Lhosar is a festival that represents a New Year and is also one of the highly celebrated festivals of Nepal.
“Lho” means year or age and “Sar” means new or fresh, therefore the word “Lhosar” means the New Year or beginning of a new era. Basically, it is a festival in Tibetan Buddhism celebrated on the first day of the lunisolar Tibetan calendar. This Tibetan Calendar plays a central role in Tamang culture, allowing for the calculation of dates for various ceremonies. Although the New Year of Tamang begins and is celebrated like the Tibetans, they choose Magh- Shukla Pratipada, the first day of the bright fortnight of the Nepali Month Magh.
Tamang cultures resemble Tibetans in many ways because it is believed Tamangs entered Nepal through Tibet as horse rider soldiers during the regime of Songtsen Gampo (Songzan Ganbu). The word “Tamang” is made up of two words, “Ta” means a Horse and “Mang” means a Rider. But there is no written reference to Tibetan being Tamangs’ ancestors.
The ethnic groups that celebrate Lhosar in Nepal are Sherpa, Tibetan, Gurungs, Tamang, Bhutia, and Yolmo People. Lhosar predates the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet and has roots in the winter incense burning custom of the Bon Religion. During the reign of the ninth Tibetan King, Pude Gungyal, it is said that this custom merged with a harvest festival from the annual Lhosar festival. Lhosar is celebrated for 15 days according to the Tibetan Calendar. There are three major types of Losar celebrated in Nepal, namely: Tamu Lhosar (of Gurung Community), Sonam Losar (of Tamang Community), and Gyalpo Lhosar (of Sherpa Community).
Similar to the Chinese Calendar, Tamang also named their category/ Zodiac sign after the names of the animals which are the followings:
- Jiwa (Mouse)
- Langa (Ox)
- Taka (Tiger)
- Hae, Kuri (Rabbit, Cat)
- Duka (The Eagle)
- Dula (Snake)
- Ta (Horse)
- Luka (Sheep)
- Te (Monkey)
- Chhyaa (Chicken)
- Khi (Dog)
- Faaka (Pig)
The ending of 12 categories is called “Lhokor Chuyni” or “Lhokhor Chuyi Ni”. The “Lhokor Chuyi Ni” is deep down related to the five elements of the world; Singha (Wood), May (Fire), Saa (Earth), Fai (Metal), and Kyuwi (Water). These elements are collectively called “Kham Na” in the Tamang Language. These elements also have two effects which are Yab (Male) and Yum (Female). When these five elements Chakra completes one cycle of 12 years, 60 years is touched which is called one “Rabjyang Lhokor” i.e Brihaspati Barsha Chakra (Jupiter Year Cycle) and is also called one Samvatsar (a full year).
Tamangs also have 12 moon months of their own corresponding to the Bikram Sambat Calendar, they are
- Khalrel (Poush-Magh)
- Benela (Magh- Falgun)
- Namdungla (Falgun-Chaitra)
- Dugula (Chaitra-Baisakh)
- Dowafrela (Baisakh-Jestha)
- Byalbola (Jestha-Aasadh)
- Gonela( Assadh-Shrawan)
- Yandola (Shrawan-Bhadra)
- Mehni Ngla (Bhadra-Aasoj)
- Sokaratila (Aasoj-Kartik)
- Boitalapa (Kartik- Mangsir)
- Tapala (Mangsir- Poush)
Sonam Losar is a New Year’s day for the Tamang and Yolmo Communities of Nepal. Yolmo or Hyolmo are people from Helambu District of Nepal. According to the Nepali calendar, Sonam Lhosar falls on the first full moon of the month Magh, while according to the gregorian calendar between January and mid-February.
The Sonam Lhosar is celebrated for two weeks (of which only one day is the main). It falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice that usually falls on the Magh Shukla Pratipada. Major monasteries and stupas of Nepal such as Namobuddha, Swoyambhunath, Bouddhanath, and many others are adorned with payer flags on this day. People pray to Lord Buddha for the well-being of all.
How is Sonam Losar Celebrated?
The way of celebrating the festival varies according to the landscapes of Nepal but the major gist of the festival remains the same. The celebrants clean their houses early in the morning. This is a part of a tradition where all the family members help in cleaning and decorating their house. It is done to sweep away any bad fortunes in the hope to make a way for good incoming luck. Similarly, at the monasteries, the monks perform special rituals of mask dancing called Cham Dance to expel the negative energies away.
People go to the monasteries to offer prayers for good luck. The words “good fortune” or “happiness,” “wealth,” and “longevity” are drawn on windows and doors, by doing so they believe the evil spirits will be warded off of their lives.
Tamang has a year-counter tradition with a mixture of twelve animal signs namely Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat/Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar like that of the Chinese zodiac.
People also buy new clothes for the festival and new prayer flags hung on houses and monasteries to welcome the new year.
Traditional Dress and Food for Sonam Losar
Tamangs and Yolmos wear their traditional dresses for the festival.
The Tamang’s ethnic dress also has a lot of Tibetan influence too. Tamang men wear Taagi (Hat), Khonjar (Shirt), Todug (Vest Coat) and Surlung/ Syoldo (Trouser), Docha (Shoes). Tamang women wear Tagi (Hat), Hongre (Blouse), Aangdung (Vest Coat), Dorje (Skirt), a Pangden (Waist apron), Patuki (Sash), and Docha (Shoes).
During the festival, Tamang men and women wear their traditional dresses. Women augment the festive look with ornaments like Tiki (Forehead marking), Fuli (Nosepin), Bulaki (Nose ring), Chepte Sun or Dhungri (Earrings), Pote (Bead necklace), Jantar (Necklace with square pendant), and Siir Bandi (Forehead adornment).
The major foods made in Sonam Losar are Khapsey and Babar. Khapsey is a flour cookie made using ingredients like all-purpose flour, milk, and sugar and Babar is a rice flour chapatti usually eaten with pickle. People exchange Khapsey among various relatives and families as a part of greetings.
Yolmos eat a special dish called Thongsey and a beverage called Changkol for the festival. Changkol is an alcohol made by brewing barley, millet or rice grains. It is a popular drink amongst Nepalese and Tibetans. Besides that pork, chicken, mutton, fish, and other sweet desserts are also eaten during the Sonam Losar.
Music and Dance of Sonam Losar
Tamangs are very rich in their tradition and culture. Their main musical instrument is Damphu. Damphu is a tambourine alike percussion instrument constructed on a circular wooden frame while goat-skin is pulled over it on one side only. They also play Tungna, a plucked string instrument, and Madal, a bifacial barrel-shaped drum during the festival’s folk dance called “Tamang Selo”.
“Tamang Selo” is performed to the rhythmic sound of the Damphu, hence dance is also called “Damphu Selo”. Similarly, the song sang during the festival is also called “Tamang Selo” which is performed playing Damphu, Tungna, and Madal.
Sonam Losar Celebration at Tundikhel
Tamangs and Yolmos living in Kathmandu valley don their traditional dresses and go to Tundikhel, the largest open space in central Kathmandu to celebrate the festival. It is more like a reunion that keeps the harmony alive. The organizers of the event invite high-profile guests to inaugurate or address the celebrations.
They perform the traditional dances and songs until late hours that day. Several events like plays, contests, musical programs, cuisine festivals, and Lok Dohori (musical battle) are the major attractions at Tundikhel. So basically the day is celebrated by organizing numerous cultural programs, an array of food booths, and recreational activities for children. Similarly, a rally is conducted around the Tundikhel area representing prosperity and harmony.
Tamang and Yolmos in their native homes i.e hilly parts of Nepal perform these activities at village monasteries where everyone converges to celebrate the Sonam Losar together.
Rich in their culture, language and religion Tamang and Yolmo community welcome the new year by celebrating with the belief that good fortunes will enter their lives on this day. This kind of culture and tradition helps in keeping the peace and sense of togetherness alive in the county.
Sonam Losar plays a significant role in saving the centuries-old culture of Nepal in modern times.