Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Traditional Day of Offering

In times past, Bhutanese subjects used to make offerings to their local lord every new-year. Thus, when the first new-year was celebrated in Punakha in the late 1630s, the Bhutanese had made offerings in a similar way to Zhabdrung. As a symbol of the distinct Bhutanese culture after unifying the country and repealing various Tibetan warring factors, Zhabdrung had observed the new-year on this day as it did not coincide with Tibetan, Mongolian and Chinese new-year and could take place anywhere between late January and mid March.

A celebration called the Chunipai losar was a losar celebrated as a new-year to establish Bhutan's unity and independence. Symbolic of an independent nation, Bhutans founding father, the sage Zhabdrung introduced culture, tradition, language and driglam namzha (the official behaviour and dress code of the Kingdom of Bhutan), unique from other countries. Dzongkha experts (language experts) have said that, in centuries gone by, Tibet had considered Bhutan as one of their provinces. It was during the traditional day of offering that Zhabdrung emphasised different dress code, driglam namzha and etiquette and custom for Bhutanese that were decidedly different from Tibetans.

The Chunipai losar, in the past, was celebrated for 15 days and gave way to the great Punakha Dromchoe, a ceremony introduced to honour the two deities, Pal-Yeshay Goenpo and Palden Lhamo for their role in protecting the country from Tibetan invasions. According to the zhung dratsang’s tshugla (the central monk governing body) lopon, Samten Dorji, it is on the Chunipai losar that new kudrungs (discipline masters) and lopons were appointed in dzongs in the past. This system is followed even today. A lopon ia a great master of Mahayana Buddhism, widely regarded in the Himalayas. A tulku is a particular high-ranking lama (e.g., the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, the Karmapa) who can choose the manner of his (or her) rebirth. In contrast to a tulku, all other sentient beings, including other lamas, have no choice in the manner of their rebirth. In addition to choosing the manner of their rebirth, tulkus are able, on their deathbed, to make known the place of their next birth.

The lopon said that, although people called the Chunipai losar as Sharchokpa losar, it is the main losar for Bhutanese. This day was adopted as Sharchopi losar probably because it was traditionally the time when people used to go to dzongs to pay their taxes. A dzongis a distinctive Bhutanese type of fortress monastery.

Dasho Sangay Dorji, who has published a research paper on losar, said the new-year celebrations originated in 11th cent. Mongolia, after the unification of the Mongols, known as the Hor peoples, in Bhutanese and Tibetan history. The new-year was celebrated on the first day of the first month of lunar calendar and since the astrological calendar was the same, the Bhutanese followed the same tradition. The dates have since been adjusted to suit.


-Tenzin Namgyel - Bhutan.
Bhutan: Hidden Lands of Happiness by John Wehrheim, Serindia Publications - ISBN: 1932476512.
Bhutan: The Sacred Within by Kenro Izu, Nazraeli Press - ISBN: 1590052250.

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