The earliest Tibetan New Year festival in Tibet known regionally as the Gongbo New Year is an interesting occasion whose history traces back to the Gongbo king period. Now, the question is why do the Gongbo people celebrate new year festival so early? Surprisingly, Tibet has several regional new year festivals that includes Nyingchi Gongbo New Year, Ngari Pulan New Year, Shigatse New Year, and so on. So, why are these regional new year festivals celebrated at different times from the most popular Tibetan New Year?
- History of Gongbo New Year
- Where is Gongbo New Year celebrated?
- How is Gongbo New Year celebrated?
- Summary of the Gongbo New Year celebration
History of Gongbo New Year
During the first half of the 13th century when Tibet was ruled by the Tubo dynasty, Srongtsen Gampo designated the Gongbo king to fight against the Hor people who had heavily attacked and invaded the Gongbo region. During this critical time, the Gongbo King Ngagyi Gyaibo made an urgent call to all the Gongbo people to guard their homeland. Unfortunately, it was already late autumn and the Gongbo people were worried that if they went fighting with the Hor people they wouldn’t be able to return home to celebrate the Tibetan New Year or the Losar Festival. Intially the Gongbo people were reluctant to enroll in the army. When the Gongbo king learnt about the reluctance of his people, he turned considerate enough to let his people celebrate their New Year’s Day more than two months earlier than other places in Tibet. The king’s considerateness worked well with the Gongbo people and all of them enjoyed their festival and returned becoming much braver and ultimately defeated all the enemies.
The Gongbo people began to celebrate this special New Year Festival to commemorate the heroic battle on the first day of the tenth month in Tibetan calendar. However, the celebration of the festival usually starts from the 29th day of the ninth month in Tibetan calendar, which lasts for nine days.
Where is Gongbo New Year celebrated?
Local people in the Baji Village of Bayi District in Nyingchi prefecture, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region welcome the traditional festival marking the arrival of New Year in Nyingchi. In olden times, Gongbo District collectively comprised of the counties such as Nyingchi, Mainling, and Gongbo Gyamda. The Gongbo people indulge themselves in various activities for the celebration of this special festival. Usually Gongbo New Year starts on October 1 on the Tibetan calendar, but this year it was celebrated on November 16.
How is Gongbo New Year celebrated?
On the morning of Gongbo New Year’s Day, every Tibetan family on the Gongbo region worship the goddess of harvest with various gifts and locally-brewed wine. During the ritual of the celebration, they also sing and dance. The Tibetans practice several unique folk customs during the New Year celebration as stated below:
- Beating Ghost ceremony
- Treating dogs with fancy dinner
- Eating Jieda
- Fetching the first bucket of water
- Worshipping the Goddess of Harvest
- Whistling arrows and Guozhuang dance
Beating Ghost ceremony:
When the night begins to fall, the Tibetan people hold pine fire torches in their hands, run into every room of their houses and cast away pebbles and stones around the corner with a belief to oust evil spirits from their home
Treating dogs with fancy dinner:
Every family prepares dinner for dogs and serve in on a wooden tray. Usually different food items are prepared and served and the item preferred by the dog at first indicates some superstitious beliefs. For example, if the dog prefers to eat Tso (an offering made of Zanba or pancakes) at first, it indicates a good harvest in the following year. Similarly, if the dog first eats yak milk butter or any milk residue, it indicates a flourishing animal husbandry. However, if the dog first prefers to eat meat, it is a sign inferring bad luck, including death or serious illness in the family. Surprisingly, most of the times, the dogs don’t prefer to eat meat at first – apparently believed that dogs can perhaps read people’s minds!
After feeding the dog, people start eating their new year banquet sitting around the fire pit. They drink a toast of the home-made barley wine along with a special dish called Jieda. It is a traditional food in the Gongbo region and prepared from butter, milk, brown sugar and long and narrow flour dough balls. The dough is usually thrusted on a sharp stick and then baked over fire for several minutes before consumption. They eat as much as possible with a belief that they will get so heavy after eating that the evil spirits and ghosts cannot carry them away.
Fetching the first bucket of water:
Tibetans believe that during the new year, the first bucket of water will bring good luck for their entire family. So, on the New Year’s Day, before the sun comes out, the housewives rush to fetch the first bucket of water back home. They then carry the highland barley wine and Tso to the headwaters.
Worshipping the Goddess of Harvest:
Tibetan people bring gift, offerings and highland barley wine on the third day of Gongbo New Year to their best pieces of fields to worship the Goddess of Harvest. For this, they set up a long wooden pole with prayer flags on the top and straw at the bottom. Then they place all the gifts and offerings on the altar and pray to the goddess for good harvest the following year. This ceremony is known as the Weisang ceremony. After performing the rituals, the villagers sing and dance around the altar for the goddess of harvest to shower blessings upon them.
Whistling arrows and Guozhuang dance:
The whistling arrow competition is an extremely popular activity of the Gongbo people, especially during the Gongbo New Year time. It is awfully good fun to hear the sharp whistling sound produced when the arrow is shot. Then, villagers participate in the Guozhuang dance. Guozhuang literally means singing and dancing in a circle which originated from the form in which Tibetan people danced, especially around a campfire. The movements of Guozhuang are swift and energetic. Moving around a circle, both male and female dancers sway their joined hands frontwards and backwards, keeping beat of their steps.
Summary of the Gongbo New Year celebration
Almost three months before Losar, the Tibetan New Year, local villagers of the Baji Village of Bayi District in Nyingchi prefecture begin their special new year celebrations. Interestingly, the annual festival also allures plenty of tourists from various places from round the globe to this region. The Gongbo New Year is one of the typical Tibetan festivals for the mass. Right before the onset of the festival, local people in Nyingchi head out for festival shopping and the local market of Bayi county is filled with villagers during this time around.
One thing visitors shouldn’t miss during Gongbo New Year amongst many others is the whistling arrows and Guozhuang dance. Of course, there are other festival activities too that travelers can participate and enjoy. The grand carnival lets each one to enjoy in their own ways. Children enjoy putting on new clothes, playing the firework and dancing in the fields.
Likewise, adults participate in whistling arrow competition, campfire party and Guozhuang dance. Somewhere in between, women play games together, and sing and dance for the mens’ competitions. While for foreign tourists, it is a wonderful opportunity to get closer with the local Tibetan people and experience their culture and traditions.
Explore Gongbo New Year celebration in Nyingchi and other unique cultures of Tibet with Himalayan Glacier Cultural and Historical Tour in Tibet. We know only the tip of the Gongbo New Year festival. So, if we have not covered any events of the festival, let us know in the comments below.