Tibetan New Year: Preparation & Purification

A ransom offering with hand print dough offerings. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

This year, the Tibetan New Year, called Losar, is February 9th.   This is the 1st day of the 1st month in the Tibetan lunar calendar.  The month leading up to Losar is considered a time of purification and cleansing.  Especially today, the 29th day of the 12th month, or nyishu gu, the family gathers together for a special dinner and purification ritual. This one night of the year, a soup called gutük is made.  This soup has 9 ingredients.  One of the most important is the large balls of dough that each person of the family must receive.  Inside these balls of dough are symbolic objects, or their name written on paper, which are a playful commentary upon the one who receives them.  For example, whoever receives the ball of dough containing a piece of coal is said to have a ‘black heart.’  Some of the other possible items that one might receive are: wool meaning ‘kind-hearted, a sun meaning ‘light of goodness’, a chili meaning ‘sharp-tongued’, or salt meaning ‘lazy’.  Everyone saves a little of the soup to be offered as a ransom, or offering, to the negative spirits of the past year so that they are satisfied and go away. Along with the leftover soup, each person also offers a small ball of dough that has been passed over the body to absorb illness and negativity and then pressed with the fingers of the hand before being placed in the offering plate.  A small, lit candle is placed in the plate before it is carried out by a family member.  This person must not look back while taking out the offering.  Ideally, it is left at a three-way crossroads so that the spirits can continue leaving.

khapsey seq

Khapsey before, during and after cooking, including the spiral and scorpion shapes of the khapsey that are offered to prevent accidents with the hot oil used in frying (photos by Kim Carey)

 A great deal of time and effort is spent in making the traditional fried cookie, called khapsey.  Hundreds of these cookies must be made.   The various designs are arranged beautifully and offered upon the shrine in households and monasteries alike.   In the days following Losar, everyone who comes to visit receives tea and khapsey.The dough for the khapsey is kneaded, rolled out, and then cut and folded into the desired shape.  Some of the dough is mixed with food coloring for the more ornamental designs.  Some khapsey designs are associated with certain areas of Tibet.  Once a large quantity has been prepared, the frying process begins.  The first items to be fried are the khapsey that will be given as offerings to the spirits to ensure that there are no accidents during the cooking.  This offering resembles long, thin twists of khapsey and one khapsey whose shape closely resembles that of a scorpion.  The first piece of khapsey fried after the offerings is presented to the shrine and the offered to the deities.  Then, the remaining  khapsey are fried and set aside.

On the first day of the new year, everyone stays at home or only goes to the monastery to make offerings and prayers.  On the 2nd and 3rd days of the new year, there are many visitors who will come and enjoy the khapsey  and raise the energy for the coming year.

Posted on February 7, 2016, in Prayer and Ritual, Tibetan Culture & History, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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