Friday, December 23, 2022

Why do Gurungs celebrate Lhosar?

Thousand of years ago, there was no modern technology like now. There was no device or instrument to gauge and predict the weather, rain, flood, drought, natural disaster etc. Even humans didn’t have a clock to watch time. We had no device to know when to hunt, plant and migrate etc. We had to face different problems or misfortunate from time to time, season to season. To solve these problems, we were in search of what causes all these misfortunate, problems? How to predict fortune and misfortunate? How we can control them? 

Beyond the earth, humans saw the sun in the sky. Every morning, it rises above the mountain; smiles throughout the day and disappears. At night, the stars twinkle. The moon shines and passes its light down to the earth making the surroundings visible. All this made humans focus on the motion and changes of these celestial objects like the sun, moon, and star etc and their connection with natural events, disasters etc. We also tried to find their connection with the human spiritual, physical and emotional conditions. This is how cultural astrology originated. 

fig: Ralley during lhosar

Within this astrology, to determine precisely fortune and misfortune; compatible and incompatible, humans connect themselves with totem animals. We Gurungs connected ourselves with 12 totem animals which are called lhokor. They are rat, cow, tiger, cat, eagle, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, bird, dog and deer. 

This type of lhokor can be found in other indigenous cultures too. Some totem animals are similar and some are different from us. The question may arise: why humans are connected with an animal in such a way? The answer dates back millions of years ago. 

fig : 12 totem animals(lhokor)

The earth is now the habitat of many animals and human beings. Who evolved first on this earth? Animal or human? The answer obviously is animals. 

When animals evolved and inhabited this earth, there were no humans. Animals evolved millions of years before humans. Before 70,000 years ago, there was no significant cognitive difference between animals and humans. Humans had no control over nature like now. We were the same as animals in our ability to control our lives. 

At the beginning of evolution, humans were new to this earth, so it was the animals who helped us to survive. We made our survival in collaboration with animals. It built an intimate relationship. We have a belief in kinship with the animal. We treat them as our members since they guide and protect us. 

Each Gurung is linked with a particular totem animal. We select totem animals based on birth year. Each year is linked with a totem animal.

In some cultures, a totem is found by going through deep meditation in the forest and examining which animal favours most. It is said that totem animals can tell us what we need to know. 

A totem animal changes once a year. Gurungs perceive the 15th poush as a day on which lho(totem animal) changes. On this day, to welcome the new lho and farewell the old, lhosar is celebrated.

Does the celebration limited to only welcome and farewell? Absolutely not. The lhosar celebration has a wide boundary of significance which is described below:  

1. It balances the spiritual and physical world

From the day of lhosar, a lho changes. When this change occurs, it affects other lho too. Spiritually speaking, it changes the cosmological equation of the lho. Since each lho is associated with an individual, it changes an individual’s health condition, personality, and also future.  

fig: Ritual during lhosar

A ritual is performed by Gurung shamans. The main objective of this ritual is to keep a harmonious relationship among the changed lho. When change occurs, some lho may have a turbulent effect and be very destructive. So to get rid of it, performing the ritual, all individuals put on ripa on the neck. 

In other words, a ritual is done to balance the spiritual and physical world. Gurungs believe in the spiritual world and its effect can occur in the physical world. Lhosar is the day which brings changes in the spiritual world. To make this change harmonious, in the physical world we celebrate by performing a ritual. 

2. It brings a sense of unity

On a single day, we get busy with work. We may engage individually. Being an only individual is not enough in life. We are social beings. We should connect with each other. We should have a sense of community. How do we connect with each other? 

When we celebrate lhosar, it brings togetherness. Nothing can bring us together like this. When we celebrate in a group like a family, it creates we feeling, a sense of unity. It is the medium for socialization. Due to globalization, we are in a different part of the world. When we are out of Nepal, the lhosar celebration helps to sense of homeland as if we are in Nepal. 

3. It strengthens the kinship bond

We have a different web of relationships. If we do not meet someone at least once a year, it weakens the kinship bond. When there is a celebration, we can meet all the relatives and share our feeling, experience etc. It helps to strengthen the bonds. We also meet unknown members during the celebration which helps to create new bonds. 

4. It helps to reduce stress

During the celebration, we enjoy music and dance. We see different art and exhibition. It creates an opportunity to meet a person who we want. They might be the person who loves you; who inspired you; who makes you successful. It helps to forget all the worries and brings new hope and encouragement. Spiritually speaking, a ritual on lhosar can heal us. 

5. It preserves/promotes a culture

In these modern days, it has been challenging work to preserve our culture. A culture can survive when it is learnt and shared by all the members of the community. During the celebration, we have the opportunity to know our beliefs, norms and values. We have the opportunity to know our origin, history, mythology, art, skills etc. So from the celebration, a new generation can learn about our culture; and can spread it to others.

Excerpt: 'The science of Gurung culture' Book 



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