Kandell, Alice S, photographer. Mahakala masked dancers entering the New Year's ceremony, Gangtok, Sikkim. Gangtok, India, February 1969. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2011646346/.

Happy Losar!

Tibetan New Year

Known as Losar, the Tibetan New Year is the most important celebration in the Tibetan calendar, which consists of twelve lunar months. Losar corresponds to the first day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar. This year, the first day of Losar falls on February 12, 2021, when the Year of the Metal Ox begins. Losar is observed in several countries, including Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and India, and takes different forms depending on where it is celebrated.

During the fifteen-day celebration, Tibetan families reunite to engage in a variety of activities that symbolize purification and welcome the arrival of the new year. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home from top to bottom, having new clothes made for the family to wear during the festival, and cooking different food offerings made of butter or tsampa (roasted flour) to be placed on the family altar.

Tibetan Buddhists visit their local monastery, where religious ceremonies featuring songs, readings of sacred texts, dances, and music are organized. Many offerings are made, prayer flags are hung, blessings are exchanged, and butter lamps are lit.

Losar is also an opportunity to appreciate delicious Tibetan food such as dresil (sweet rice), khapsey (Tibetan cookies), and guthuk (noodle soup). Different varieties of meat, bread, butter tea, and other dishes are served to guests who are invited to celebrate the holiday. During this period, chang (rice alcohol) is also very much enjoyed for drinking or making an offering.

Although the museum is closed, we invite you to celebrate Losar by enjoying these photographs of a traditional New Year ceremony taken by Alice S. Kandell in Sikkim, formerly a protectorate and now a state in northeastern India bordering Tibet, during the Losar of 1969. You can also visit the sacred space of a Tibetan Buddhist shrine online with a web interactive featuring the Alice S. Kandell Collection at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Explore the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room featuring the Alice S. Kandell Collection: https://asia-archive.si.edu/interactives/sacred-spaces/

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Margaux Ruon

Margaux Ruon is the Fellow in Tibetan Painting Conservation for the Alice S. Kandell Collection at the Freer and Sackler.

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