Holidays and calendars – DORJI WANGCHUK


Today is celebrated as another local new year although as per the lunar calendar it is the 12th month of Year of Rooster. Some may be wondering why we have so many new years in Bhutan.

Since ancient times different communities around the world, ethnic groups, religions and nations have different times to celebrate a new cycle in life. Some followed the Sun (like the Egyptians) and some the Moon (Chinese), while others both (Indian). They also had different days to observe as holidays (derived from the words, holy days) to conduct religious activities. In Sharchop communities, for example, there used to be a day for rest known as saa nyan (earth rest) – when the farmers give the soil some rest. By the way, isn’t this beautiful?

As communities came together as nations and states, the calendar system was introduced to bring everyone to synchronize their lives so that they can all work together. Therefore, the calendar is more political and administrative in nature. However, it included the religious holy days and rest days to allow people to take some time off for themselves. While the calendar systems have been subjected to political changes, the religious holidays have remained constant. And since social beliefs and religion run deeper, communities continue to practice them.

This is the reason you will find different communities in Bhutan celebrating the start of a new cycle (new year) at different times of the year. These cultural practices predate the formation of Bhutan as a nation-state in the 17th century. This is what makes Bhutan diverse and beautiful. And when we say that we have been successful in maintaining our culture and traditions, we are talking of retaining such practices.

Furthermore, since Losar means new year and new cycle, the term, Chunipa Losar, is technically and linguistically wrong. It is more appropriate to say Sharchop Losar as in Parop Lomba. Chuni is 12. No new cycle begins at 12. It begins at 1. This day also coincides with the first day of the new moon according the older Gongdu calendar. So it is not a random or modern invention. The Tibetan tradition of celebrating the new year on the second Moon was introduced after the Mongols overrun them and imposed the Hor calendar. I would guess that they followed this day as the losar before that event.

Of greater historical importance for Bhutan is that as Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel formed the nation of Pelden Drukpa, in around 1637, this day became the day when regional governors and noble families from around Bhutan made the buelwa phuelwa (day of offering). The day was marked with great festivity in Punakha where different goods and foods from different regions of Bhutan were shared and celebrated. Some might argue that the “offering” was actually the annual tax – which is right. However, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel didn’t believe in taxing the people and rather declared that the state should be so good that the people would offer taxes as offerings to maintain the central administration, which they did.

Bhutan, as the nation of founded on such ideals, could view this day beyond its traditional significance of local new year – and as a day of national importance, where we come together to celebrate our elders and our ancestors. It could also evolve like as a Thanksgiving to our leaders of past and present who have fought and gave us a sovereign nation – and a pride to be called sons and daughters of Pelden Drukpa.

(The writer is an ardent blogger and blogs at