Gangtok, Feb 4
Chief Minister Pawan Chamling and Tika Maya Chamling have extended warm greetings and best wishes to the people of Sikkim on the sacred and joyous occasions of Losar and Sonam Lochhar.
Losar marks the beginning of the New Year in the Tibetan Lunar calendar that consists of 12 or sometimes 13 lunar months. Losar starts on the first day of the first month of the calendar, when the new moon is sighted. This usually corresponds to some time in February or March in the Georgian calendar.
Historically, it has been recorded that the celebration of Losar began during the reign of the Tibetan King, PudeGungyal, in the 7th century (The ninth King). Tibetan folklore cites that during his reign, there lived a wise, old woman named Belma, who taught the people to calculate time based on the phases of the moon. Keeping that belief in mind, some people refer to Losar as ‘Bod’(Tibet)‘Gyal’(King)and ‘Lo’(Year). It is also believed that the festival has its roots in the winter incense-burning custom of the Bon religion. People would make offerings and pray to the spirits and deities, seeking their blessings. With time, it soon developed into an annual Buddhist farmers’ festival, marked by the blossoming of flowers on apricot trees.
Traditionally, Losar is celebrated for 15 days but the main celebration and rituals are performed in the three days (last two days of the previous year and the first day of the New Year.) The last two-days of the ending year is called ‘Gutor’.
On ‘Gutor’, Tibetans practise the ritual of cleansing. The houses are cleaned first, particularly the kitchen where the food is prepared as it is considered the most important part of the house. This signifies purity. A soup-based dish called ‘Guthuk’ is prepared, in which scraps of wood, chilli, salt, wool, coal etc. are rolled into a dough ball and served. What one finds in their bowl, is supposed to be a lighthearted prediction or comment on the person’s character. For instance, a person who finds chilli is said to be over-talkative and those who find white coloured objects, like cotton or salt or rice, they take it to be an auspicious sign.
In ancient times, on the second day, the King was paid tribute and in return he would give gifts to the people and his subject. Tibetans today, visit monasteries to pay tribute to gods and deities. They make offerings to the monks as well and give donations Houses are cleaned thoroughly and decorated while elaborate dishes are prepared.
Earlier, on the third day, people would rise early and fetch water from a nearby river or stream, considering it to be the purest and cleanest water of the New Year, which would bring them luck in the coming days. Even today, people wake up early on the third day, wearing new clothes before making water offerings and lighting incense in the shrines of their houses. Gifts are exchanged between family members and a warm and hearty meal is prepared along with the fermented drink called ‘Chaang’. New prayer flags are hung on top of the houses and ‘tsampa’(dough/flour) is thrown in the air as a symbol of peace and happiness.
Losar celebrations formally come to an end after 15 days with ’ChungaChoepa’, the Butter Lamp Festival on the night of the first full moon.
Sonam Lochhar is celebrated by the Tamang Community and like Losar, it marks the beginning of the new year. The celebration of Sonam Lochhar dates back to thousands of years ago that on the
first day of the new moon in the month of Magh Lord Buddha is believed to have been born. Hence, it is of great religious significance to the Tamang Buddhists.
The festival begins with cleaning and decoration of houses. People visits monasteries with families and relatives and make offerings to the gods. People wear new clothes and greet each other, wishing everyone good future and fortune for the coming year. It is also a time for families to come together and bond amidst feasts and merry-making, strengthening their relationships and spreading the spirit of family, brotherhood and fraternity.
The ‘Damphu’ (a traditional Tamang drum) dance is organized in monasteries and gatherings by monks wearing traditional masks, signifying culture, religion, and tradition of the Tamang community, as it is believed that the dance gets rid of evil spirits and negative energy. Folks songs and dances, particularly, the ‘Tamang Selo’ is also performed with great gusto.
“It is a joyous occasion for not only the Tibetan and the Tamang community but for all the Sikkimese people to acknowledge the richness of culture and tradition through similar practices that symbolize unity and brotherhood,” The Chief Minister said.
“I wish everyone a successful, happy, prosperous and a peaceful year ahead . May it bring wisdom and strength, may it bring welfare and well-being, may it bring love, harmony and may peace prevail in our State and in our lives.”