Sonam Losar is a Buddhist New Year celebration (there are multiple in Nepal) celebrated on the first full moon of the month of Magh in the Nepali calendar. Sonam Losar is celebrated by the influential Tamang ethnic group, as well as several smaller or more remote groups: the Yolma, Dura, Thakalis, Dolpalis and Sinsas. The Tamang are native to the hilly region in and around the Kathmandu valley and have close ethnic links to Tibetans, tracing their roots all the way back to the Mongol empire. “Ta” translates into horse and “mang” to warrior or rider, so the Tamang are the “Horse Rider/Warrior” people.
Sonam Losar takes place over a two-week period with New Years day occurring on February 12 in 2021. During these two weeks, families scrub their houses from top to bottom, sweeping away bad fortune in preparation for an auspicious New Year, new start. Houses, monasteries and stupas are decorated with brightly coloured paper and prayer flags and families buy or make new clothes for the occasion. Neighbours and family gather for feasts featuring pork, chicken and duck. Singers and dancers perform traditional Tamang Selo folk songs, which can be fast and lively or emotional ballads. They are accompanied by the damfu, a traditional drum shaped like a large tambourine that is hit with a stick. In Kathmandu, a 3-day long festival is held in a huge park in the city center, with a stage, food stalls, and many events and activities. It is a good place to sample Tamang culture and traditional clothing, try festive food and to hear Selo music.
As usual in Nepal, the religious aspect of this holiday is very important, and many people go to monasteries and the famous Bodhinath Stupa to receive blessings from the monks. Borrowing from Hindu traditions, families may also perform pooja to honour and praise Buddha, asking for prosperity, good health, and good fortune in the coming year.
The Tamang follow the same 12-animal Zodiac cycle that we often associate with China, and we are ending the year of the Rat to start the year of the Ox. The year of the rat was a very difficult one for Nepal and the whole world, and many people will be glad it is coming to an end. Some Tamang members of the Battiayo team would normally travel out of Kathmandu valley to their villages to celebrate with families, but this year they will miss out because of COVID. The Ox is characterized by unwavering determination, a trait that we will all need to get through this pandemic and be able to be all together again. We want to wish everyone a happy and auspicious year of the Ox!