LOSAR – Tibetan Buddhist Festival

Losar is a festival that is a part of Tibetan Buddhism. It is considered to be the new year and is celebrated on the first day of the lunisolar Tibetan calendar.  It generally falls on a date in either February or March according to the Gregorian calendar.

pc- YoWangdu

History of Losar

The festival dates back to the pre- Buddhist period. This was a time when the Bon religion was predominant in Tibet and is that the festival has its roots in a winter incense burning custom. During this festival, a spiritual ceremony was organized and local spirits and deities were offered such as incense to please them. This then later merged with the harvest festival under the rule of the ninth Tibetan king. The harvest festival was held during the blossoming of the flowers of an apricot tree. Together, this festival came to be known as Losar.

Festivities and Traditions in Losar

Preparations for the festival commence days in advance.  Houses are thoroughly cleaned, new clothes are made and different food offerings are prepared. Auspicious symbols and signs are drawn on the house with white powder or are hung as wall hangings. Branches of cedar, rhododendron, and juniper are prepared for burning as incense. The monasteries are also decorated.

Losar is celebrated for different lengths of time, often in tandem with the local tradition. However, the first three days of Losar are considered to be of utmost importance.

Day 1

The first day is referred to as Lama Losar. On this day, the Tibetan Buddhists greet their gurus and wish each other prosperity for the year coming up ahead. This day is mainly spent with one’s family. The offering of Barley seeds and tsampa are made at the alters at home to encourage a good harvest in the upcoming year. Women typically get up early to make barley wine.

Day 2

This day is more commonly known as the ‘King’s Losar’ or ‘Gyalpo Losar’. In ancient times, on this day, a tribute would be paid to the king who would also offer gifts to the public. This day marks the official celebrations. In the past, the revered leader, the Dalai Lama would exchange greetings with national leaders.

Day 3

The third day is referred to as Choe-Kyong (guardian deities) losar. On this day, offerings are given to various gods and deities Prayer flags are hung and devotees visit shrines, monasteries, and stupas.

Altars and offerings

An integral part of the festival is the offerings and auspicious items placed on the altars. These offerings are a means of saying thanks to nature and the local gods and protectors for the positive things of the past year while seeking blessings for the forthcoming year. Amongst the many dishes that are offered on these altars are Khasis (Tibetan fried cookies), Bongbu check, and other eatables. Dekha is a pile of six different types of khases that are stacked upon one another and these numbers can vary from eight to twelve, in even numbers. The construction of this derkha is done to assume the shape of the eight auspicious signs in the union.

Also read, Hogmanay.

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