Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Losoong - Sikkimese New Year

Sikkim is the smallest state of India but that doesn’t mean that their cultures and traditions are anyway less important in defining the cultural diversity of the country. Sikkim is a north-eastern state where Buddhism is the predominant religion of the Sikkimese people. Hence, influence of Buddhist culture can be seen in the festivals and celebrations of Sikkim.

Just like the other parts of India, Losoong also marks the beginning of the harvest season for Sikkimese people. Losoong falls on the tenth month of the Tibetan year, which coincides with the month of December of the Gregorian calendar, and during the festival the Sikkimese people celebrate the end of the previous harvest year and pray for a better year in the future.

Lossong was once the festival of Bhutias. They used to celebrate the festival with magnificence and exuberance to welcome new harvest season. Losoong is also celebrated with the Lepchas and hence it is now the greatest celebration of Sikkim.

Since Buddhism is the predominant religion in Sikkim the influence of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, can also be seen in the celebration of Losoong as well. The Sikkimese New Year celebration is marked with the traditional ‘Cham’ dance, wearing of traditional clothes, fun and festivity.

In many monasteries of Sikkim the traditional ’Cham’ dance festivals are organized which are attended by people from all parts of the world. Most popular ‘Cham’ dance ceremonies are organized at the monasteries of Tsuklakhang Palace, Phodong and Rumtek Monastery.

During the dance ceremonies dancers dress up in traditional and colorful ‘Cham’ dance costumes. In many monasteries the dances are performed by trained dancers, who are often Lamas of the monasteries, dressed up as divinities. The dancers enact the part of the deities and ward off the evils. The dance is said to be the way to exorcise the evil spirits and bring in good luck for Sikkimese people. Since the Cham dance is performed by the lamas it is also known as ‘lama dance’.

During the festival, Sikkimese people prepare special dishes. A special type of noodle, known as ‘guthuk’ is prepared which uses nine ingredients including cheese and different grains. They also prepare special dough and hide things like- chili, sugar, salt, wool, coal etc. into it. According to the popular belief, the thing that you will find within your dough would show the nature of your character; like- chili would mean that you are talkative, white items like salt or sugar would depict goodness of heart. If you find coal in your dough it will imply that you are a ‘black hearted’ person.

Another important feature of the Losoong festival is ‘chhaang’, a type of locally made liquor. ‘Chhaang’ is consumed by local people to add spirit to the New Year celebration.

Few minutes before the beginning of the New Year, Bongthing, the lepch priest and Mun perform the ritual of offering "Chi Fut" or alcoholic beverage to the deity. During the midnight the effigy of the demon king Laso Mung Punu is burned as a custom to ward off evil spirits.

The celebration of Losoong is also marked with the traditional archery contest. Many other celebrations also take place around Sikkim to mark the beginning of the Sikkimese New Year.

Despite the multi-ethnicity of Sikkim, people participate in Losoong festival irrespective of their cultural and ethnic differences. Sikkimese, Lepchas, Bhutias, Nepalies all come together to celebrate the beginning of Sikkimese New Year with great fun and festivity.

Celebration of Losoong has also earned world wide recognition for Sikkim and tourists from all parts of the world pour in to Sikkim to witness the grand New Year celebration.

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