Asian Heritage Month: The Tibetan Festival of Losar

Asian Heritage Month:

The Tibetan Festival of Losar

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

The Tibetan calendar is made up of twelve lunar months and Losar begins on the first day of the first month. It is the Tibetan word for new year and is celebrated for 15 days, with the first three days as the time for the main celebration.


On the first day of Losar, a beverage called changkol is made from chhaang, a Tibetan drink much like beer.



The second day of Losar is known as King’s Losar (gyal-po lo-sar) because officially the day is reserved for a secular gathering in the hall of Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana. His Holiness and his government exchange greetings with both monastic and lay dignitaries, and other foreign visitors.


Then from the third day onwards, the people and monks begin to celebrate and enjoy the festive season.

Losar is also known as Bal Gyal Lo. Bal is Tibet, Gyal is King, Lo is year since it has been celebrated since the first King’s enthronement.

In the monasteries, the celebrations for the Losar begin on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month, the day before the Tibetan New Year’s Eve. On that day the monasteries do a protector deities’ special ritual called a puja and prepare for the celebrations. The custom that day is to make special noodle called guthuk.



Dough balls with hidden ingredients such as chillies, salt, wool, rice, or coal are given out. It is believed that the ingredients one finds hidden in one’s dough ball comments on one’s own character. If a person finds chilies in their dough, it can mean they are talkative. Good signs are predicted with white-coloured ingredients like salt, wool, or rice. But, if a person finds coal in the dough it can mean that person has a black heart.


Lama Losar are elaborate offerings made on the last day of the Tibetan year when decorations are put up and the monks of the Namgyal Monastery offer a sacrificial cake called tor ma on top of the Potala temple. They do this as an offering to the supreme hierarchy of Dharma protectors, the goddess Palden Lhamo.

Palden Lhamo


Led by the Dalai Lama, the abbots of three monasteries, lamas, tulku (reincarnated monks), government officials, and dignitaries join the ceremony and offer prayers, while the monks of Namgyal Monastery recite the Palden Lhamo invocation. After the ceremony, they all assemble in the hall called Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana for a formal greeting ceremony where, seated on his or her cushions, they exchange the traditional greeting, Tashi Delek.


In order to wish the Dalai Lama good luck for the coming year, ril bu (consecrated sacred pills made out of roasted barley dough) are offered to him by the representatives of the three great monasteries, the two Tantric Colleges, etc.


Then the garma (entertainers) perform a dance of good wishes.


And two senior monks stage a debate on buddhist philosophy and conclude their debate with an auspicious recitation in which the Buddhist teaching is briefly reviewed.

A request is made to the Dalai Lama and to all holders of the doctrine to remain for a long time amongst beings in Samsara (Sanskrit) in order to serve them through their enlightened activities. The official ceremony of the day then concludes with a ceremonial farewell to the His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.


To read more posts for the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event, please visit here.


If you were to receive the dough balls during the Losar celebrations, which hidden ingredient do you think you would most likely receive? 

Chillies, salt, wool, rice, or coal?


My name in Tibetan.

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