What Makes the Tamu Lhosar Festival in Nepal Special?
Nepal is a vibrant nation of different ethnicities, cultures, and traditions. The latest census from the Nepal Government states that there are 142 ethnic groups in Nepal. The Gurungs, one of the ethnic groups in Nepal, form 2% of the total population of Nepal, and Tamu Lhosar is their New Year festival.
This blog investigates why the Tamu Lhosar Festival in Nepal is special. We delve into the significance of Tamu Lhosar, its history, rituals, and the unique elements that make this festival a special and cherished occasion.
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Origins and History
We have yet to learn exactly about the origins of the Gurungs, but we are certain Gurungs are Mongols who came to Nepal around 2,000 years ago. They had their kingdom in the foothills of the Himalayas, which was later incorporated into the Gorkha Empire, ruled by the Shah dynasty.
The Gurungs served as soldiers for different kings, including Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal. Gurungs are very fierce warriors.
They have participated in various wars, including the Anglo-Gurkha War (1814-1816). The Britishers were so impressed by the fighting qualities of Gurungs that they started recruiting Gurungs into their armies. Even today, Gurungs are recruited as soldiers in the British and Indian armies.
The word Lhosar comes from Tibetan, and “Lho” means “Year” and “Sar” means “New/Change”. So, Lhosar means new year. Tamangs, Sherpas, and Hyolmos also used the word Lhoshar to indicate the new year. However, all of these Lhosars are not observed on the same day.
The Tamu Lhosar, celebrated by Gurungs, falls on the full moon day in December/January, the Sonam Lhosar, observed by Tamangs, starts on full moon day in January/February, and the Gyalpo Lhosar, marked by Sherpas, falls on the full moon day in February/March.
In addition to Gurungs, the Tibetans residing in western Tibet near the Kailash Mountain region and locals in Manang, Humla, and even in Bhutan, mark Tamu Lhosar. The Gurungs call themselves Tamu, and “Ta” means thunder, and “mu” means sky in Gurung language.
Festivities and Rituals
The Gurungs mark Tamu Lhosar with great reverence. They believe that on Tamu Lhosar, the sun's rays first strike the Gurung majority regions - Gorkha, Tanahun, Syangja, Kaski, Parbat, Manang, and Lamjung.
Gurungs divide time into twelve-year cycles, and each year is represented by a different animal - garuda, serpent, horse, sheep, monkey, bird, dog, deer, mouse, cow, tiger, and cat. Lhosar also bids farewell to one animal year and starts afresh with a new one.
On Lhosar, the Gurung men wear their traditional clothes - Bhangra (a white shirt-like cloth) and Kachhad ( a type of Kilt). The women wear a blouse on the top and a long skirt, while the girls dress in velvet Ghalek and gunyo-cholo. The Gurungnis (female Gurungs) also wear large gold earrings and a traditional stone necklace.
To mark Tamu-Lhosar, all family members gather together and worship their deities. They savor special sweets with alcoholic beverages (rakshi). They also perform songs and dances and organize a huge cultural program at Tudhikhel in Kathmandu amidst a diverse crowd.
The Lhosar festival is a visual feast, with vibrant colors, lively music, and the aroma of traditional dishes that create an immersive experience.
Puja and Cultural Performances
The Gurung culture is one of the oldest in Nepal, and their influence on Nepali society is profound. For instance, the “dohori” songs (a form of the duet), popularly commercialized in the metropolitans, are associated with “Rodhi Ghars”, which were essential commune homes in Gurung villages.
Rodhi Ghars used to act as venues to befriend opposite sexes and even served as predating spots. These relationships used to develop into marriage.
In addition to the “dohori songs”, the Sorathi Dance is another cultural gift Gurungs have provided to the Nepali lifestyle. The Sorathi is mostly performed in honor of gods and goddesses.
Modern Adaptations and Innovations
Unlike most other ethnicities, Gurungs got the opportunity to travel out of Nepal as Gurkha soldiers, mostly in the British Army.
The Britishers took Gurungs to different parts of the world, and you can find substantial Gurung communities in the UK, USA, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Gurungs form a close-knit community and celebrate Lhosar in all these countries.
The Lhosar brings communities together, which has become quite important in a world where communities are no longer bound by geography. Global influences have changed cultures beyond recognition, and festivals such as Tamu Lhosar remind the newer generation about their roots.
As the festivities unfold each year, Tamu Lhosar becomes a bridge that connects the past, present, and future, fostering unity, diversity, and a profound sense of cultural identity.
Celebrating Lhosar in countries beyond Nepal helps foreigners know about Nepal and Nepali culture. Moreover, as the Gurungs mark Tamu Lhosar, they contribute to making Nepal an inclusive society.
Hence, the Tamu Lhosar Festival in Nepal is quite significant.