Tibetans celebrate Dalai Lama birthday in Tibet despite intensified surveillance and military presence

Dalai Lama birthday

Tibetans in Tawu, Sichuan, celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday in the grasslands.

Tibetans across Tibet celebrated the Dalai Lama’s 79th birthday last week despite tightened security restrictions including a ban on large gatherings and an intensified deployment of troops in some areas. The Dalai Lama marked his birthday in exile in Ladakh, India, teaching a major religious empowerment, the Kalachakra.

Images and footage from the eastern Tibetan areas of Amdo and Kham depict large pictures of the Dalai Lama displayed during picnics in the grasslands, horse races, hoisting of prayer flags on sacred mountains and burning of incense. Tibetan songs in honor of the Dalai Lama were uploaded onto YouTube, and poems posted on Tibetan blogs.

Social networking services were also blocked in some areas of Tibet, possibly with the intention of preventing Tibetans from hearing news about the Kalachakra and the teachings.

  • A video circulating on social media showed large plumes of incense smoke arising from a monastery and homes in Tawu (Chinese: Dawu/Daofu), Sichuan, on July 6, the Dalai Lama’s birthday; whoops and cries of celebration can be heard from all directions. Last year in Tawu, the Tibetan area of Kham,[1] police opened fire at a crowd who were peacefully gathered to celebrate the birthday, shooting two monks.[2]
  • Despite the intimidating presence of armed troops, monks, nuns and lay Tibetans in areas including Amchok (in Sangchu, Chinese: Xiahe, Gansu); , Labrang Tashikyil monastery (also Sangchu), Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan, Gansu), Tawu, Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi, Sichuan), Lithang (Chinese: Litang, Sichuan); Draggo (Chinese: Luhuo, Sichuan) in Kardze, Golog (Chinese: Guoluo, Qinghai) and Kumbum (Qinghai), marked the birthday on Sunday (July 6). Often the celebrations were low-key with Tibetans going into the grasslands away from monasteries or towns for picnics, where they displayed images of the Dalai Lama, burnt incense and made prayer offerings.
  • In Amchok, the Tibetan area of Amdo, the Dalai Lama’s birthday coincided with a traditional festival involving horse racing and picnicking. As part of the ceremonies, Tibetans in traditional attire carried ornate decorated arrows to a sacred mountain where they were draped with white blessing scarves, and offerings were made.
  • Monks from Labrang Tashikyil monastery in the Tibetan area of Amdo chanted long life prayers for the Dalai Lama in the grasslands beyond the monastery.

A Tibetan from Amdo told exile sources that security in the entire area of Kanlho had been intensified over the past two week period in the buildup to the birthday, with local officials instructed to be vigilant due to the Kalachakra in India and the Dalai Lama’s birthday.

In Lhasa, restrictions were tightened over the sensitive birthday period, with troops deployed in the central Barkhor area, site of the Jokhang Temple, and the Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s former summer home, according to exile Tibetan sources.

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Radio Free Asia reported that in Tibetan areas of Sichuan, the authorities banned public gatherings of more than three families, deploying security forces in market areas, and blocking access to the popular online social network WeChat, according to Tibetan sources (Radio Free Asia, July 7, 2014). A Tibetan from Lithang now in exile told RFA: “There has also been an unusually heavy deployment of Chinese security forces in market areas and in the streets all over Lithang county, and even the nomadic areas have not been spared.”

A Tibetan from Kham told exile sources: “It is so difficult to celebrate the birthday, and we know the risks. But gathering families and friends together to mark this important occasion gives us hope and helps us to cope with the pressures, fear and tension we experience.”

Popular songs from Tibet mark the birthday

A number of Tibetan singers marked the birthday by recording songs in the Dalai Lama’s honor and uploading them to Youtube.

“Listen all Tibetan people, from three provinces[3]
Today is an auspicious day
With the sign of multi-colored sublime stars
His Holiness’ birthday approaches”,

sung one Tibetan female singer, in a video sent to the Tibetan language service of Radio Free Asia. She dedicates the song to His Holiness’ return to Tibet.

A popular singer from Amdo, featured on a video seated below a thangka with a white khatag as a symbolic offering to His Holiness, opens his song:

“White cloud
If you fly to India in the South
Take this song there
[…] Six million Tibetans are waiting for you”.

Referring to himself as “This son of Amdo” with “unshed tears in his eyes”, he says that this song of dedication is “stronger than me”.

A folk singer is pictured singing in traditional Amdo grasslands style, with no accompaniment, referring to the Dalai Lama as “the White Lion with the turquoise mane”, to whoops and cheers from his audience.

The songs also make emotional references to the sorrow of Tibetans’ current situation (“Make clear the space of sadness of the purple fog and clouds”) while expressing hope for the return of the Dalai Lama.

Related Report
ICT report, Chinese policy and the Dalai Lama’s birthplaces (10 July 2014)

[1] In Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan

[2] Two Tibetan monks were shot in the head and others seriously injured . ICT report, http://www.savetibet.org/tibetan-monks-shot-as-police-open-fire-on-tibetans-praying-on-dalai-lamas-birthday/

[3] The traditional Tibetan areas of Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang

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