Sonam Lhosar 2022: The year of the Tiger

“Kyeh Kyeh SoSo Lhagey Lho!!”

Having said that we throw the Chamba in the air and hoist the prayer flags (lungtha) in the presence of a high monk or Rimpoche; Lhosar celebrations can now begin in all its glory. A festive scene falls into place in all its traditional magnanimity when people adorning some of the most beautiful traditional dresses start singing the Tamang Selo in a corner. As barrels filled with thick millet beer sweetened with honey and made more intoxicating with raw eggs added to it; acts as a fuel to the Damphureys (people who play the Damphu which is a Tamang Musical instrument) and the dancers, there is an inert sense of joy from the unity among the community.

Tamang History

Let us understand some history regarding the Tamang people who celebrate the Sonam Lhosar (an important festival celebrated in the hills of Sikkim, Kalimpong and Darjeeling). Tamangs are a large community living in different parts of the Himalayan belt in areas of Nepal and India. In Nepal the Tamangs are a whopping 8% of the entire population. Being one of the most ancient tribes of the region, the Tamangs are the original inhabitants belonging to Yambu (the valley of present day Kathmandu). The very word Tamang gives insight into the community’s profession in the ancient times. Ta meaning horse and Mang meaning riders, the Tamangs were cavalrymen of the Tibetan Empire.

Most of the Tamang communities have lived in Nepal in the regions of Rasuwa, Sindhuli, Dhading, Nuwakkot, Kavrepalanchok, Ramechhap, Sindhupalchok, Chitwan, Dolakha and Makawanpur. But slowly and gradually they migrated to more regions of the world most of all towards India in the hills of Sikkim, Darjeeling, Assam, Meghalaya, Guwahati, Nagaland, Bhutan and Kalimpong. There are many other Tamangs living all across the world.

Tamangs have a rich history of culture traditions, customs, language, music, dresses and a very close knit social structure going about. Around 95% of the Tamangs follow the Buddhist religion which is why they also follow the Buddhist lunar calendar much like many south East Asian countries of the world. The Tamang language is a part of the Tibaten Burmeli family of languages.

Sna or the Himalayan Blue Sheep

The community is known for their own very stimulating music. One of the culture’s musical instruments is the Damphu which is made from the skin of the Sna (blue sheep in Tibetan). It is a flat drum with the dried Sna skin tightly stretched on the frame with the help of 32 bamboo pencils making it look like the sun (some Tamangs believe that the 32 bamboo sticks denotes the 32 good qualities of a human).

Damphu, a Tamang Musical Instrument

The songs of the Tamangs is called the Tamang Selo which tells tales that are witty, humorous, drenched in philosophical thinking and which talks of the joys and sorrows of everyday life. These Selos make for one of the most popular musical forms of Nepali music.

When is Sonam lhosar celebrated?

What is Sonam Lhosar? Sonam means agricultural; Lho means year and sar means afresh. So Lhosar goes on to collectively mean a fresh new year and denotes the beginning of a new era. The Sonam Lhosar starts on the first day of the new moon in the second week of the end of the winter solstice.

Tibetan Lunar Calendar

The Tamangs follow the Tibetan lunar calendar that is made of 12 lunar months. Each month is denoted by an animal. When people are born in these years, it is believed that the people inherit certain characteristics similar to these animals whose months they were born to. The animals are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, or boar. The calendar starts with the rat and ends with the boar.

This year we celebrate the Sonam Lhosar on the 2nd of February.

Rituals and customs of Sonam Lhosar:

Traditionally the festival is celebrated for 15 days, and keeping the first 3 days as the most important of them all. The community gathers in large numbers 5-10 days before Sonam Lhosar and start making delicacies to be served on these days. Traditional eateries such as the Khapsye, Rhuk-Rhuks and Chyango are made ready. Khapsye and Rhuk Rhuks are fried well in advance to that by the time of Lhosar, they become harder and crispier in order to be consumed for days to come. These eateries are made in large quantities so as to distribute it amongst neighbors and kinsfolk and to consume it as breakfast for almost a month.

making of the Dorjee shaped Khapsye

different designs of the Rhuk Rhuks

foot long khapsyes

chyang made from millet

Khapsyes made on order

Altar decorations for Sonam Lhosar

On the day of the Sonam Lhosar, traditionally dressed folks, accompanied by a Rimpoche head to agricultural fields and everyone forms a circle. With some Chamba (millet flour) in their hands, prayers are made to nature and the sun and the moon and everything in the surroundings for this fresh New Year. In the end of the prayers we pray for the birds and insects and animals that do not have the ability to speak and pray that they are ever fed and flourish, in doing this we pray not just for the human kind, but for everything that lives on this earth. Ending the prayers we ay “ke ke so so, lhagey lho!!!” and throw the Chamba in our hands up in the air. The prayer flag is hoisted and anointed by the Rimpoche.

chanting,” Khey Khey Soso Lhagey Lho” as chamba is thrown in the air

It is now time for celebrations to begin. There are Damphureys (people who play and sing on the Damphu) singing of enticing scenarios and interactions and stories of the community as younger people make merry, sing and dance around in circles. Mask dances are performed to ward off evil spirits and there are other festive activities such as games and more singing. The hot Chyango empowers the people to celebrate even at night and with a lot of feasting and merry making, a brand new year is welcomed.

Delicacies and beverages consumed:

Khapsye are Dorjee/Vajra (thunderbolt) shaped fried dough that can size up to a foot in length and 5 inches in height. Around 30-40 Khapsye are prepared per family and smaller amounts for smaller families. Rhuk Rhuks are shaped like an eternal knot or the many different Buddhist symbols and designs and are sweet to taste. These are the two main delicacies that are consumed with a hot cup of Chyango (millet beer) on Lhosar and later consumed as breakfast with a hot cup of tea.

foot long khapsyes

Khapsyes made on order

In regions closer to the Himalayas, fresh beef in sliced into thin layers and steamed to be later consumed with saucy sour dips or Chyango.

Braised beef sheets

People make Chyango months in advance for Sonam Lhosar. Millet is boiled, drained, a fermenting agent added to the mix and later stored in an air tight container to let the fermentation to happen over a period of 9-10 months before Lhosar. On this day, the fermented millet is taken out of the container, rubbed with brute force to extrude a thick white liquid. Hot water, fruits such as oranges, bananas and grapes, dry fruits, broken Khapsye and raw eggs are added to make this a hearty beverage for the Himalaya’s coldest days to intoxicate some of the strongest fleshed people of the region.

warm chyang drunk on Sonam Lhosar

The greatest Sonam Lhosar celebrations can still be witnessed in Nepal, but celebrations of Lhosar is celebrated in grandeur even in the hills of Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong to this day. And with the new year beginning for one fourth of human civilization in the south east of Asia this February, in very Tamang words we at NE Origins would like to wish you all ,

hyangla sonam lhosar lha jhaba danbamula

We wish you all heartfelt greeting of our Sonam Lhosar.

NE Origins

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