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Chunyipai Losar: A Bhutanese New Year

The first day of the twelfth lunar month is celebrated as a New Year in
many parts of Bhutan. It marks the beginning of the year according to
the astrological calculations taught in the Lama Gongdue ()
teachings of Sangay Lingpa (1340-1396). The common Bhutanese
calendar was aligned with the Tibetan calendar, which in turn was
based on Mongolian calendar many centuries ago. Thus, the day is
known today as the New Year of the twelfth month ()
although this is the beginning of the first month according to the
calculation based on which day is considered the New Year.

In Bhutan, the day is also known as the Traditional Day of Offering as

some people claim that residents of Bhutan made their annual offering
of grains to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in Punakha on this day. The
Trongsa Penlop is said to have led the representatives of eight eastern
regions in their offerings, as the Paro Penlop coordinated the people of
western Bhutan and the Darkar Ponlop oversaw the people of the
south. In this regard, some people place a great significance on this
New Year as a marker of Bhutans sovereignty and solidarity. However,
some scholars contest that no clear evidence of such practice exists. In
any case, many feel that before Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyals
unified Bhutan as a state, the local population in some of Bhutans
valleys celebrated this day as a New Year. As a result, even the
government instituted by Zhabdrung in the 17th century, then largely a
monastic court, saw this time as an important part of the year. The
retirement and appointment of high officials in the government and the
monastic body took place mainly during this New Year celebration.

This New Year is primarily observed in eastern Bhutan, where it also

referred to as Sharchokpai Losar (), or New Year of the
eastern Bhutanese. However, the observance of this New Year is not
limited to eastern Bhutan and today with easy communication
facilities, migration of people and intermarriages between various
regions of Bhutan, people all over Bhutan observe this New Year. Like
other Bhutanese seasonal festivals marking a new season, the
Chunyipai Losar falls around the Winter Solstice. It also falls after the
agricultural work for one season is completed and before the new
harvest cycle begins. Thus, it is a seasonal celebration which is aligned
well with the agrarian populace.
Formerly, the Chunyipai Losar was celebrated for several days. Families
gather to eat good food, play games, and party in the evenings. Men
often play games such as archery while women stay at home. In the
evening, men and women often have parties at one of the households.
Today, many families also go out to have picnic lunches. The Chunyipai
Losar had been removed from the list of national holidays at one point
but it was recently reinstated.

Sonam Chophel and Karma Phuntsho. Sonam Chophel was a researcher at

Shejun Agency for Bhutans Cultural Documentation and Research and Karma
Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden
Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History
of Bhutan.