Losoong Date 2015
Thursday 17 December
Unity in Diversity! This is what India is called. India celebrates innumerable festivals in line with honoring different elements and in tune with the change of seasonal cycles. The Indian calendar is colorfully replete with numerous fairs and festivals lined up. Some of the festivals are celebrated by whole India and a few festivals are celebrated by specific religions in India. Losoong is one of those big and small colorful carnivals celebrated in India as Sikkimese New Year.
Losoong Festival in 2015
New Year is one of the biggest festivals of all times, all over the world. Although there is no specific ritual associated with celebrating New Year, it is quite loud, cheerful and effervescent. In India, New Year is celebrated in different times by different states and religions, thanks to the different calendars followed by different religions.
The Sikkimese New Year, Losoong is celebrated in the month of December every year. According to the Tibetan Calendar, the festival falls on the 10th month of every year.
Losoong is an extravagance carnival in Sikkim. This year, the festival falls on 17th December 2015. Chaam dance and archery contests are the major attractions of Sikkim’s New Year celebration.
The Biggest Festival of Bhutias and Lepchas
Losoong is a popular festival among Bhutias and Lepchas. Bhutias are the indigenous people of the Sikkim, who form the Tibetan ancestry. Lepchas refers to the aboriginal inhabitant community of Sikkim, who live mostly in North Sikkim. Until a few decades, this celebration was confined to the specific group of people called Bhutias. Later, the celebration spread to Lepchas, who are now considered the dominating tribal community of the state.
From being a harvest festival it gradually transformed into one of the biggest festivals and Sikkimese New Year. Beyond Bhutias and Lepchas, Losoong is also celebrated grandly by Nepalese, Sikkimese and other tribal communities in Sikkim, Darjeeling and Nepal.
Losoong and Harvesting
Based on Tibetan Lunar Calendar, Losoong falls on 18th day of the 10th month. This month also marks the agricultural New Year. Colorful dances and prayers to gods are the major part of Losoong.
Losoong celebration coincides with the harvest. In fact, Losoong is celebrated to mark the end of the harvest season. People celebrate the festival and offer prayer to bless them with better prospects during the next harvest season. The end of the harvest season also implies the beginning of the harvesting in the hilly terrains.
Losoong is also recognized as the Annual Harvest Festival of the Sikkimese. The celebration falls around the end of the year during winter. This is the time that marks the end of harvesting season of the year. All farmers have adequate stocks of food as well as money earned from harvesting. The sale of cardamom also happens before the winter. They literally spend a few days to a few weeks in leisure, which is spent in merry making. The refreshment of these few days helps them stay energetic and pass through the hardships throughout the year.
The Cham Dance
The traditions involved in observing the Sikkimese New Year is inspired, rather adapted from the traditions and rituals of the Tibetan New Year, called, Losar. The major attraction of Losoong is the Cham Dance. This dance is also influenced from the Tibetan Culture.
Cham Dance is a colorful and lively dance, which is a major part of Tibetan festivals and Buddhist festivals. Monks and leaders of the community play music using traditional instruments for the dance.
Cham dance is considered a form of meditation. It symbolizes an offering to the gods. The dance not just reflects the festive mood and welcomes the new harvest season, the core concept of the Cham dance is depiction of moral instructions- being conscious and empathetic. Those who observe and perceive these concepts are bestowed with a lots of blessings, good health and wealth.
The dance depicts the incidents of the various saints of the ancient Tibet, where the life of Padmasambhava and Nyingma are important.
Padmasambhava and Nyingma
Padma-Sambhava refers to ‘born in lotus!’ He was also called as Guru Rinpoche. He was the Buddhist master of India during 8th Century. A lot of legends surround around the life of Padmasambhava. He is acclaimed as the ‘Second Buddha’ of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.
Padmasambhava is regarded the founder of Nyingma tradition. Nyingma Tradition refers to one of the four oldest schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Literally, Padmasambhava is considered the father of the tradition followed by Tibetan Buddhists.
Nyingma deals with the ancient tantric teachings and referred as Tantric Buddhism. The practice spread orally among the network of practitioners. Tantric Buddhism doesn’t mean any black magic or spell casting. It refers to yoga tantra, path to enlightening, identifying the hidden treasures at the right time (which also includes rejuvenation of mind), etc.
The birth of Padmasambhava, the important deeds of his life, formation of Nyingma, etc are depicted through the Cham dance.
The Cham dance is performed in groups. The group has a leader and the leader will generally be a musician, who can play any percussion instruments.
Not everyone can take part in Cham dance performed on Losoong. The performers are trained dancers and are trained by the lamas and get appropriate training in the monasteries. The colorful outfits and masks represent the gods of the Sikkimese. In addition, lamas also take part in Cham dance. Since the trainers join with their students, this dance is also called lama dance.
Cham dance is an act of exorcism that drives away the evil from the Sikkimese. Beyond the vibrating and colorful dance attires, colorful flags as well as festoons are hung all over the places. Almost all men take part in cham dance and disguise like gods and mystical symbols.
Colors literally mean happiness. Sikkimese believe that hanging colors protect the people from evil and bestow their lives with good health and wealth.
Losoong attracts a lot of tourists
Many cham dance events are organized on the Sikkimese New Year. The biggest dance events take place in bigger monasteries in Sikkim like Tsuklakhang Palace, Rumtek Monastery, etc. In fact, Losoong is one of the popular carnivals that invite a lot of tourists from all corners of the world! Yes, Losoong is one of the most cherished festival tour destinations. People from all corners of the world travel to Sikkim to witness and take part in the celebrations of Losoong.
Special foods of Losoong
Any festival or cultural carnival in India is incomplete without special delicacies of the respective region. Sikkimese cook special foods as a part of their New Year celebrations.
Guthuk: It is a special porridge form of noodles made from cheese and grains. Just like mac and cheese in porridge!
There are a few groups however, who cook Ghutuk with wild potatoes and meat. This too is in porridge form.
Treasure Breads: Special breads are made and packed with ingredients hidden inside the bread loaves. Sugar and salt, chili, wool, paper, leaf, sun, moon, thorn and coal are packed (any one ingredient) inside a bread loaf. Every individual is provided a bread loaf with any of the ingredients hidden inside.
The item found inside the bread is a foreteller.
If you find salt, it represents you are a tough person, not easy to deal with but quite reliable.
If you find chili inside, it indicates you are talkative, short tempered and a very active person.
If you find coal, it means your heart is like the color of the coal.
If you find sugar, you are sweet as a candy.
If you find thorn, you will hurt others and more likely to have pinching tongue.
If you get leaf, you are very talkative with light mind.
If you find sun or moon, you are gentle, lucky and noble.
If you find wool, you are a middle man, can adjust to any circumstance.
Chhaang: Similar to Bhaang, Chhaang is a part of Losoong. It is domestically made liquor. This drink is made in every house and offered to god.
The Losoong Celebrations
The New Year celebration begins when the priest offering Chi-Fut, which is a special alcohol to the gods. The offering is followed by burning the effigy of the demon King. Just exactly before 2 minutes of New Year, the Chi-Fut is offered and the effigy is burned at the midnight. In fact, the signal of burning effigy is a sign of New Year arrival and people start the celebration at the homes. Burning the demon represents destroying the evil from the lives of the people.
Just like any New Year celebration, Losoong is celebrated privately in households with family members. All the above mentioned celebrations take place in temples and monasteries. People cook various delicacies and offer to the god at the midnight to please the deities.
The Cham dance takes place during the day, which is followed by many sports activities and other competitions to celebrate the New Year. The festivity mood and celebrations takes place at least for 4 days in the month of December.