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Losar Festival, Leh Ladakh Overview

The Losar festival of Ladakh is one of the major Tibetan Buddhist festivals that is celebrated with performances of traditional songs and folk dances of the region. The Ladakh area of Jammu & Kashmir witnesses an outburst of mirth in the form of festivities and high surged devotion on the occasion of Losar.

The festival is celebrated for fifteen days at a stretch, from the start of the Tibetan lunar calendar. Essentially, Losar festival is a New Year’s celebration of the traditional schedule of Tibetan Buddhism. Although the Losar festival predates Tibetan Buddhism in the region, the earlier festivity of Bon religion was incorporated as an essential part of Buddhist tradition by the ninth Tibetan king, Pude Gungyal.

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Losar Festival 2020 Dates – A New Year Before New Year

The next Losar festival in Ladakh is to be held on Monday, 24 February and ends on Wednesday, 26 February.

Although Losar is the celebration of New Year in the Tibetan Buddhism’s lunar calendar, it is celebrated in the eleventh month of the year in Ladakh. The Losar celebration in Ladakh takes place two months earlier than it is celebrated elsewhere in the world including Tibet and Bhutan.

The inconsistency in dates across different countries has to do with the political history of the region as well as a variety of people’s beliefs as found in all major religions of the world in the form of regional variations. Thus, Losar festival is celebrated for three days in Ladakh, beginning on the first day of the eleventh month of the Tibetan Buddhist lunar calendar. The date varies each year in terms of Gregorian calendar’s dates and months.
Losar Celebration
Losar Celebration

Where is the Losar Festival Celebrated?

The Losar festival is celebrated in the Ladakh. The festival is celebrated all over the area by the followers of the Tibetan Buddhist faith. Special ceremonies are held in the monasteries of Ladakh on occasion.

How to Reach Ladakh
The nearest railway station from Ladakh is the Jammu Tawi Railway Station, which is located at an approximate distance of 700 kilometres from the city of Leh, from where roadways can be taken to reach the desired destinations. Taxis are available for the visitors.

However, the nearest airport from Ladakh is the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, which is only at a distance of about 3 kilometres from Leh. Airways happen to be the most convenient of ways to Ladakh.
One can reach Ladakh by roadways too. The Manali Highway and the Srinagar Highway are favourable routes to head for Ladakh by a motorbike, a taxi, or a jeep.
Hemis Buddhist Monastery, Ladakh
Hemis Buddhist Monastery, Ladakh

How is the Losar Festival Celebrated? – The Ibex & the Metho

Since Losar is the celebration of Tibetan Buddhist New Year, therefore much goes into its preparations and celebrations by the devotees.

Here is a description of how the Losar festival unfolds in Ladakh:

The Preparations
Preparations begin much before the date of Losar festival celebrations. The performers start choreographing and rehearsing for cultural activities which include songs, dance, and plays. People clean their houses and discard any signs of evil from the locality, i.e. old goods. Homes are stored with food items for the festivity beforehand. Houses and monasteries are decorated for the auspicious occasion, and people prepare offerings for the deities much in advance. People put portraits of ibex in their homes, which is considered as an omen of fertility. Also, ibex models are made of dough for the occasion.

Offerings to the Goddess
Early in the morning of the Losar festival, offerings are made to Goddess Palden Lhamho by the monks of Namgyal Monastery. Prayers are made for the well-being of the people, and the Dalai Lama leads the ceremony.

Cultural Events
Losar Celebration
Losar Celebration

Traditional songs and folk dance forms are performed within the monasteries to celebrate the occasion. People take part in the festivity with much enthusiasm; and people belonging to all backgrounds, castes, and religions join this New Year celebration.

Meeting the Acquaintances
The younger members of the household go out and meet their friends and relatives, whereas the older members stay back home to welcome the youngsters who pay visits to the house. Gifts are exchanged between families and friends, thus strengthening the bond between people.

The Procession of Metho
A procession is carried out by the devotees in the evening of Losar to mark the occasion through the streets of Ladakh. This procession is known as Metho, in which the people take torches alighted with fire in their hands and lead through the streets, lanes and markets of Ladakh. They chant sacred slogans as the procession leads ahead. It is believed that the parade of Metho cleanses the region off evil spirits.
These torches are then thrown out of the region to, symbolically, ward off the evil of the previous year and welcome the new year.

History of Losar Festival – Two Tales of Change

In the region comprising of Tibet and thereabouts, an ancient tradition of Bon religion existed before the advent of Tibetan Buddhism into the region. A festival was celebrated on the date where the followers of Bon religion offered incenses to the spirits. However, this tradition was incorporated into the Buddhist religious ceremony later and became the occasion of New Year of Tibetan Buddhism.

In Ladakh today, the Losar festival is celebrated on the first day of the eleventh month of Tibetan Buddhist lunar calendar, which is two months too early from the date on which the Losar New Year is celebrated elsewhere, be it Nepal or Tibet or Bhutan. This uniqueness of date in the case of Ladakh is thanks to a historical event that occurred in the region.

The 17th-century king of Ladakh, Jamyang Namgyal wanted to lead an expedition of the Balti forces. However, an attack at the time of New Year was considered inauspicious. Therefore, to not delay his attack, he made changes with the date of New Year for the people of the region. Thus the Losar New Year in Ladakh began to be celebrated on the first day of the Eleventh month of the Buddhist lunar year.

Ibex and Blue Sheep Horns in a Ladakh Monastery
Ibex and Blue Sheep Horns in a Ladakh Monastery

Losar is a festival of warding off evil and celebrating the goodness. It is a celebration of bringing auspiciousness into the households and the region, and of strengthening bonds with kinfolks and acquaintances. It is celebrated throughout the Ladakh region with much enthusiasm, and people look forward to it as an occasion of much significance.

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