The Tibetan New Year is celebrated as Losar by the Buddhist community residing in Tibet. Celebrated across fifteen days, Losar is the most important festival in the Tibetan calendar. It falls in the month of January or February as per the Gregorian calendar. The word Losar literally means ‘new year’. It is derived from two Tibetan words, ‘lo’ meaning ‘year’ and ‘sar’ meaning ’new’. The Tibetans mark this occasion to get rid of the bad evil spirits from their homes and lives that are lurking around and enter the new year of happiness and prosperity. Though the origin of Losar is not properly known, records state that the history can be dated back to the pre-Buddhist period. Read through the following lines to know more about the historical background of the Tibetan New Year.
Historical Background Of Tibetan New Year
The origin of Losar can be taken back even before the Buddhism religion was established in Tibet. In the early pre-Buddhist period, the Tibetans followed the Bön religion. During these Bön celebrations, a spiritual custom was followed by the people in the winter season. They burned incense in large quantities to please the local spirits, deities and protectors. Eventually with the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet, the older ceremony of Bön was incorporated into the Buddhist tradition, thereby becoming the Buddhist Losar festival. This religious custom became an annual Buddhist festive occasion during the reign of the ninth king of Tibet, Pude Gungyal.
This festival is known to have started when an old woman named Belma introduced the method of measuring time based on the phases of the moon. To add on, this festival was held during the flowering of the apricot trees in autumn in the Lhokha Yarla Shampo region. It is also believed to be the first celebration as a traditional farmers’ festival. Also, during this period, the art of cultivation, irrigation, refining iron from ore and building bridges were introduced in Tibet. These ceremonies can be related to be the precursors of the Losar festival. Later when the principles of astrology were introduced to Tibet, based on the five elements, this farmer’s festival was renamed as Losar or New Year as we know today.
Losar is also referred to as Bal Gyal Lo, where ‘bal’ means ‘Tibet’; ‘gyal’ means ‘king’ and ‘lo’ means ‘year’. The Tibetan New Year is called Bal Gyal Lo since it was first celebrated after the enthronement of the first king. Today, different rituals and customs are followed to celebrate the Losar festival. Preparations begin almost one month in advance. Various attractive decorations are put up and offering, known as ‘Lama Losar’, are made. People dress in new clothes and head off to monasteries, shrines and stupas to offer prayers to the Lord. Food and gifts are donated to monks and nuns. People exchange greetings and wish good luck by saying ‘Tahsi Delek’.