Friday, January 1, 2021

Winter Solstice (Nyilo)

Winter Solstice has been celebrated in cultures the world over for thousands of years. So it is internationally known and should not view as local event.

The start of the solar year is a celebration of Light and the rebirth of the Sun. In old Europe, it was known as Yule, from the Norse, Jul, meaning wheel.

Winter solstice is an astronomical phenomenon marking the shortest day and the longest night of the year. 

In the Northern Hemisphere this is the December solstice and in the Southern Hemisphere it is June solstice. 

The length of the day tomorrow in Bhutan is around 9 hours 26 minutes where as in Rovaniemi (Finland) it is 2 hours 16 minutes and in Ushuaia (Argentina) 17 hours 20 minutes.

In Bhutan, the winter solstice is called Nyilog that literally means “the return of the sun.” It is the day that the amount of daily sunlight increases, signifying the start of longer days. It is considered to be the most auspicious day of the year for Bhutanese. 

The people have traditionally believed that on Nyinlog, past mistakes may be erased and karmic value of good deeds is multiplied. However, if resort to bad deeds, that too have multiplying effect. So please ensure No fights, no quarrels, No gossip, No killing, No cheating etc. Also avoid giving money.

Particularly, in the villages of Wangdue phodrang and Trongsa, winter solstice is an important day for which elaborate preparations are made to celebrate the occasion. This marks the end of previous year and beginning of New Year. 

Some senior Bhutanese say that on this day, they all get one year older, but one can avoid the passage of time by hiding in the basement of houses. 

For instance, a baby born on the eve of the Nyinglog carries the old animal year (Rat) while the one born after the start of New Year will carry the new animal (Ox).

Even during Zhabdrung Rinpoche’s reign and also in the period of Desi ’s rule, the New Year in the documents was recorded on the day of Nyinglog. 

On this day, elderly people visit religious landmarks and monasteries. Butter lamps are lit all over the country with the belief that the merits of the people that light them will be magnified. 

Young Bhutanese in-group goes door-to-door singing Loley ( best year wishes) for the New Year, and in return they get food and money. 

(Image courtesy: His Majesty's Facebook Page)

Lolay is performed on the eve of “Nyilo” where young boys and girls go from door to door singing Lolay song wishing every household a very Happy New Year and at the same time earn something, usually eatable items. Later they make a big feast and share whatever is left. That was  a big deal. two decades ago. 

Unfortunately, the tradition of Lolay is gradually dying in the country. Young generation feels it is like an act of begging not worth practicing in an economically progressed society. However, they are mistaken. 

They must know that it is a noble act of young minds collectively wishing each family of the household a very Happy New Year at their very doorsteps. Physical presence and wishing is more powerful than exchanging greeting through social medias.

(Image courtesy: BBS)

We must revive this tradition and educate our youth to take part during such occasion. Such traditions make Bhutan a unique country.

(Image courtesy: His Majesty's Facebook page)

So here is the standard verse.

“Good New Year! Good New Year! 

Let livestock fill the ground floor, Good New Year! Good New Year!

Good New Year! Good New Year! Let horses fill the entrance, Good New Year! Good New Year!

Good New Year! Good New Year! Let grains fill up the middle floor, Good New Year! Good New Year!

Good New Year! Good New Year! Let sons and daughters fill the house, Good New Year! Good New Year!

Good New Year! Good New Year! Let flagpoles fill the roof, Good New Year! Good New Year!

Good New Year! Good New Year! Let meat fill the meat store, Good New Year! Good New Year!

Good New Year! Good New Year! Let wines fill the wine store, Good New Year! Good New Year!

Now we hear thumping of footsteps, here comes the fortunate host. Picking up the golden phueta, Opening the golden box,

Here come the lavish one phueta (container) of rice, a pair of pork slices, and one sang of butter”.

It must be noted that the household should ensure that the gift includes all essential food items and also given in a good measure thus the family can hope for a good harvest for the coming year. 

(Image courtesy: BBS)

It is also believed that the group of children singing “Lolay” should be in odd numbers when visiting homes, as even numbers bring bad luck.

Hope our Kids uphold this tradition. When I was young I have actively participated in Lolay culture.

Unfortunately, this year due to deadly pandemic and the Nationwide lockdown we all have to confine in our own house and celebrate the Nyilo. Nevertheless, let us pray that such pandemic be brought under control and there be a successful creation of vaccines that will save the humans.

Apart from Haa and Paro, the valleys of Shar (Wangduephordang district) and the Hen kha speaking part of Mangde valley (Trongsa) observe Nyinlog and pray their village deities as Lha Bon. This is obviously a Bon tradition, which was adapted to the Buddhist system of Lunar Calendar.

The Winter solstice was also a convenient period form a major celebration as the crops have been harvested and stored up in the houses. With adequate food in reserve and beginning of the dry season of winter, it was a good time for fun and merry making.

Have a Great Day and Happy Nyilo.

Phub Dorji Wang

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