Lhosar: Mahayana Buddhism's New Year

By Arun Ranjit, The Rising Nepal, Feb 10, 2008

Kathmandu, Nepal -- Situated in the lap of the Himalayas sandwiched between two giant nations Nepal is a home to 70 ethnic groups having their own religion, culture, language and life-style. It is the land of heady mixture of unique culture proudly preserved; mind boggling adventure and remarkable nature beauty.

Among those, tens of thousand of inhabitants, Gurungs, Tamangs, Sherpas and other Buddhism follower ethnic groups as well as the Tibetans have heralded the New Year of 2131 which is also called as the Year of Earth Rat from Friday (8 February) observing the Lhosar ending the year of Pig which will be continued for a weekdays.

The cultural festival of the Buddhist Mahayana sect, Sonam Lhosar is celebrated by the people of the Tamang, Sherpa, Gurung, Magar, Thakali, Jirel, Nesyangwa, Bhote, Dura and Lepacha communities as their new year.

Besides Nepal, Lhosar is also celebrated with fervour and merriment by Chinese, Singaporean, Mongolian, Malaysian, Indian of some parts, Thais, Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Laotian, Burmese (Myanmar), Korean , Cambodian and Japanese too.

Lhosar is celebrated by the Gurung community as the Tola Lhosar in the first week of January, by the people of Tamang community as Sonam Lhosar in the second week of February and by the Sherpa and Bhote people as Gylapo Lhosar around mid-February every year.

"Lho" means Year and "Sar" means new in the Tamang language hence the word Lhosar means New Year.

On the occasion of Lhosar festival people take blessings from their senior and exchange greetings.

It is believed that an era changes every 12 years which are represented by the symbols?rat, oxen, tiger, rabbit, heron, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, bird, dog and pig in that order.

It is believed that the tradition of celebrating Lhosar originated in China and entered Nepal via Tibet.

As a part of cultural activities, the Chinese, Singaporeans, Mongolians, Malaysians, Indians of some parts, Thais, Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Laotians, Burmese (Myanmar), Koreans, Cambodians and Japanese people celebrate their New Year that is popularly known as Spring Festival.

They celebrated the New Year by eating traditional food and carrying out an ancient ceremony to drive away ghosts.

Careful preparations and feasting started two days earlier, when by tradition all families were busy clearing and painting their houses. These tasks are banned on other days around the festival. Garbage is usually dumped at a junction of the roads, together with effigies of ghosts, made of roasted barley.

Also on this day, women bath, while men wait for 24 hours until New Year's Eve to bathe, and infringement of this timetable is regarded inauspicious.

Dinner-time on this day was the time for happy family reunions when a traditional food "Gutu", a thick soup made from dough, was served. While eating "Gutu", family members usually find unexpected filling - salt, for example, standing for the laziness of the eater, a pepper, which, means that the eater is garrulous, or a moon-shaped or sun-shaped piece of dough, symbolizing kindness of the lucky eater. This game always brings much laughter and happiness to the family gathering.

All the eaters must leave nine drops of Gutu in their bowls when they finish dinner, to be poured on the effigies of ghosts. Then the ceremony to drive away ghosts started. People first walked around their houses and then out to the street, holding blazing torches and calling on ghosts by name to come out. The ceremony ended with the burning of the ghost?s effigies again at a junction of the roads.

For the ghost-exorcising occasion, almost all people, old and young, come out to let off firecrackers and pray for a happy and peaceful new year.

Since borrowing and lending money and things from to others on New Year's Day are both regarded as taboo possibly symbolizing a debt-laden year ahead- people pay off all their debts by the end of the old year and return anything they have borrowed.

Although most of the people still stick to the tradition of staying at home for the whole of New Years? day itself, eating and drinking, except for pilgrimage, for fear of taking luck and happiness away from their homes, some individuals continue to offer their wares on that day, adding new colour for the New Year while only fewer are praying house to house visits or drinking spirits.

'We used to drink liquor in one household after another. Therefore, it wasn't usual for every family to carry back a drunk? said Lhakpa Sonam.

It is the customs of Sherpas and Tibetans not to step out of their homes to start celebrations on the New Year?s Day until they hear a long, loud call of ?Here comes the New Year? by some old artist. In recent years, the artists' herald for the coming of a new year had been taped and shown by local TV, so people can watch in TV indoors and know when it is time to go outside.

TV has not just heralded the coming of a new year but also offered glimpses of the world?, said Gyamjo Sherpa.

Every country has its own festival and observes in its own way. The traditional festive-activities and the way of a country observe form the culture of a country. These diverse cultures have been sources of creation while being a guardian of a priceless legacy of historical and traditional assets.

Ethnic castes, festivals, social activities, traditional values are the lenses through which the culture of a country is brought into focus.

Cultural borrowings are possible. One country may have borrowed something from the culture of another country. Cultural differences may be seen in clothes, in behaviors, manners and beliefs and in many other things.

Nepal's festivals are dynamic, enthralling events for every foreign visitor. Nepal's festivals rooted in the country?s history, mythology and religion, honour and propitiate the multitude of gods, controls malicious spirits, or celebrate mythological victories over evil.

Nepalese festivals are celebrated from religious to historical aspect, agricultural to seasonal changes and in legendary fun. Above all, a festival is a social occasion, and an affirmation of the ancient and strong bonds of religion and culture.

The advent of the globalization era heightens the importance to preserve, develop and learn from the uniqueness and diversity of various cultures as well as to enhance the cultural symbiosis. Cross-cultural activities in the 21st century should not be limited to history or tradition but also be broadened to identity, respect, learn and incubate new trends of culture emerging from change.
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