Fast, Fair and Festivals of India Fast, Fair and Festivals of India
Location : Ladakh, JK
Feature : New Year Festival
Begun in : 17th Century
In the month of : December
How Ladakh got its New Year
11 Dec. 1996, 30 Dec, 1997
19 Dec. 1998, 8 Dec, 1999
This New Year festival has an interesting history. In the 17th century, King Jamyang Namgyal decided to lead an expedition against the Balti forces during winter. He was advised that any expedition before the New Year celebrations by two months, establishing a tradition that people still follow - celebrating Losar on the first day of the eleventh month of every year.
Blending Buddhism with Bonism
Losar is the most elaborate of all the socio-religious events of Ladakh. It involves the entire population of the region. Interestingly, the rites and rituals are a mixtures of Buddhist and the pre-Buddhist Bon religious practices. Preparations start by the end of the harvest period when people start stocking provisions, sheep and goats for the customary feasts as well as grain for brewing 'chang' (a local barley beer). New clothes and jewellery are kept ready for the occasion.
Lights and Feasting
The festivities start on the 29th day of the 10th month with the illumination of buildings and shrine. Sheep and goats reserved for the occasion are ritually slaughtered to begin the series of evening feasts for all relatives by rotation.
Ritual and warmth
The New Year day itself starts with the offering of votives and greetings to various gods, elders, relatives and friends. Afterwards, the elders await the customary visitors who come to greet the family with presents and 'Khatak' (ceremonial scarf).
The younger members go out to visit other families. Leh and its adjoining villages wear a carnival look as people come out in their colourful best. It is customary for the Muslims and Christians in Leh to visit their Buddhist friends and greet them on the eve of Losar.
Guardians of prosperity
Images of ibex and other auspicious symbols are put on the door, walls of the kitchen and the top-end of its central wooden column. The ibex is a symbol of fertility and is believed to bring prosperity. Small images of the ibex moulded from dough are arranged on kitchen shelves to add to the good luck.
The procession of fire
In the evening, the 'Metho' ceremony takes place. The bazaars of Leh and the streets of villages get lit up as processions bearing flaming torches pass through with the people chanting slogans to chase out evil spirits and hungry ghosts - the result of bad Karma (one's deeds). Whirling torches create a fantastic display of fire and light. At the end of it all, the torches are thrown well outside the town to bid farewell to the old year and to welcome the new one.