The first day of Losar in 2017 is February 27, so plan to have your guthuk on February 25
We continue our series of posts on traditions related to Losar, Sherpa New Year, with a deeper look at the rituals that take place in the closing days of the outgoing year. Two weeks ago we offered a vegetarian recipe for guthuk, the special noodle soup that is the highlight of nyi-shu-gu, the eve of Losar eve. Now we will explore the fascinating, haunting rituals that accompany eating the guthuk.
You will sometimes see a reference to “Losar Guthuk,” but this is actually a little bit of an odd thing to say. Sherpa, Tibetan New Year traditions have two related, but quite different, components. First we close out the old year and bid good riddance to its bad aspects. Only then can we usher in a fresh, new, abundant year.
The word Losar refers to the “new year” part of the tradition – literally lo (year) and sar (new). On the other hand, nyi-shu-gu (29) refers to the next to the last day of the old year, which is the 29th day of the last month of the year, according to the Tibetan calendar. So the rituals of nyi-shu-gu and guthuk belong to the old year.
yi-Shu-Gu: The Twenty-Ninth Day
Basically, everything we do on nyi-shu-gu is about purifying our homes and bodies of existing negativities, obstacles, uncleanliness and sickness. This is the day of the year when we clean like crazy. In western cultures, this would be spring cleaning, but Tibetans do it just before New Year.
In the countryside in Nepal,Namche Bazzar solukhumbu Sherpa village the villagers traditionally deep clean their houses, and then build a fire in the yard to heat water for everyone to bathe and wash their hair. Normally, people don’t bathe everyday, but everyone takes care to be thoroughly clean in preparation for Losar.
After all the cleaning and bathing is done comes the fun of eating guthuk and the ritual banishment of evil spirits and ill health from the home.
First, let’s look briefly again at guthuk, and then turn to the fascinating rituals performed to get rid of negative forces in our lives.
Guthuk: The Eve of Losar Eve’s Soup
Since we’ve already posted about guthuk on two different posts — one for the guthuk recipe and one for Losar food traditions — we will keep this short.
Guthuk is basically a common style of noodle soup – thukpa bhatuk – which we call guthuk only when it is eaten along with some special ingredients and elements on nyi-shu-gu night. (There is some discussion among Tibetans about whether the noodle shape we use here is called gutsi rithuk or bhathuk, but for my family, bhathuk is a generic terms for a type of noodle that includes gutsi rithuk 🙂 So for my family, these little curved shells are both bhathuk, and more specifically, gutsi rithuk. If you want more of discussion of that, see my thukpa bhathuk recipe.)
The soup commonly has smallish, shell-shaped, hand-made noodles. (See Lobsang’s thukpa bathuk recipe for a meat version and a vegetarian version in the guthuk recipe post.) When we eat thukpa bhathuk on nyi-shu-gu, we make it a little special, including at least nine ingredients, like labu (Asian radish), dried cheese, chillies or green peas.
The soup truly becomes a guthuk when we add one specific special twist. Into each bowl of soup will be added one extra-large dough ball that contains inside it either a small piece of various objects — like coal or wool — or a paper with the name of the objects written or drawn on it. The dough ball is round and extra large to distinguish it from the normal “bhatsa” noodles in the soup, so you won’t eat them by mistake!
These objects are jokingly meant to relate to the character of the person who gets it – some are positive and some are decidedly negative. We might think of them, lightly, as comments about our nature, or as predictions or fortunes about the year ahead.
So if you get wool it means you are kind, while if you have the bad luck to open a dough ball with coal, it means you are “black hearted.”
There are a multitude of objects that can be included or symbolized in the guthuk dough balls, and the items can change from house to house, region to region and even be different in the same home from year to year.
The Special Guthuk Dough Ball “Predictions”
In our family tradition, the more positive objects are:
wool — bay —kind hearted
a thread rolled inwards — kuba nandrim — a person who draws luck and money
sun — nyima — the goodness related to light
moon — dawa — also, the goodness related to light
The unhappy objects are:
chili — sepen — sharp tongue
salt — tsa — lazy
glass — karyul — someone who is happy when there’s fun, but disappears when there is work to do, like a good time charlie
coal — sola — black hearted
a thread rolled outward — kuba chidrim — someone who spends or dissipates luck or money
small prickly ball — semarango — prickly person
In a wonderful article on the nyi-shu-gu and guthuk traditions posted on the Simply Tibetan, Simply Delicious blog, Jampa Yangchen notes:
Of course we all take these predictions with great deal of fun and laughter, but if you really believe you possess that character, especially when it is negative, then it is an opportunity for you to reflect and leave that trait behind with the old year!
While eating the guthuk, and getting your “prediction” or “fortune” or “devination” is all fun and very light hearted, there is a a more serious underlying intention in the nyi-shu-gu rituals.
Rituals to Dispel Negativity: Lue and Drilue
The vehicles by which we banish evil and bad spirits and ill health from our homes and bodies on nyi-shu-gu night is the lue and the drilue.
The lue is a little man shape typically fashioned out of tsampa and water, or tsampa and tea, but that you can also make out of flour. You can see our extremely primitive version from last year’s guthuk in the image above 🙂 Over the course of the evening, this effigy comes to represent all that is undesired in the household. It is sometimes in English referred to as a scapegoat.
The drilue are pieces of dough (also made from flour or tsampa) that we will give to each guest at the guthuk table to help dispel sickness from the body.
While cooking the guthuk, or before if you prefer, someone makes the lue and trilue to set aside until the meal is done.