This is the New Year of the Tibetans and Sherpas of Nepal which falls in February. The Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu like Boudhanath and Swayambhunath are decorated with eye catching colorful prayer flags pulling the crowd. The people perform their traditional dances and welcome their New Year with feasts and family gatherings wearing all the new clothes and finest jewelries and exchanging gifts.
Festive activities like singing, dancing and feasting are observed.A colorful crowd gathers in the area around the stupa. Hundreds of Tibetans are dressed in a wide variety of beautiful traditional costumes sometimes mixed with western clothes. They smile, laugh and greet family and friends as they bump into them in the crowd. The atmosphere is saturated with anticipation. A group of monks led by a high rank teacher appear and pass through the lion-framed gate into the inner area of the stupa.
The celebration of Losar predates Buddhism in Tibet and can be traced back to the pre-Buddhist Bön period. In this early Bön tradition, every winter a spiritual ceremony was held, in which people offered large quantities of incense to appease the local spirits, deities and 'protectors'. This religious festival later evolved into an annual Buddhist festival which is believed to have originated during the reign of PudeGungyal, the ninth King of Tibet. The festival is said to have begun when an old woman named Belma introduced the measurement of time based on the phases of the moon. This festival took place during the flowering of the apricot trees of the LhokhaYarlaShampo region in autumn, and it may have been the first celebration of what has become the traditional farmers' festival. It was during this period that the arts of cultivation, irrigation, refining iron from ore and building bridges were first introduced in Tibet. The ceremonies which were instituted to celebrate these new capabilities can be recognized as precursors of the Losar festival. Later when the rudiments of astrology, based on the five elements, were introduced in Tibet, this farmer's festival became what we now call the Losar or New Year's festival.
Losar is also known as BalGyal Lo. Bal is Tibet, Gyal is King, Lo is year. The Tibetan new year has been celebrated since the first King's enthronement celebration. It was started with the first King. That was why it has been known as BalGyal Lo.
Tenzin Gyatso (1998: p. 233) frames the importance of consulting the Nechung Oracle for Losar:
For hundreds of years now, it has been traditional for the Dalai Lama, and the Government, to consult Nechung during the New Year festivals.
Tenzin Wangyal (2002: p.xvii) frames his experience of Tibetan cultural practice of Losar in relation to elemental celebrations and offerings to Nāga (Tibetan: Klu):
During Losar, the Tibetan celebration of the new year, we did not drink champagne to celebrate. Instead, we went to the local spring to perform a ritual of gratitude. We made offerings to the nagas, the water spirits who activated the water element in the area. We made smoke offerings to the local spirits associated with the natural world around us. Beliefs and behaviors like ours evolved long ago and are often seen as primitive in the West. But they are not only projections of human fears onto the natural world, as some anthropologists and historians suggest. Our way of relating to the elements originated in the direct experiences by our sages and common people of the sacred nature of the external and internal elements. We call these elements earth, water, fire, air, and space.