We’ve just received a wonderful batch of photos of the nuns preparing for Losar, Tibetan New Year, and we wanted to share them with you.
This year, Tibetan New Year or Losar falls on February 12th, 2021. The year of the Iron Ox, 2148, begins on this day.
Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. As part of the preparations for Losar, the nuns, like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects.
Here’s a slideshow for you. If you can’t see it, click here.
You’ll see photos of the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute being taught by Gen. Karma, the ritual arts master. Usually, in the past, the nuns were not tested on the ritual arts such as making butter sculptures, making tormas, and drawing, but this year their teacher wanted to test the nuns to see how seriously they have taken their classes over the years. It takes great practice, precision, and patience to keep up these sacred arts.
You’ll also see photos of the nuns making khapse for Losar. These deep-fried Tibetan cookies or biscuits are are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations everywhere. The nuns make them in a variety of shapes and sizes.
All the photos were taken by the Media Nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.
This year, because of the pandemic, Losar will be different from previous years. The Tibetan Health Department and the COVID-19 Task Force of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala have called for extreme precautions ahead of Tibetan New Year. They have urged Tibetans around the world to keep the gatherings small and safe.
The vaccine rollout began in India on December 16, 2020. As of the end of January, 152 Tibetan health workers and front line workers had received the first shot of the vaccine.
The first day of Tibetan New Year or Losar is February 24, 2020. According to the Tibetan lunar calendar it is the beginning of the Iron Mouse Year 2147.
A chemar box for Tibetan New Year made by the nuns. This ornately carved box contains roasted barley and tsampa (roasted barley flour). It is decorated with butter sculptures made by the nuns. The chemar is an auspicious offering to make at the Losar shrine to bring prosperity in the new year.
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 with photos 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.
In the days leading up to Losar, cleaning is an important part of New Year’s preparations. The nuns clean their room as well as the nunnery complex. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.
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 is a special noodle soup eaten once a year on the 29th day of the last month of the Tibetan calendar. For a recipe for guthuk and other Tibetan food, visit YoWangdu.com. Photo courtesy of YoWangdu.
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.
A Tibetan nun fries khapse at Dolma Ling. Khapse are deep fried biscuits that are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations. The most common shape is the small twisted rectangular pieces which are served to guests.
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.
Elaborate and colorful butter sculptures of flowers and Buddhist sacred symbols decorate the offering table for Losar or Tibetan New Year. These sculptures were made by the nuns at Dolma Ling.
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.
Young nuns hold large deep-fried Losar pastries called bhungue amcho or khugo. This particular type of khapse are known as Donkey Ears because of their shape and size. These large, elongated, hollow tubes of crispy pastry are stacked up on the Losar altar and are given as food offerings. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.
Visiting others is a special part of Losar. The nuns and staff at the nunnery visit each other’s rooms to wish each other a happy new year and to drink cups of traditional Tibetan salty butter tea.
Two nuns carry a chemar bo, an open, decorated box with one half filled with chemar, made of roasted barley flour or tsampa and the other half filled with roasted barley. People are invited to take a pinch of the chemar then offer a blessing with three waves of the hand in the air, then taking a nibble. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.
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.
At Losar, old prayer flags are removed and burned and new ones are hung at the nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.
On the third day of Tibetan New Year, a special incense burning offering called sang-sol is held. While many nuns travel home to visit their families at Losar, some nuns remain at the nunnery and take part in this special event.
The nuns gather in a line or circle and each 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”.
A special part of any Tibetan New Year or Losar celebration is the eating of khapse, deep fried Tibetan cookies. This blog post will give you a glimpse of Dolma Ling Nunnery in India and the some of the preparations by the nuns for Losar. In the days leading up to Losar, the Tibetan nuns, like Tibetan lay people all over the world, will be working hard to prepare large batches of these crispy cookies.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India making khapse for Tibetan New Year. Photo from the Tibetan Nuns Project 2014.
Khapse (or khapsay) means literally “mouth-eat” and they are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations everywhere. While these biscuits are made for other celebrations as well, such as weddings and religious events such as the enthronement of a lama, it’s at Tibetan New Year that they are ubiquitous. Continue reading →
Losar, or Tibetan New Year, falls this year on March 2nd 2014 and is the start of the Wood Horse Year, which is year 2141 in the Tibetan lunar calendar.
Photo of nuns hanging prayer flags courtesy of Olivier Adam
This year will be the first time in many years that Losar celebrations will take place at Tibetan exile communities and at Dolma Ling Nunnery near Dharamsala, India and other nunneries.
Since 2008 and the unrest in Tibet, many of the Tibetan settlements, monasteries and nunneries in India have not been celebrating Losar. With many Tibetans self-immolating for the cause in Tibet, Tibetans in exile have joined together in prayers, but have not followed traditional Losar celebrations.