Budhists in Ladakh prepare for New Year "Losar"

New Kerala, Dec 15, 2004

Ladakh, India -- Preparations for New Year celebration are at its peak these days across the world. And, the Lamas are not behind. Their way of celebrating the New Year is indeed different and unique. They celebrate singing songs on the death of the "King with the donkey toe", which is traditionally observed as the dawn of the "Losar" (New Year) with fire demonstrations.

It's said that Ladakh experienced a bad period in ancient times, locals were plagued with starvation, diseases, drought and other problems. The people thought that the King Jamiang Namgyal (1555- 1610), who was ruling the state then, could not rule. The rumour spread that the King had Donkey toes and a heart made of butter. The Lamas decided to finish the King so that the fortune would favour them and the King with a bad omen would cease to exist.

But, the Lamas played a trick and they approached the King the day before the Losar that they wanted to organise an unprecedented public festival in the village where the King would be escorted from the palace in an illuminated manner. The King accepted the invitation. Ironically, the fire torches were made big to pass the heat on to the King so that the king's butter heart would melt. The King was thus brutally killed. The Lamas saw this as the victory of good over evil and the beginning of a new era.

Losar falls during winters, any time between December 8 and 30. This is celebrated with traditional fervour and gaiety. The festivities include illuminations, drinking, dancing, singing and general merry-making. Men come out of their homes with torches of wood, which are whirled round and round. People visit each other's homes during these celebrations, which continues for many days.

"Five days before the New Year and 15 days before the Kaogao, the children collect wood and some food. They gather at one point. Then they set the wood on fire, dance and chant slogans. There is a long story behind it. We see this as the victory of good over evil. It is celebrated to eliminate all the sufferings and miseries of the past one year," said Padamshree Morup Namgyal.

The reason for celebrating this festival is that all miseries and sufferings that the person suffered in the previous year, are kept at bay with these rituals, thus preventing anything bad from happening in the coming year.

In the evening, the 'Metho' ceremony takes place. The bazaars of Leh and the streets of villages get lit up as processions bearing flaming torches pass through with people chanting slogans to chase out evil spirits and hungry ghosts - the result of bad `Karma'. Whirling torches create a fantastic display of fire and light.

At the end, the torches are thrown outside the town as a gesture to bid farewell to the year gone by and to welcome the new one. "Like any other Ladakhi village, Losar is celebrated with full zeal and zest. This is celebrated as the Buddhist New Year. We offer prayers and wish that our coming year would be full of happiness and prosperity. Our children go on the mountains and offer water and light the lamps," said Phunchok Wangchuk, a local.