Happy Losar! Tibetan New Year

Happy 2140, the year of the snake! Though Losar, like Chinese New Year, is generally an occasion for festivities, things for Tibetans are a little different this year. For the fifth year in a row, Lobsang Sangay, the exiled prime minister of Tibet, has asked Tibetans to tone down celebrations for the new year, in memory of those who have self-immolated in recent years (up to 99) in protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

“No one feels like dancing and singing anymore,” says Kunga Tashi, the representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Americas. In lieu of parties and feasting, he is appealing to Tibetans to mark the passage of the year with silence, candle-lighting and burning incense in memory of those who have lost their lives in protest.

Lha Gyal Lo. Bhod Gyal Lo. May all beings be happy and well, as we celebrate Tibetan New Year.

Here are some scenes from a Losar past in Labrang Monastery, Xiahe, Gansu Province.

©Michael Yamashita

Music lesson for Labrang’s monks using the traditional 13-foot horns.

©Michael Yamashita

Monks of all ages wait for morning prayers and the only meal of the day.

©Michael Yamashita

The trapa (novices), enter the monastery around the age of six and become gelong (monks) when they reach adulthood.

©Michael Yamashita

Tibetan monks in Labrang, Gansu, China.

©Michael Yamashita

The ciak is probably the most demanding form of pilgrimage in the world. Prostrating themselves fully, worshippers cover tens, sometimes hundreds, of miles. Labrang, China.

©Michael Yamashita

Tibetan worshippers crowd the entrance to the main temple.

©Michael Yamashita

In busy Xiahe, close to Labrang, teens in their finery prepare to celebrate Losar, the Buddhist New Year.

©Michael Yamashita

Outside the Labrang monastery, many food stands sell sunflower seed, soya beans and noodles.

©Michael Yamashita

Once the Tangka is unfurled, the colorful image of Buddha is admired by hundreds of people in the square at Labrang monastery, Gansu, China.

 

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A New Year’s Workout

The new year brings resolutions, pacts with oneself to accomplish goals, quit bad habits, begin new ones, eat less, exercise more.  As I was taking stock on this New Year’s, I couldn’t help remembering a man I met in Tibet, who was making good on a resolution of his own.

One of the constants of travel on the road to Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region is the procession of pilgrims along the route.  It was on this road, on the way to Labrang Monastery in Gansu Province, that I first encountered a pilgrim performing the Tibetan Buddhist act of prostration known as chak tsal.  When I spotted him, I jumped out of the car with camera in hand and got down on my stomach to shoot just as he had laid out flat in front of me, face to the ground. I followed his every movement, each performed precisely – a couple of steps, palms together, click; another step, hands to the heart, click; hands to the face, click and hands overhead, click. Then he was back down to his knees and flat out on his stomach again, click.  Forehead to the ground, click.

After five or six repetitions of this exercise, I was exhausted in the thin air and sat by the side of the road for a rest, but the pilgrim kept right on going up the hill.  During the entire time I was shooting he never acknowledged my presence, praying and prostrating as if I were not even there.  I got up and followed to ask him a few questions.  He answered without stopping.  His name was Champa and he was en route to Labrang.  He had been on the road for two months, and hoped to make it to the great monastery in time for Losar, the Tibetan New Year.  From there he planned to continue his prostrations to Lhasa, a 1242 mi (2000 km) journey that he hoped to complete in another 200 days.  Any time I waver in my resolve to get to the gym, I think of Champa.

©Michael Yamashita

On their way to Lhasa, pilgrims prostrate themselves every three steps. Having spent weeks on foot, the family still has nearly 300 miles to go on this thousand-year-old road.

©Michael Yamashita

Faithful perform Kora and turn prayer wheels at the Segyagu Meditation Center, near Lhagong Monastery.

©Michael Yamashita

Pilgrims prayer at Chotonda on Chamagudao.

©Michael Yamashita

©Michael Yamashita

Cedar branches are burned for good health and fortune at Qambaling Monastery.

©Michael Yamashita

Prostration pads at Labrang Monastery.

©Michael Yamashita

Passing through Chamdo at rush hour.

©Michael Yamashita

©Michael Yamashita

Arriving at Jokhang Temple in Lhasa marks the end of their journey and the fulfillment of a life-long dream for Tibetan pilgrims.

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Posted in Photography, Tibet | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments