Tibetans in Ithaca and around the world are prepping for Tibetan New Year’s, also known as Losar: a combination of the Tibetan words “lo,” meaning “year,” and “sar,” meaning “new.” While the date of the holiday changes every year depending on the lunar calendar, the 2022 holiday will span from Mar. 3 to 5 and will feature prayers, dances, food and other elements of Tibetan culture.
Losar festivities have taken place in Ithaca ever since a small group of Tibetans resettled here in 1991, when Ithaca became a haven for refugees who had fled from Chinese persecution. However, it wasn’t until 1992 that Ithaca’s Tibetan population was able to celebrate the occasion together at the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies.
Chosen from a list of a dozen international cities to house the monastery, Ithaca has been the North American Seat of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for 30 years. According to Palden Oshoe, a former monk at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamshala, this designation happened after current President of the monastery Kushug Tenzin Chosang la led the development in accordance with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Tibetan population has become a prominent community within Ithaca, attracting more members from across the world.
“There was already a Tibetan community when I got here [in 1994] because of the Tibetan resettlement project,” said Palden Oshoe. “When the monastery was built in 1992, I was hired as a translator.”
Oshoe’s daughter, Seldoen Oshoe ’21, credited the monastery for her attachment to Ithaca.
“There was always a site for gatherings and prayers,” Seldoen Oshoe said. “I grew up in a really close, tight knit community, so that was a culturally rich experience.”
During her time at Cornell, Seldoen Oshoe was president of Tibet Initiative, a group that gave her a platform to advocate for the Tibetan independence movement and promote Tibetan culture.
However, the initiative was oftentimes met with critics.
“There were always people who came up to [me] to say what [I’m] doing is fake and that ‘you’re spreading false propaganda against the Chinese government,’” Seldoen Oshoe said.
During Losar, monks perform rituals that proficiat a deity — known as Palden Lhamo — who protects His Holiness the Dalai Lama. After early morning activities, Tibetan families gather to prostrate to the altar and offer khataks, which are ceremonial white scarves, to His Holiness’ seat, followed by touching their foreheads to the bottom of statues to receive blessings and then make offerings to local monks, according to Palden Oshoe.
The day consists of prayer recitations, traditional food and drinks such as bhöd ja, which is a salty butter tea, and dresil, which is a sweet rice with various toppings. Celebrants offer wishes for a long, prosperous life for His Holiness.
After gatherings at the monastery, families head to each others’ homes in order to perform chemar, a tradition in which Tibetans pick barley flour and wheat grains from chemar bo and throw these items in the air while simultaneously wishing for health and happiness to all sentient beings.
Like Christmas and Thanksgiving, Losar is a time for celebration within families as well as sharing the holiday spirit with other families. Similar to 2021, celebrations will take place in accordance with local COVID-19 guidelines, Palden Oshoe stated.
“We spend the day with the rest of the Tibetan community,” Seldoen Oshoe said. “It’s a really nice time to celebrate with kids who are coming back from college.”
Since the resettlement of the first Tibetans in Ithaca in 1991, the city has grown to become a home for dozens of Tibetan families.
“A lot of Tibetans who come to visit the monastery, like from Chicago, New York City or Canada, always comment on how uniquely close the population here in Ithaca is,” Seldoen Oshoe said. She added that a prominent reason for the tight-knit community is the Namgyal Monastery that unites them.
The upcoming construction of The Dalai Lama Library and Living Center, led by the President of Namgyal Monastery, will also serve to integrate more aspects of Tibetan culture into the Ithaca community.