21 Feb Losar among Tibetan nomads
This year, Tibetans will be celebrating Losar, the Tibetan New Year, on 27 February. Traditions and customs vary during the festivities, so we are offering a brief overview of what happens in the world of Tibetan nomads during the Losar period.
First thing on New Year’s Day, Tibetan nomads step out their tents to bathe in “star water” collected before the light of the night stars vanishes completely.
Then the menfolk chant an auspicious invocation over a smoke offering burning wood from sukar, nyadri and penkar, a kind of un rhododendron, on braziers built using earth from mounds called potho. Meanwhile the women make a ritual offering called yado.
When all the family members have gathered inside the tent, all together they make a smoke offering called kungsang. The upper aperture of the tent is opened wide and all kinds of picked sweet smelling plants are burnt on the hearth. The nomads explain that, if when doing this rite the tent fills with thick smoke the family will become rich. If the smoke rises straight into the sky through the upper aperture, this is considered an auspicious sign. If the smoke spreads in all directions, the herds will increase. If from the upper front the smoke falls to the earth accidents will happen to the men; if the smoke turns to the right the power of women’s deities is strong and the farm, livestock and products will go well; if it turns left the power of the men’s deities is strong and enemies will be subjugated; if the smoke turns right and left, there will be much conflict with enemies.
Nomads living near monasteries take yogurt and troma (in different containers) as offerings to the monastic community.
Over these days the monasteries start the ritual practices of the Deshe Kagye and on New Year’s Eve night they throw away the gutor, the ritual object used to remove all the previous year’s negativities and to avert those of the next year.
Instead on New Year’s Eve night, nomads living far from monasteries ask the clerics staying nearby to perform a ritual called “ransom for averting misfortune”.
The second day of the year, known as logyap, is spent in various games and festivities; the third day, visiting family and sworn friends; the fourth, visiting neighbours, while on the fifth men from different nomad groups meet to compete in horse races and trials of strength.
On the evening of the fifth day all the nomads gather on a flat plain and build a huge pile of dung to burn in an enormous bonfire called wangkha, around which dance young men and women. When the dance is over all the people split into two groups and compete in singing and guessing contests that sometimes continue into the following day.
For reasons of space we cannot include all the Losar traditions; those interested can consult:
“Jouney among Tibetan Nomads” by Namkhai Norbu, Paljor Publications, 2002
“Tibetan Folk Song from Gyantse and Western Tibet” di G.Tucci, Ascona 1966
Source: “Journey among Tibetan Nomads” by Namkhai Norbu, Paljor Publications