New Year but No Losar

A year after brutally suppressed protests in Tibet, quiet descends on Dharamsala, India, where exiled Tibetans unite in somber prayer.

DHARAMSALA, India: Tibetan exile reads posters on the eve of the anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule, March 9, 2009.

By Maura Moynihan

DHARAMSALA—Losar, the Tibetan New Year, has long been a season of celebration in Dharamasala: two weeks of song and dance where Tibet springs gloriously to life in this exile kingdom above the Kangra valley.

But this year,  banners in the streets of Dharamsala proclaim “Say No to Losar.” This year there are no firecrackers, no concerts, no dance parties.

The shrines are smaller, with flowers and sweets and portraits of the Dalai Lama, yet there is a restlessness, a palpable nationalism, in the air that binds Tibetans in exile with Tibetans still  living under Chinese rule.

On March 8, the Dalai Lama presided over a somber prayer service for Tibetans killed, tortured,  and imprisoned last year in uprisings across Tibet.

The next morning, thousands gathered at the Tsuglakhang, the Dalai Lama’s hillside temple, to join a Long Life  prayer service for the exiled Tibetan leader, now 73.

The Dalai Lama sat on a golden throne before an assembly of lamas and monks led by senior lamas the Sakya Tridzin Rinpoche and the Karmapa, as hundreds of Tibetans filed past with offerings of food, flowers, and scriptures. 

DHARAMSALA, India: Tibetans pray for the long life of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and worry about a future without him. AFP video

For the first time since the Dalai Lama moved to Dharamsala in 1960, the Monlam Prayer Festival has also been canceled as a security precaution. There are fewer  Dharma students roaming the lanes of McLeod Ganj, but the bars are packed with journalists and activists who have come to the seat of the Tibetan government in exile for the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising of March 10, 1959, and the flight of the Dalai Lama to India.
“The 'Say No to Losar ' campaign came from inside Tibet. It spread so quickly” said poet-activist Tenzin Tsundue. “We turned it into a campaign to unite Tibetans everywhere, without having to be together physically. We have a strong belief in our nonviolent method with which we can live through this difficult struggle."

"Our resistance will prolong this uneasy, expensive burden of control the Chinese government bears in Tibet [by] maintaining a huge army with heavy guns in a pastoral land.”
Lobsang Wangyal, a Dharmasala-based photographer and festival producer, did not say no to Losar. “I wanted a grand Losar to show that we’ve not given up, a symbolic statement that after 50 years of exile and occupation, Tibetan culture is still alive and kicking."

"Losar is a unique part of Tibetan culture; we can’t afford to diminish our own culture. I wanted to launch a cultural show to say 'Thank you, India' for these 50 years in exile. I'm still planning to do it later."
Beijing has stationed tens of thousands of paramilitary forces in Tibet with orders to “Strike Hard” against all expressions of Tibetan nationalism and support for the Dalai Lama. Protests have erupted in Tibet’s provinces of Amdo and Kham, home of the Chushi Gangdruk, the Tibetan Resistance fighters who bore the young Dalai Lama to safety in India fifty years ago, outwitting the People’s Liberation Army.

Many in Dharamsala fear that the Chinese Army will react with even greater ferocity on this March 10th.
“Tibetans inside Tibet are being tortured and killed for the simple act of expressing their ethnic identity and their faith in the Dalai Lama,” says Kunga Thupten, who  has participated in several hunger strikes for Tibetan independence. “Tibetans  under Chinese dominion are living under an extreme military lockdown, so it is our responsibility to tell the world of their suffering .... "  
"After 50 years, China still uses guns and terror to draw a curtain of silence around Tibet.  That shows their fear and their paranoia, and their failure to win over the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people."

Maura Moynihan, a writer and musician, has been a consultant to the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, America's largest Himalayan and Tibetan cultural institution. She worked for many years as a refugee consultant in India and Nepal and recently completed a master's degree in political science at the New School.


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