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Official date of the Buddhist New Year announced in Tuva

Tuva Online, Feb 2, 2009

Tuva, Russia -- Following the direction of the Kamby-Lama of the Republic, Tuvan Government officially determined the date of the Buddhist New Year – Shagaa. The date falls on a different day every year, and has to be calculated by the astrologists of the Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia. This year it falls on February 25.

The regulation which designates February 25 as a free day was accepted by the Parliament of the Republic on January 29, in accordance with the law “Government holidays in Republic Tuva”. The law-givers also stretched out the preceding work week, transferring the free day of Sarturday, Feb.21 to Tuesday, Feb.24 – “ for the reason of rational use of free and non-working days.”. That way, Shagaa, together with the “red” Monday, a Russian holiday dedicated to the Patriot Defenders of the country, will constitute a 4-day pre-new-year vacation.

By the information from the office of the Kamby-lama of Tuva, for Buddhists, the welcome of the New Year (according to the Lunar calendar, the coming year is in the sign of Yellow Earth Cow) does not end by these few days of holiday. By the canons of the religion, New-year ceremonies, rituals and services will continue in the Buddhist temples of the republic until March 10.

Researchers note that there have not been any great changes in the ways that simple nomads celebrate the new year over the past several centuries. The Mongols, Buryats, as well as Tuvans have always understood the structure of this holiday as having three levels or parts: new year’s eve, the first day of the new year, and the rest of the month.

In the old times, the new year’s eve, “buduu”, people would put their dwelling into order, bring out new clothing from the chests, or clean old clothing. Currently, many Tuvans developed the habit of starting the new year preparations earlier.

According to tradition, contemporary Tuvans also clean their apartments, houses, and yards. During “buduu”, they collect all the garbage and get rid of old stuff. Many women visit laundries: they wash and bleach laundry. Together with this, they prepare traditional dishes, making pelmeni, and sheep are killed then because during the celebration of the New Year, it is forbidden to take lives of living creatures.

On the 30th, according to lunar calendar, i.e. the last day of the old year, many actively visit Buddhist monasteries, “khuree”, and perform rituals of purification to clean off the sins of the previous year. Many nations, for example Tibetans often visit monasteries for the whole of the last month of the old year. Moreover, they try to visit as manytemples and monasteries as possible. It is believed that the more a person visits “khuree” and prays, the more of the blessings of the deities one receives, and is purified from sins and defilement.

It is becoming noticeable that more and more contemporary Tuvans are following the rules of this tradition.

On the last night itself, there would be services in the temples. Currently, this tradition was renewed in Tuva, and continues. Contemporary Tuvans actively participate in these midnight prayers. Even though in the past, the laity was not permitted to be present during these New Year’s religious rituals held at night in the temples, now the believers consider it an especially beneficial practice to be present during the reading of the sutras and prayers on this night.

Some people say that this is a new phenomenon in the behavior of contemporary Tuvan Buddhists. Those, who for some reasons could not participate in the night prayer services, would sit at home and await the first morning of the New Year. There is a belief, that if somebody falls asleep on this nght, then the goddess Lhamo, flying around the planet on her horse, can mistake him for a corpse. For that reason, most people tried to stay awake on this last night of the old year into the morning of the new one.

M.B. Kenin-Lopsan, in his work “Traditional ethic of the Tuvans” writes, that on the night of “buduu”, children up to 13 years of age could sleep, but the adults did not sleep and listened to stories and legends, and played various games.

The New Year starts early in the morning, between 3 and 5 am. In Tuvan language, this moment is called “shagaa bazhy chalarady”, or “ the Shagaa’s head showed up”. “The first day of Shagaa is definitely the biggest day of the year. The age of people is counted in shagaa, and one would say “I have seen so-and-so many shagaa,”. A newborn child would be considered to be one year old, and a child born on the previous Shagaa wolld be considered to be two years old.”.

At sunrise, everybody would dress in traditional holiday clothing, and go outside, carrying trays –“despi”, wooden platters with boiled mutton ribs and other different foods, and all together would go to an elevated place, where they would perform the ritual of “san salyr”, lighting the sacred fire.

The ritual “san sadyr” is the most serious and particular event of the New Year celebrations. Everybody tries to participate in this ritual, because it is believed that whoever participates in this ritual will receive the blessings of the good spirits and deities, and will have good luck and success.

On a specially arranged altar, artysh (juniper) would be burnt, and the participants would throw “deezhi”, i.e. the most highly prized and honorable food into the fire as offerings, most often melted butter, (sarzhag), milk, flour of roast millet, (dalgan), roasted millet (taraa), dried foam ( oreme), cheese ( byshtak), dry cottage cheese( (aarzhy), dough cakes ( boorzak, poova), etc.

After finishing the ritual “san salyr”, comes the next ritual “cholukshuur”, or, according to M.B. Kenin-Lopsan, “amyrlazhyr” – a gesture of New Year’s greeting, accompanied by the words “Amyr-la!” answered by “Amyrgyn-na, amyr-amyr!” which would be exchanged by everybody who would meet not just during the actual celebration of Shagaa, but even later during the year, even months after the New Year.

The essence of the greeting is like this: the younger to the older, or the woman to the man,( if they are of the same age), stretches the hands towards the other with palms up, and the older puts his hands down on them, palms down, and the younger supports the older one’s elbows. This gesture expresses respect and promise of help and support in need. Sometimes, among relatives and close friends, it is accompanied by slightly touching cheeks.

As the New Year started, an endless parade of visiting from house to house, from yurt to yurt, greetings, feasting, exchanges of presents, until all the relatives have mutually visited each other. On this day, all the barriers of status o are forgotten. On the first day of the year, everybody is expected just to be happy and celebrate, without any other considerations. One can go back to the usual work the next day.

In the old times, the beginning of the New Year would be celebrated for three days in a row, people would meet in one yurt or another, play games, sing songs, play musical instruments, listen to traditional story-tellers, practice divination, an often all this would take place in the home of the oldest and most respected person.

After the first three days, full of all kinds of interesting events and entertainments, the remainder of the days of the first month would follow. The whole of the first month is considered a holiday. During this month, prayers and rituals continue, visiting of Buddhist temples-khuree goes on, visiting continues, and relatives living far away are visited in their turn with greetings and exchange of presents.


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