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 Gongdü (བླ་མ་དགོངས་འདུས་) teachings of Sanggyé 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 (བཅུ་གཉིས་པའི་ལོ་གསར་) 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 Zhapdrung Ngakwang Namgyel 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 Bhutan’s sovereignty and solidarity. However, some scholars contest that no clear evidence of such practice exists. In any case, many feel that before Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s unified Bhutan as a state, the local population in some of Bhutan’s 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 Sharchokpé Losar (ཤར་ཕྱོགས་པའི་ལོ་གསར་), 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 Bhutan’s 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.