Losar or Tibetan New Year is a very special time of year. In 2022, Tibetan New Year or Losar falls on March 3rd. According to the Tibetan lunar calendar it is the start of year of the Water Tiger, 2149.
In the traditional Tibetan calendar, each year is associated with an animal, an element, and a number. The year of the Water Tiger ends on February 20, 2023 and the year of the Water Hare, 2150, begins the following day.
Tibetan New Year Activities
Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, Tibetans say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home from top to bottom. After that, the “new year” Losar (ལོ་གསར་) is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives.
Here is a snapshot of Losar activities at a large Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in India, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The video was made several years ago, prior to the pandemic. All the photos were taken by the nuns themselves. If you can’t see the video, click here.
On the 29th day of the outgoing year, called nyi-shu-gu in Tibetan, Tibetans do something like a big spring clean. By cleaning, Tibetans purify their homes and bodies of obstacles, negativity, sickness, and anything unclean.
On the night of the 29th, Tibetans eat a special kind of noodle soup called guthuk. This dish, eaten once a year two days before Losar, is part of a ritual to dispel any misfortunes of the past year and to clear the way for a peaceful and auspicious new year. If you want to make it at home, here’s a vegetarian recipe for guthuk.
Guthuk has at least nine ingredients and contains large dough balls, one for each person eating the soup. Hidden inside each dough ball is an object (or its symbol) such as chilies, salt, wool, rice, and coal. These objects are supposed to represent the nature of the person who receives that particular dough ball. For instance, if one gets a lump of rock salt in a dough ball (or a piece of paper with the Tibetan word for salt on it) this implies that one is a lazy person. If a person finds chilies in their dough, it means they are talkative.
Also on the 29th day, special tormas (ritual figures of flour and butter) are made. After supper, the tormas and the guthuk offered by the nuns are taken outside and and away from the nunnery. The nuns say “dhong sho ma” to mean “Go away. Leave the house” to get rid of all bad omens.
Other Losar preparations include making special Tibetan New Year foods such as momos and khapse, Tibetan cookies or biscuits. The khapse are made a few days before Losar and are distributed among the nuns and staff.
The next day is called Namkhang which is the day when houses are decorated. Special ritual offerings are also prepared for the day and these are said in the prayer hall.
Also, as part of the Losar or Tibetan New Year preparations, the nuns make butter sculptures to help decorate the Losar altar.
On the day of Losar itself, Tibetans get up early in the morning and wish each other “Tashi Delek” or Happy New Year and then go to the prayer hall for prayers. Part of the prayer ceremony includes tsok, the offering of blessed food including khapse biscuits and fruit.
Here’s an audio recording of the nuns’ Losar prayers courtesy of Olivier Adam.
At the end of the puja or prayer ceremony, all the nuns line up to pay hommage at the throne of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to the nunnery’s leaders. They offer white kataks, ceremonial Tibetan prayers scarves.
Visiting others is a special part of Losar. Normally, people visit each to wish each other a happy new year and to drink cups of traditional Tibetan salty butter tea. However, due to the pandemic, all Tibetans living in India have been advised to take special care this year and moderate their Losar activities to keep people safe from COVID.
Hanging Prayer Flags at Losar
It is customary to hang new sets of prayer flags at Losar. Old prayer flags from the previous year are taken down and burned with bunches of fragrant pine and juniper. New prayer flags are hung. If you need new prayer flags you can order them from the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. The prayer flags are made and blessed by the nuns at Dolma Ling.
On the third day of Tibetan New Year, a special incense burning offering called sang-sol is held. Prior to the pandemic, many nuns would travel to visit their family members at Losar, while some nuns would remain at the nunnery and take part in this special event.
The nuns gather in a line or circle and each nun takes some tsampa (roasted barley flour) in her right hand as an offering. The nuns raise their arms simultaneously twice and then, on the third time, they throw the tsampa high into the air shouting “Losar Tashi Delek”.
P.S. It’s not too late to purchase the 2022 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar with stunning images of the lives of the Tibetan nuns, ritual dates, and the Tibetan lunar calendar.
At least ‘YEAR OF THE WATER TIGER’ written in Tibetan/Sambhota script in one of the many available styles ought to have been included in the introduction.