Losar: Dawn of a New Year on the ‘Roof of the World’
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Losar: Dawn of a New Year on the ‘Roof of the World’

‘Our eternal message of hope is that dawn will come’…Martin Luther king Jr’

Post by COL SATISH SINGH LALOTRA on Sunday, February 11, 2024

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The beauty of having so many diverse cultures and traditions in the world is that you are never short of anything to celebrate.  With 8.1 Billion current world population and counting very second, is it any wonder that though humanity  spread over different time zones has as many different ways and means to sound the arrival of their own distinctive ‘New year’ that goes with their centuries old beliefs, customs and traditions. The uniqueness of this landmass which goes by the name of India or Bharat has etched its name in the comity of nations that has been the origin and at the vanguard of propagating a multitude of religions and faiths often radiating all over the world.


‘Tibetan Buddhism’ is one such off-shoot of mainstream Buddhism which has been a gateway of this great religion to spread its wings further in the rarefied ‘Roof of the world’ i.e. Tibet. Historically, culturally and ethnically, Tibet and India has had deep rooted relations spanning centuries each drawing sustenance from other’s existence. The biggest testimony of these relations standing the litmus test of time and tide is the 6,638meters / 21,778 feet high ‘Mount Kailas’ located in the ‘Burang county’ of Tibetan autonomous region that has been venerated for thousands of years by the quad of Buddhists, Jains, Hindus and the Bons. Though the world over, New Year celebrations are rung at the stroke of 00.00 am from Canberra to Casablanca and Antarctica to the Arctic Circleit goes with the ‘Gregorian calendar’ that has been the hallmark of Christian religion and does not gel with certain religions that have been the hallmark of Asiatic continent. 


The nontheistic religions like Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Jainism and even Hinduism have their own days and time of heralding their respective New Year. As for the Hindu New Year it is celebrated on the first day of the ‘Shukla Paksha’ of the Chaitra month which generally falls in March or April. The Tibetan New Year is celebrated with a typical name  ascribed to it---‘Losar’. In the Tibetan language ‘Losar’ is hyphenated with words like ‘Lo’ meaning ‘Year’ and ‘Sar’ meaning New. Traditionally, the Tibetans follow the lunar pattern in their calendar; wherein one year is made up of 12 months. By virtue of self-having served in the SFF (Special frontier force) few decades back which was officered by both Tibetan and Indian army officers, I had the good fortune of being a firsthand witness to the gay abandon, and revelries that used to pass off for the Tibetan new-year.


Tibetan New Year commences on the first day of the month of each lunar year. In 2024, i.e. the current year the Losar festival will be celebrated between 10th to 12th of February. Tibetan customs and rituals for commemorating the New Year are deeply rooted in Buddhist ideas and beliefs. There are certain historians who still hold their age old beliefs that Losar in Tibet can be dated back to a period before Buddhism came into existence. It is given to understand that before the advent of Buddhism in Tibet, this highland plateau was the sole domain of ‘Bon- religion’ who believed in animistic rituals and customs. Somehow ‘Bon religion’ has withstood the time and tide of events and still being practiced in many parts of Tibet. We can safely call this period as Pre-Buddhist era that had its own pre Buddhist Losar which involved people igniting incense sticks dedicating to the local Gods and spirits. Their belief was that the happiness of   local Gods and spirits would ensure the wellbeing of the people in the New Year.


In fact Losar festival closely resembles in its essence the myriad of Indian festivals associated with harvesting season like the ones of Baisakhi, but took on a different hue when Buddhism seeped into the Tibetan culture. From then on the celebrations took a tilt of Buddhist colour and rites and customs. It is believed that there was an old woman known by the name of ‘Belma’ during the reign of king ‘Pude Gungyal’ who was the 9th king of Tibet . This old woman used to teach the locals how to calculate time based on the phases of moon. With that belief, some locals refer to Losar as ‘Bal Gya Lo’ where the word ‘Bal ’refers to Tibet Gyal to the king and Lo to the year. The enthronement of the king is also celebrated on this day in Tibet.  Losar celebrations go on for 3 days and the date varies every year and sometimes falls on the same day as the Chinese New Year. The month before the celebrations begin in homes by commemorating the 8 auspicious symbols related to the festivals which are drawn with white powder.


The 8 auspicious symbols that are the harbingers of Losar festivities are:

  • Parasol is representative of royal dignity.
  • A pair of golden fish representing the good fortune to follow the coming year.
  • Conch shells that help in spreading the ‘Dharma’.
  • Lotus blossom, representative of a clear mind that would lead in the path to attain salvation and enlightenment.
  • Vase is representative of prosperity and longevity.
  • Victory banner is representative of victory over worldly pleasures like lust, desires, and fear of death.
  • The wheel of dharma is perhaps the most important Buddhist symbol representing the eightfold path that would lead to nirvana, thereby ending all sufferings.
  • The eternal knot is representative of the union of wisdom and compassion, reminding one the far reaching effects thereof.



As for the days that these celebrations extend into numbering about three, each day has its own distinctive identity with the chronology of events sounding its own importance. On the first day of Losar festival the cleaning of the house, especially the fire corner that has the ‘Kitchen’ at its center is done because it is here that the food of the house is prepared. The chimney is swept clean and special dishes are cooked. The soup is served with small dumplings that are made of meat, wheat, rice, potatoes, cheese, rice, green peppers, vermicelli and radishes. A special noodle called ‘Guthuk’ is made which is having contents like dried cheese and various grains. Dough balls are made in which people place various ingredients, such as chilies, salt, wool, rice, and coal which are then handed out.

The ingredients that one finds hidden in one’s dough ball are supposed to be a lighthearted banter or comment on their character. On the second day of the festival, religious ceremonies are held. People visit the local monastery to worship and give gifts to the monks. Since I was initially posted at Doom Dooma in Assam with Delta sector of SFF, these ceremonies were held at the unit Gompa which were presided over by the ‘head lama’ or main monk of the religious place of our sector. The second day also marks setting off crackers to rid of evil spirits lurking around. The people thereafter gather around with their fineries adorned and proceed to have a reunion feast.


On the day of the New Year per se, people get up quite early in the morning wearing new clothes after having taken a bath. Then they make offerings to the Gods by placing them on their household shrines and worship them. This day is also marked by the family members exchanging gifts, a reunion dinner, usually consisting of a kind of cake called ‘Kapse’ and an alcoholic drink called ‘Chang’ which is drunk to keep warm. I have had the good fortune of celebrating this Tibetan festival even at the base camp of Siachen glacier way back in February 1996. The Pinjas (Tibetan soldiers) that time had bought a big yak from the nearby place of ‘DISKIT’ and feasted on for days together.


The universality of human feelings percolating down the ages is seeped into all communities irrespective of geographical or national boundaries. The fact that Losar festival too has the ‘Harvest season’ as its sine quo non just on the lines of our Baiasakhi and many more such festivals proves that the commonality of human aspirations, feelings, and empathy with nature knows no borders. One often partaking in such diverse festivals comes face to face with a common thread running in all of us---‘’ Hope that dawn of the ‘New Year’ is coming.’’


(The writer is a retired army officer and can be contacted on his email: slalotra4729@gmail.com)




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