you have a "black heart".

The last day of the year is a time to clean and prepare for the
approaching New Year. In the monasteries it is a day of preparations.
The finest decorations are put up and elaborate offerings are made of
called "Lama Losar". In the early dawn of this day, the monks of Namgyal
Monastery offer a sacrificial cake (Tse- tor) 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
three 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. After the completion of this ceremony, all assemble in the hall
called Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana for a formal greeting ceremony.
Seated on his or her respective cushions, everyone exchanges the
traditional greeting, "Tashi delek".

In order 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 three
great monasteries, the two Tantric Colleges, etc. Then entertainers
(garma) perform a dance of good wishes. And two senior monks stage a
debate on Buddhist philosophy, and conclude their debate with an
auspicious recitation composed especially for the event, in which the
whole spectrum of Buddhist teaching is first briefly reviewed. 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 of the day then
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,
such as representatives of China, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia and
other foreign visitors.

Then from the third day onwards, the people and monks begin to celebrate
and enjoy the festive season. In Tibet before the Chinese came, Losar
had been celebrated for fifteen days or more. In India today we
celebrate for three days, and in America we have minimized it to one
day. In this way the three days of the New Year celebration officially
concludes.
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