On the heels of Gregorian New Year celebrations was Nyilo, the new year of the Shar and Wang region. If the New Year was celebrated with dinners, live musical shows and disco dancing until the wee hours, Nyilo, once a much-celebrated new year’s eve was muted.

Apart from a few groups of children singing the Lolay (wish-fulfilling song) in the capital, organised by Nangchoed – a non-profit organisation, the eve of Nyilo was subdued if not overshadowed by the New year celebrations that are still continuing.

Nyilo literally means the return of the sun. It is the day from which the duration of sunlight time increases, signifying the start of longer days. Scientifically, it is the winter solstice when days start becoming longer. It is a day of celebrations. Longer days mean more time in the fields and more work done. For farmers in the Wang region, it is a long break (Nyilo holidays last from three days to a week), before they prepare for another busy year in their fields. Nyilo follows the Nyenpa Gunzom, also known as the Sharchop Losar. It is perhaps for the same reason – a break to prepare for a new work cycle.

On the eve of Nyilo, children and even adults go around their village singing the Lolay song to wish families a good year ahead. The lyrics are evidence of the priorities –

… let the granary be filled with grains,

Let the stores be filled with meat, butter and cheese,

Let the cattle shed be filled with cattle…

As an agrarian society, the Lolay song depicts the priorities then. From rice to meat to even wishing for a healthy population (probably for more pairs of hands in the fields). However, Nyilo and the celebrations related to it are relegated to a sumptuous lunch. But for the organized groups, the tradition of Lolay singing is disappearing. This is evident from the few lucky ones who heartily welcomed children at their door singing Lolay. It is a rare moment.

It is believed that welcoming the Lolay group brings good luck and a prosperous year ahead. That’s why in the villages, even if farmers have little to spare, they are generous with their donations to the Lolay group. In urban places like Thimphu where young people at the doorstep are seen as irritants, the singing group reminds of a tradition that is under threat.

Children, even if they are interested in keeping the tradition alive, have to manoeuvre traffic and watch out for the pack of stray dogs as they go around singing Lolay.

As Bhutan modernises and urbanises, a lot of the traditions that were a part of our life and culture will change. Some can be preserved and promoted, some like the Lolay can be organised, but the authenticity will be lost.

Kudos to the Nangchoed group who are trying to preserve the tradition even if the lyrics of Lolay had become irrelevant or if children taking part are not understanding that a rich tradition is now under threat from modernisation and urbanisation.