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Countdown to the Tibetan Buddhist New Year begins with announcement of dates
With the announcement of dates for the three-day New Year festival of Tibetan Buddhists, Losar, the preparations have begun with cleaning of the houses, getting new dresses stitched, buying special sweets, decorating walls and doors of houses with religious motif paintings and visits to monasteries.

This year, Losar is going to be celebrated from February 16 to February 18, informs my Facebook friend from Arunachal Pradesh.

Deep-fried and long-lasting pastries called 'hapse', which are offered most commonly at Losar, are being prepared at homes by the followers and also being sold by confectionery shops. There is also the tradition of offering hapse at Buddhist shrines.

With the countdown to Losar, Buddhist monasteries are being cleaned and painted to welcome the New Year, since in some places, the festival of Losar is celebrated for a fortnight. Most of the ancient monasteries are found in Leh, Laddakh and Arunachal Pradesh and the festival is celebrated with devotion and gaiety.

On New Year's Day, families unite to offer 'auspicious dipper' to wish for fortune in the coming year and use 'Tashi Delek' phrase to greet one another. But, on New Year's Eve, Tibetans often have dinner of barley crumbed food and traditional sweets with their families. After dinner, they perform rituals to banish evil spirits.

Lamps and torches are lit and people run and shout to rid their homes of evil spirits after the dinner on the first day of the three-day festival. And, in the early morning of Losar, women get their first bucket of water to prepare breakfast with doors of the houses closed. Thereafter, the family members dress up in their best and open their doors to go to monasteries. On the third day, the prayer flag, which was hung up the year before will be replaced with a new one. In the evening festivities of singing and dancing are also held.

To attract tourists in Tawang of Arunachal Pradesh, special events are organised to display musical performances and dances with masks. The place has a big monastery and is regarded as an important centre for Buddhist learning. With the promotion of tourism, Buddhists and foreigners have started visiting the place during Losar.

I am informed that the week-long Losar festival is the most colourful festival celebrated in Tawang and the Monpas Buddhist tribals who are a majority in Tawang. For outsiders, Losar celebrated in Tawang is better known as Monpa festival.

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