Chief Minister Shri Pawan Chamling and Smt Tika Maya Chamling have extended warm greetings and best wishes to the people of Sikkim, particularly to the Bhutia and Lepcha communities on the festive occasions of Losoong and Namsoong.
The Chief Minister in his message has said, “As the year comes to an end, I would like to extend my best wishes to my fellow Sikkimese people on the auspicious occasion of Losoong and Namsoong. These festivals hold great religious and cultural significance for the people of Sikkim and serve as an occasion to unwind and celebrate with family and friends. I hope and pray that the festivals strengthen the unique bond that we share as Sikkimese and may it mark a fresh beginning for better things to come for the State and the people.”
In Bhutia dialect, ‘Lo’ means year and ‘Soong’ to celebrate. So for the Bhutias, this is the moment to bid farewell to the old and welcome the New Year. Losoong begins from the onset of Dawa Chukchi (the 11th month) and the celebrations extend up to a week. Losoong is also known as Sonam Losoong, which loosely translated would mean an ‘agriculturer’s New Year.’ Farmers kept busy in the fields through the year, take time out after the harvest to pay obeisance to the Gods with the offerings of the first parts of the crops and fruits, asking forgiveness, protection and prosperity for the good harvests of the year gone by and the year to come. It is also the time for them to observe ‘Phola’ in honour of the family’s male god.
As per tradition, early on the first day (che chi), with the first call of rooster, one member from the house rushes to the stream to fetch a jug of water. The first person in the locality to do so is assumed to get the ‘Golden Water’, while others have to make do with the symbolic silver water. This water is then offered at the altar. Each house then burns pines along with the first part of the eatables – meat, millet brew and corn/rice snacks – prepared for the festival, and as the smoke billows, one shouts, ‘Teng lha wo llu / Phar tsen sang sollo / Thip thamche sang sollo.’ This is a ritual to propitiate the local deities as well as the ancestral gods. Then with the second call of the rooster, family members gather to take ‘chang-khu’(fermented rice beer) as a nectar of immortality. New clothes and ornaments are worn. After which, the father of the house starts narrating stories on Losooong, kings, kingdoms, on Guru Padmasambhava, etc. Unfortunately, this tradition is followed by very few families nowadays.
During Losoong celebrations, we see men and women dressed in their festive finery wander around towns and villages wishing, ‘Tashi Deleg Phuntsom Tsog/Ema Phagdo Kukham Zang/Tenlo Dewa Thopar Sho / (May all the properties be accumulated here / On my mind be in cheerful, pure and healthy state / may happiness here forever), and sprinkling ‘phima’ (flour and butter). Application of ‘phima’ on one’s head symbolises long life till one’s hair turns grey. On day one, no one should hold parties or go out of the house. Prayer flags are also planted on the first day to ward off omens, diseases and for long life.From the second day, people begin to visit relatives, organize parties and host a community gathering where people eat, drink and play games like archery.
On the eve of Losoong i.e. ‘Nyer Gu’ or the twenty-ninth day of the tenth lunar month, all members of the family gather for the last supper of the year consisting of a special porridge. Charcoal, chilly, cotton, paper, thorn, leaf and figures of sun and moon are added into the porridge and served. A person who gets cotton in his share of porridge signifies a soft hearted person and so on. All this is in jest, though. On the thirtieth day i.e.’ Namgang’ (no moon), people busy themselves with the annual cleansing, which includes bathing, washing clothes and room cleaning. To welcome the ‘new year’ next morning, parents then decorate the home shrine with seven bowls of water, butter lamps, fruits, a cup of milk, tea, a bottle of wine, cooked rice mixed with sweets, new clothes, ornaments, coins, incense, home cookies(‘jhero’,’khabsay’). And all doors, pillars and kitchens get adorned with butter and flour. Offerings are made to the Gods and the effigies of demons are burnt.
Kagyed Dance or ‘Chaam’ is another Buddhist festival unique to Sikkim. It is a celebration marked by masked monks and lamas performing some rigorous dance moves, symbolizing destruction of all the evil and negative forces, thereby bringing in peace and prosperity for one and all in the upcoming new year. Various important scenes from Buddhist mythology are enacted during this dance, which eventually comes to a closure by burning of effigies made with flour, wood and paper. The festival is not only held in high regards by the locals but, also by international tourists who believe in teachings of Buddha and find seeing this dance as an eternal blessing. The history of ‘chaam’ dates back to the times of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism in Sikkim, who is said to have performed this dance to vanquish a demon from this holy land. A number of variants of these dances are performed on different festivals, with one thing remaining common in all i.e. the masks representing scores of human, deities and animal faces enacting an interesting story from Buddhist mythology.The most popular venues of Kagyed Dance are the old Rumtek Monastery, Phodong Monastery and the Tsuklakhang Palace Monastery, where celebrations commence two days prior to the onset of the Losoong Festival. The most important highlight of this festival is the elaborate getup of the monks, decked up in ornate costumes, vibrant painted masks and laced with ceremonial swords and other weapons, jumping and swaying to the rhythm of echoing drums and trumpeting horns swiftly and gracefully in perfect coordination with their fellow dancers. Yet another important highlight of Kagyed Dance is the burning of effigies in the concluding part, symbolizing the victory of good over evil.
After five auspicious Losoong days is ‘Nyenpa Guzom’ (meeting of nine black omens). There is a belief that each week and a month have a black day which total up to make ‘Nyenpa Guzom.’ These days are black, painful and sad because the deities are believed to undergo cleansing. People are thus advised not to start anything good on this day.
Similar to Losoong, the members of the Lepcha community celebrate the occasion in the form of Namsoong. The Lepchas offer prayers in thanksgiving to nature and their ancestors, fortifying their faith and connection to their sacred paradise, ‘Mayal Lyang’. For the Lepchas, nature is of paramount importance and hence the festival is usually celebrated outdoors, indicating their oneness with the trees, birds, mountains and rivers.
Namsoong begins with ‘Tyangrigong Sonap’ or black night, which symbolizes the killing of Laso Mung Puno, the demon king, with whom Lepchas fought for 12 years. It is also called ‘Namtek Namjyuk Sayak,’ meaning the last day of the year and ‘Pik Sut’ is performed by the Mun, Boongthing or by the male head of the family. This is a family ritual performed to drive out all the evils of the year, for instance Laso Mung Puno’s effigy is burnt in the villages followed by rituals at night to commemorate the day of victory. For them, the first day is ‘Nam Al’, which signifies the Lepchas getting a new life. The day begins by preparing food from the new harvest and is offered to ‘Aby Deby Rum’ (the creator god). The main festivity begins from the second day when the younger ones go from door to door conveying New Year messages through a song called ‘lasso’.
The Chief Minister further said, “These festivals highlight the rich culture and tradition of the two communities; and celebration of such festivals will help in preservation of our age-old customs and traditions for posterity. I hope that the younger generation will gain knowledge about the festivals, and work towards preserving and promoting them future as future citizens .”
“Let us all unite in celebrating the unique culture and religious traditions of Sikkim and continue to live in harmony ,” concluded the Chief Minister.