Preserving Tradition: Bhutan’s Lolay Festival Faces Modern Challenges

In the midst of the meticulously planned celebrations of Diwali, Christmas, and Halloween, the unique Bhutanese occasion of Lolay struggles to maintain its once-widespread celebration. Lolay, a cherished tradition involving the recitation of verses in prayers accompanied by the offering of abundant good wishes, faces challenges in the wake of societal shifts leading to a decline in its reception.

Winter Solstice, or Nyilo, marks the celebration of the New Year, particularly in the Shar and Wang regions. According to Buddhist astrology, Nyilo is the day when the duration of sunlight increases, symbolizing the beginning of longer days until the Summer Solstice.

Lolay, at its core, involves the recitation of verses in prayers and the offering of heartfelt good wishes. Children traditionally visit homes and shops in groups, spreading these prayers and wishes for the new year. However, in the contemporary scenario, a decline is evident, with some individuals unprepared for this customary exchange. The warmth of reception has faded as uncertainty about what to offer in return has grown, leading to awkward encounters and, regrettably, instances of chasing away the participating children.

Sangay Lhamo, a local resident in Thimphu, reflects on this shift, stating, “I appreciate the sentiment behind ‘Lolay,’ but I’m often caught off guard. I don’t know what to provide, and it can be a bit uncomfortable.”

Tshering Tobgay from Haa emphasizes the significance of Lolay, stating, “Similar to the age-old traditions of Nyilo among the Shah people and Chunipai Losar celebrated in the East, Lolay holds a special place.” The verses constituting Lolay serve as prayers wishing prosperity, peace, and happiness for the families visited throughout the year.

However, a disheartening trend emerges, with some individuals actively chasing away children engaged in this endearing practice. This raises concerns about the preservation of cultural traditions and the impact of changing attitudes within the community.

Ap Sangay shares a personal experience, “It dawned on me that we are not adequately prepared for our own cultural practices, which have been passed down from our grandparents. In contrast, we are often quick to embrace Western culture.”

Lopen Thukten Jamtsho of Zhung Dratshang explains the cultural significance of Lolay, where “Lo” signifies year, and “lay” conveys goodness. Children, considered precious gems and symbols of divinity, visiting households to offer prayers is deemed auspicious. The practice, deeply rooted in Bhutanese culture, involves positive and well-wishing sentiments.

Traditionally, households offered rice, Sikam (dry pork), Shakam (dry beef), and provisions available when children sang ‘Lolay.’ Nowadays, monetary contributions are more common, reflecting the modern shift in practices.

Related Posts