In a move certain to anger Chinese authorities, Tibetans living in western China’s Sichuan and Qinghai provinces are celebrating the Tibetan New Year this week by also marking the 80th birth year of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, sources said.
The move reverses a trend in recent years of forgoing celebrations of the New Year, or Losar, in honor of Tibetans who have self-immolated and others who have lost their lives in protests challenging Beijing’s rule in Tibetan areas.
Losar has not been celebrated in the Malho (in Chinese, Huangnan) and Tsolho (Hainan) prefectures of Qinghai since 2008, “but has been observed since then with mourning and expressions of solidarity with those who died and others who now suffer under Chinese detention,” a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“This year, Tibetans in these areas marked the occasion by abandoning the consumption of meat and alcohol and by mounting prayer flags on hills and taking part in religious activities such as prayers and offering ceremonies so that the Dalai Lama may live for over 100 years,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They are also praying that Tibetans living in exile and in Tibet may one day be reunited,” the source said.
The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959 following a failed national uprising against Chinese occupation, is reviled by Chinese leaders as a dangerous separatist intent on “splitting” Tibet from Beijing’s control.
Displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photos or public celebrations of his birthday, which falls on July 6, have been met with harsh punishment in the past.'
This year, monasteries and villages in Kardze (Ganzi) prefecture’s Serthar (Seda) county in Sichuan are also observing the Dalai Lama’s 80th birth year, and are joining it with celebrations of Losar, a second local source told RFA.
“We are doing this by displaying the Dalai Lama’s photo on family altars along with special cookies and by making prayers for his long life and the accomplishment of his wishes,” the source said.
“The celebration is not being done on a wide scale, though many Tibetans are marking this special occasion,” he said, adding that many area residents are planning “grander” celebrations during the fifth Tibetan calendar month this year.
Some Tibetans now in exile from historic Tibet’s northeastern Amdo region, which covers parts of Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai provinces, have planned to hold the Dalai Lama’s birth-year celebrations next year, he said.
“But we have decided to observe this important occasion, when the Dalai Lama reaches the age of 80, this year, according to the traditional Tibetan calendar.”
Customs passed on
In a statement released in Dharamsala, India, seat of the Tibetan government in exile or Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), exile political leader Lobsang Sangay urged Tibetans in exile and in Tibet to again observe Losar in its traditional form.
“As we celebrate Losar, it is important that we follow our religious rituals and wear traditional attire so that we can pass on these customs to the younger generations,” Sangay said in the statement, released on March 1 on the CTA website.
“If we forget our roots, we face the danger of a gradual weakening and waning of our identity and the Tibetan spirit,” Sangay, who uses the title Sikyong, said.
“We are aware of the message of the Sikyong, who has called for all Tibetans to mark Losar in the traditional way and let the younger generation know about the Losar celebration and other Tibetan traditions,” a resident of Sichuan’s Kardze prefecture told RFA.
“Tibetans in the Kardze area are now conducting a low-key Losar celebration with activities of a more traditional and religious nature,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, a young Tibetan living in exile in South India said, “We have not celebrated the Tibetan New Year now for many years since 2008.”
“I believe that the New Year should be marked and celebrated. Otherwise, the younger generation may forget the significance of the tradition.”
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin, Sonam Wangdu, and Pema Ngodup for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.