A major festival of the Tibetan Buddhists is the Losar Festival or Monpa Festival. Losar is, itself a compounded form of two root words in Tibetan language; where LO means 'New' and SAR means 'Year'. It is celebrated to avert any negativity of the Old Year and to welcome the arrival of a New Year.
Losar Festival : A Brief Background
The beginning of celebration of Buddhist Losar Festival can be traced back to Pre-Buddhist Tibet when People practiced 'Bon' religion and in spiritual ceremonies every winter, large amount of incense was offered to appease the deities and protectors. Ultimately, this religious festival evolved into an annual Buddhist festival during the reign of Pude Gungyal, the ninth King of Tibet.
Also said that in ancient times, Ladakh experienced turbulent periods due to starvation, diseases, drought and other problems. People assumed that the King Jamiang Namgyal (1555- 1610) had a 'donkey toe' and could not rule. Fortune favoured the Lamas. They decided to take over and the King was thus brutally killed. The Lamas unveiled it as the victory of good over evil and the beginning of a new era.
Losar Festival : Customs
On the Occasions of festival of Losar or Monpa Losar, it's traditional to wear new clothes. People greet each other with the customary New-Year greeting of "tashi delek" (good luck) and visit monasteries, stupas, shrines to make offerings and donations in form of food and other gifts to the monks and nuns there.
This is a time when one gets to enjoy ghutuk (soups made from different kinds of vegetables and even wine) the whole night.
Spring-cleaning, whitewashing of homes, hoisting of fresh prayer flags, removal of auspicious strings on the door called tharchoks - preparations for losar begin almost a month before the festival begins.
As a matter of fun, ingredients such as chilies, salt, wool, rice and even coal are hidden in one's dough balls and given out. If a person find chilies, he/she is considered talkative. If a person finds coal, he/she is regarded to have a 'black heart'. Finding wood, coal, rice etc are considered as a 'good sign'. These are taken lightheartedly.
Losar Festival : Rituals and Traditions
Though the Tibetan calendar has twelve lunar months and Losar begins on the first day of the first month, preparations in the monasteries begin earlier on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month, a day before the Tibetan New Year's Eve. Hectic preparations are made on the last day for the New Year with the finest decorations called 'Lama losar'.
Various kinds of rituals are organized to avert negativity of the Old in the New Year and to ward off all forms of evils.
Finally, on the dawn of New Year, the Dalai Lama leads the abbots of three great monasteries, lamas, monks join the ceremony and offering prayers. The monks of Namgyal Monastery recite the invocation of Palden Lhamo. On completion all assemble in the hall called Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana.
To wish the His Holiness Dalai Lama good luck for the coming year, consecrated long-life pills (tse-ril) are offered by the representatives of the three great monasteries and Tantric Colleges, etc. Then entertainers (garma) perform a dance of good wishes, followed by a debate about Buddhism by two senior monks, where a whole spectrum of Buddhist teaching is briefly reviewed. Requests are made to His Holiness and holders of the Samara doctrine to serve for life-long through their enlightened activities. It is concluded with a ceremonial farewell to His Holiness.
Second day is reserved for a secular gathering in the hall of Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana. His Holiness exchanges greetings with monastic, lay and foreign dignitaries.
On the third day, people and monks celebrate in all colours and enjoy New Year. Earlier, before the Chinese came in Tibet, Losar was celebrated for fifteen days or more. In India now, it has been minimized to two days.
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