The Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday was marked in Tibet on the weekend of June 21-22 in moving and devotional ceremonies in monasteries, the grasslands and in the heart of Lhasa, despite the dangers of punitive actions from the Chinese Government for Tibetans of demonstrating their allegiance to the Tibetan leader.
Images and footage from Tibet showed Tibetans gathering to mark the birthday (July 6 in the West, and June 21 in the Tibetan calendar) with displays of butter sculptures, prayer ceremonies, offerings before large images of the Dalai Lama, and traditional scattering of prayer flags in the wind. The celebrations took place despite tightened security in many areas of Tibet, with officials in Tibetan areas warning against gatherings to mark the significant birthday. Over the past few years, any attempt to publicly mark the Dalai Lama’s birthday has been banned in Tibet.
The images and video clips sent from several different areas in Tibet showed:
- Birthday cakes with candles placed before images of the Dalai Lama displayed on a laptop computer screen;
- Gatherings of hundreds of people in a snowstorm of “windhorses” prayer flags (prayers written on paper) with plumes of incense in the background;
- Children with hands in prayer position before offering tables with large images of the Dalai Lama;
- Tibetans circumambulating the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama’s former home, in Lhasa;
- Tibetan nomads gathered to sing traditional songs at birthday picnics;
- Chanting monks in monasteries before images of the Dalai Lama
In Lhasa, large numbers of Tibetans circumambulated the Dalai Lama’s former home, the Potala Palace. In Golog (Chinese: Guoluo), Qinghai, hundreds of Tibetans gathered at Jonang Chamda monastery to recite long life prayers for the Dalai Lama and also to honour a senior monk whose birth date fell within the same month.
Monks of Khagya Toe monastery in Kanlho (Gannan) prefecture in Gansu also paid respect to a portrait of the Dalai Lama, standing in two lines to offer incense and ceremonial scarves, a Tibetan source told Radio Free Asia. “They also saved the lives of numerous birds that had earlier been captured, returning them to freedom,” the same source said (RFA, June 24, 2015).
Monks in Rongpo monastery, Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren), Qinghai, and Meyshe monastery in Tsoe (Chinese: Hezuo) city, the capital of Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) in Gansu, also marked the birthday with a prayer service.
In one video clip viewed by ICT, Tibetans called for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet as soon as possible.
A Tibetan from Amdo said: “In the summer, Tibetans often take picnics out to the grasslands, away from the urban areas where they are more easily observed by the authorities. So most of the celebrations of the birthday took place in these areas, with friends, family, the local community gathering with large photographs of His Holiness or thangkas of the Bodhisattva of compassion displayed on makeshift thrones with offerings of seasonal fruit, with songs and dances connected to the 80th birthday year.”
According to various Tibetan sources, the ceremonies were not closed down by local authorities. In some cases, Tibetans took picnics to remote areas in the grasslands to commemorate the birthday unobserved.
This was in contrast to an incident on the Dalai Lama’s birthday in 2013, when police opened fire on Tibetans peacefully celebrating the occasion in Tawu (Chinese: Daofu), eastern Tibet, injuring at least ten people. Other Tibetans detained were tortured in custody.
 ICT report, July 26, 2013, http://www.savetibet.org/shooting-in-tawu-on-dalai-lamas-birthday-update/