The over 970-year-old Tibetan New Year (Losar) is the grandest traditional festival of the Tibetans.
Falling on the first day of the first Tibetan month, it will last for 15 days till Tibetan Lantern Festival. In a holy land where Tibetan Buddhism still defines its culture, Tibetan New Year is more than a carnival of the common people, but also a time to honor and entertain gods. With festivities including horse racing, archery, wrestling , weight-lifting, acrobatics and exorcism, Tibet will become an inviting and bustling place with eye-dazzling color, exotic flavor and cheery atmosphere.
Preparation of food, clothes and entertainments such as Tibetan opera
will begin from early December in Tibetan calendar. Every household will prepare a snack named “Qiema
”, an auspicious local delicacy consisting of Tsamba, fried wheat, Ginseng fruit and a goat head. Qiema is contained with a rectangular wooden box engraved with the images of moons and stars. Atop of the Qiema sit barley spikes and flowers made of butter. All of these elements symbolize celebrations and good wishes relating to harvest. Besides, they will also nurture several basins of barley seedlings. On the first day of the first Tibetan month(Tibetan New Year), both Qiema and barley seedlings will be put in front of the Buddha niches to pray for good harvest in the coming year.
|Qiema(切玛): a must-eat during Tibetan New Year Festival. |
From middle December (Tibetan calendar), the Tibetans
will make Kasai
, a deep-fired snack made of butter and flour. Reflecting the diligence and intelligence of the Tibetan housewives, Kaisai is a trendy and most favored treat to entertain guests. Coated with different colors and stuffed with sugar, Kaisai comes in various shapes, such as rectangular, round, ears, plates, butterflies and spoons.
Two days prior to Tibetan New Year, the Tibetans will clear up the house, replace the mats and put up New Year paintings. The Tibetan men will have a haircut and the Tibetan women will wash their hairs, otherwise, it will be a bad omen. On the 29th day of December, the Tibetans will paint their doors with a sign signifying auspiciousness and eternity (which resembles the symbol used by Hitler.) Some will also paint the beams with white dots, which metaphors longevity and good harvest.
|A Glimpse of the Tibetans' Home|
|The Tibetans' Altar during New Year Festival|
On the Tibetan New Year’s Eve, the Tibetans will gather to have a banquet. The dinner involves a flour porridge called Gutu. Inside of these doughs, stones, chili peppers, charcoal and wool are harbored. Those who happens to have a bite of the stone indicates he or she will be a stone-hearted person in the coming year, charcoal indicates cunning, chili peppers read imposing in speech and wool symbolizes kind-hearted. They will spit them out immediately, and the rest will burst out laughter.
|Goat Heads: masqots used during Tibetan New Year||offerings to Buddha |
According to the timeworn tradition, housewives should get up early on the first day of the first Tibetan month, feeding the livestock and wakening up the whole family. Dressed up in brand new attires, the whole family will sit in order. The elder will bring Qiema, and then everyone will sprinkle some upwards to worship gods before eating. The elder will say “Tashi delek (扎西德勒)” which roughly means “auspicious , happy and good luck”, while the rest will correspond: “May you healthy and happy forever. Wish this time in next year, we can gather together happily again.” Then, they will eat oatmeal porridge, ginseng fruit and drink barley wine. Generally speaking, they do not visit relatives or friends on this day. In some parts of Tibet, some housewives will present the steamy hot barley wine to each family member’s bedroom in early morning. Added with red sugar, cheese and Tsamba, this intoxicating wine signifies a beautiful starting of a happy new year.
The second day of the first Tibetan month will see Tibetans on their way to visit relatives and friends. It will last from three to five days. Legend goes that their god will observe them secretly during this period. If they dress up beautifully, the gods will be delighted and bestow new blessings. If they are in rags, their gods will be pissed off and bring epidemic and disasters. Hence, you can see the Tibetans in their most gorgeous attires and jewelries, not just to please themselves, but also their god.
When visiting a neighbor or a not so close friend, the Tibetans usually stop by and pronounce the greetings outside loudly. Upon hearing it, the master will come out immediately, carrying Qiema. After exchanging greetings, both will taste the wheat and Tsamba from each other’s box, then sprinkle some in the air three times to pay homage to the gods of heaven and earth. After that, they will present Hada to each other and drink barley wine. Before drinking, they will use the ring finger to flick the wine three times. Behind this peculiar etiquette underlies rich religious connotation: it is a sign of respect for their deities. When visiting relatives or close friends, the Tibetans will enter the door directly and indulge in drinking and eating to their hearts’ content.
The third day of the first Tibetan month will see Baoping Hill and Yaoshan Hill teemed with Tibetans, who will perch wind horse flags to worship God of Mountain and God of River. Smoking will rise from the burning grass piles, while a rain of colorful banners and white Tsamba will pour down. Their pray voice will resonate among the heaven and earth, which is exceptional touching. After finishing this routine, the Tibetans will congregate at a mountain slope, singing, chatting and drinking.
|Tibet is a land of Buddhism. The Tibetans believe in that all people are subject to the endless circle among human, deity, semi-deity, livestock, hell and hungry ghosts except for Tulku (Living Buddha). To avoid falling into hell, they keep chanting the six syllables Om Mani Padme Hum. It is said 100000 times’ chanting can shorten the circle time for once. |
|Spin the prayer wheels engraved with six-syllable mantra has the same effect of reciting them. Hence, you can find a myriad of prayer wheels here. Some are installed above the butter oil lamp or in rivers, and the heat or rapids will turn them into rotation respectively. The most convenient way is to hold them in hands and spin them day in and day out. |
|They also invent "Wind Horse Flag", which are printed with six syllables mantra as well as their own birthday and animal signs. These flags are placed near the mountain or along water edge. Stirred by wind, these banners will dance in the wind like horses. Each movement of them equals to a recite of the six syllables mantra.|
Shigatse: Exorcism and Jiaxie Dance are under the way
The Tibetans in Shigatse celebrate New Year from December 29 (Tibetan calendar). A ritual named: “Guqia” will be performed. Rooms will be cleaned, bonfire will be set up, Mani stone piles will be painted with white, red and black color and the house will be decorated with auspicious patterns including golden fish, bottles, lotus, shells, knots and umbrellas. In this area, washing hair is a privilege reserved for the men, otherwise it will cause trouble in this day. Among all these odd customs, exorcism stands out as the most interesting part. Here goes the procedure:
A female ghost made from tea leaves, wine, chili pepper, radish and ashes will be put into a broken jar. Then, the Tibetan will worship Buddha and fill everyone's bowl with flour porridge. After swallowing the majority, they will drip the leftover into the ghost. Then, they will pick one dough, leave their finger prints on it before pulling it into a long stripe. The incantation goes like this: “take away the bad luck, take away the evil forces and eliminate the war, demons, suffering, famine, frost during the following 365 days”. Then they will murmur the curse: “To me, you are as light as a feather. To you, I am as heavy as a chuck of gold”. After that, they will wrap up the ghost with threads from their attires, spit on it and paint it pitch black before throwing it into the jar again.
|The man-made "ghost"||The Tibetans will run through the entire house in December 29 to scare off all the ghosts|
|Ignite the torches||They will throw away the ghost in the roadcross and burn it off|
Some villages also perform exorcism for the livestock. After 9pm, a man will hold a torch and walk through all the rooms. Shouting and screaming, he will try to scare the ghost away. Meanwhile, a woman will walk in front of him, with a hand-made ghost in hand. The ghost will be deserted at the crossroad and burned, so it will never come back again. After that, all the young men will surround the female ghost and mock: "you old women with a broken jar in the waist, ohoh, you old woman with black tints, ohoh, you old woman who eat peas and has black ass, ohoh, you old woman who eats raw flour, ohoh." After sending off the ghost, mothers and wives will greet them at the door. Mothers will ask: "where are you heading". Sons will answer:"I am heading to the land of happiness". Then, the son will give a "divine stone" to his mother. Decorated with butter sculpture, this divine stone will be placed onto the altar to protect the whole family. After that, the whole family will sit down and enjoy the flour soup named "Gutu".
On the first day of the first Tibetan year, wives or elder daughters in Shigatse will get up in middle night, preparing barley wine and presenting it to their family members when the rooster sings. When the rooster sing for the third time, some families will search for cow droppings, water, earth from summer crop field and dog droppings. Maybe this sounds pretty disgusting, but to locals, these items possess magical powers, which can not only prevent all the natural disasters at bay, but also bring wealth and good luck. In this day, throw away cow droppings, lend things to outsiders, visit relatives or receive guests should be avoided, or one will end up with poverty and illness.
|Jiaxie dance(甲谐) is unique to Shigatse, Tibet. The dancer will wear red or yellow silk costumes and a very big hat. It is performed during grand festivals such as Tibetan New Year. This primitive dance can last for a whole day. |
Gongbu Area: Dogs have the first bite
In Gongbu area (southeast area of Tibet, which includes Nyingchi Prefecture, Milin and Jiangda), Tibetan New Year comes in the 10th Tibetan month. On the 30th day of the ninth Tibetan month( the New Year’s Eve), the Tibetans will run through each house, with white stones and black stones in hands. They will throw the stones at every corner and yell:"ghost, come out." when feel sure that the ghosts have fled away, they will seal the door with pine branches. After the exorcism, they will gather to eat New Year Eve dinner. To outsiders' surprise, they will invite dogs to have the first bite. Tsamba, mutton, beef, peach, walnut, butter, and ginseng fruit will be presented by wooden plates, while barley wine and butter tea will be contained within walnut shells. They will invite the dogs politely: " happy dog, please eat". Then, the experienced dog will behave very graceful; it will smell all the food before deciding which one to eat. But not all dogs are so well-trained, and some will bark and upturn the plates. Deeming it as sign of bad luck, the Tibetans will kick it out of the table. If the dog eats Tsamba or biscuits, it promises a harvest year ahead, butter or cheese hints the prosperity of livestock. However, if the dog eats meat, it signifies death or epidemic. Strangely, all the dogs seldom eat meat on this occasion. We have no idea what the Gongbu people have done, that the dogs will find the irresistible delicacy unfavorable. After the dogs have enough, the Tibetans in Gongbu will eat. They will sit around the fireplace, drinking barley wine, butter tea and enjoying a special snack called “Jieda". Jieda is made of butter oil, milk and flour. You have to roast them above the fire, the taste is simply delicious.
Yushu: Watch Yak Dance
, horse racing is a popular festivity during Tibetan New Year. Young Tibetans will seize the change to show off their outstanding horsemanship. In Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai, the Tibetans will stage Yak Contest.
Yak is the beloved and most versatile livestock of the Tibetans. It splits into domestic ones and untamed ones. Known as strong, stubborn, competitive and rebellious creatures, yaks need sufficient training to qualify for any competition. Sometimes, no matter how well-trained a yak is, it will overthrow its master, which is very funny to observe. On the competition day, they will be decorated with colorful blankets and red ribbons. Against the thundering drum beats, they will dash forward with lightening speed. The champion will be awarded with wine and Hada and be viewed as a hero. The yak, in return, will be highly-valued also. Locals are ready to pay big money to buy it. In the east area of Qinghai, this competition gives way to Yak Dance, during which two people will dress up and perform the movements of yaks, which is vivid and quite engaging also.
|In Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai, the Tibetans will stage Yak Contest during Tibetan New Year Festival|
Religious Activities during Tibetan New Year Festival
Author: Sophia Posted on April 28, 2013