Tibetan Buddhist New Year – Losar 2016

Tibetan Buddhist New Year: Losar 2016

Year of the Fire Monkey

Tashi Delek!!!


Losar is the three day Tibetan New Year festival which in 2016 is observed on February 9-11.  Since the Tibetans use a lunar calendar, the date may vary from year to year and it sometimes coincides with the Chinese New Year as it does this year.

The origins of Losar go back to the pre-Buddhist period in Tibet (127 BC – 629 AD) to the Bon religion.  This holiday was originally held every winter and copious amount of incense was burned to appease the gods and local spirits.  Eventually this tradition merged with Buddhism which resulted in the annual festival that we see today.


A month before Losar, Tibetans draw the “Eight Auspicious Symbols” on the walls of their homes.  In Tibetan Buddhist monasteries the monks meditate on and perform rituals to honor and reflect upon the Dharmapalas (Dharma Protectors) and Deities of Fierce Compassion (otherwise mistranslated as “Wrathful Deities”) such as Manjushri.

These deities have a fierce appearance but actually represent fierce compassion which fights against the ignorance within our own minds.  According to Robert Thurman in his book “The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Liberation Through Understanding In The Between”, they have no hatred in them not even against those who do evil. It is more like a “tough love” like the fierceness of a mother protecting her child from touching something hot.

On the eve of Losar Buddhist monks decorate the monasteries and offerings are left at the family altars of Tibetan households such as cakes, candies, breads, fruit, and beer.

The First Day of Losar: “Lama Losar”

Tibetan buddhist new year

Deity of Fierce Compassion

tibetan buddhist new year

Palden Lhamo

For Tibetan Buddhists, the new year begins by greeting and honoring one’s spiritual teacher or guru wishing him/her peace.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama along with other important lamas conduct a ceremony to make offerings to a dharmapala (dharma protector) by the name of Palden Lhamo who is regarded as the spiritual protector of Tibet.

Among lay people, there is also the tradition to leave offerings of barley seeds at family altars to help ensure a bountiful harvest and to wish one another a happy new year by saying Tashi Delek which means “auspicious greetings” in the Tibetan language.

The first day also includes sacred dances where dancers dress as Dharmapalas (dharma protectors) and fierce deities in order to ward off the influence of negativity and malevolent spirits.

The Second Day of Losar : “Gyalpo Losar”

tibetan buddhist new year

Dalai Lama Losar 2016

On the second day of the Tibetan Buddhist New Year, Tibetans spend the day honoring community and national leaders.

Gyalpo means “King” in Tibetan and in ancient times this was the day when kings gather their people and would hand out gifts to them in an elaborate celebration.

Today, the Dalai Lama himself meets with officials of the exiled Tibetan government in Dharamsala, India as well as with foreign dignitaries.



The Third Day of Losar: “Choe-kyong Losar”

On the last day of Losar Tibetans make additional offerings at monasteries to the dharma protectors and also hang prayer flags from hills, mountains, and rooftops.  Additionally, they burn incense and praise the dharma protectors in chant (mantras) and song for blessings.

tibetan buddhist new year

Tibetan Prayer Flags

Of course after the initial three days, celebrations can go on for an additional 10 to 15 days.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article on Losar, the Tibetan Buddhist New Year which. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below and once again Tashi Delek!!

Here is the Dalai Lama’s Losar 2016 address:

Also please enjoy a special Losar podcast by Buddhist scholar and teacher Robert Thurman:

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6 Responses to Tibetan Buddhist New Year – Losar 2016

  1. Michel says:

    It is very interesting to read about other cultures and religions. I also find it interesting that most other religions use different calendars, making the date of the celebrations different each year, unlike the Christian religion.

    I like this idea, because it makes more sense to me. Our calander is definitely faulty somewhere. Even Easter doesn’t coincide each year.

    • Ian H says:

      It’s always interesting to learn about other cultures and their customs. I think we are seeing less and less diversity in this world as we become more globalized so I commend any people who keep their traditions going no matter what. That is true commitment.

  2. Kegan says:

    Wow, thankyou for this great post!

    Buddhism really seems like such an incredible philosophy of positivity – I love the idea of a ‘deity of fierce compassion’, this is exactly what we all need in these trying times.

    I’ve also wondered when seeing tibetan prayer flags around, so thanks for all the info! 🙂

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks for the comment! I’ve also seen prayer flags around town where I live and was kind of surprised to see them, but I thought it was cool. And yes, the fierce deities are the defenders of the Dharma..

  3. Ilyssa says:

    Thank you for all of this information. My husband practices buddhism and I always welcome the opportunity to learn more. It is also interesting to learn more about what others celebrate, not just the most celebrated holidays here in the US like Christmas and Easter. I welcome the opportunity to learn from your site and posts.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Ilyssa,

      Thanks for the comment and for the positive feedback. And yes the festivals of other cultures is always fascinating to see.

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