Birthday of Tibet’s Panchen Lama Celebrated in Ladakh, Exile Seat in India

2021-04-28
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Birthday of Tibet’s Panchen Lama Celebrated in Ladakh, Exile Seat in India Thupten Tsewang, president of the Ladakh Buddhist Association, cuts a cake in celebration of the Panchen Lama's birthday, April 26, 2021.
RFA

Birthday celebrations for Tibet’s Panchen Lama, who vanished into Chinese custody as a young boy in 1995, were held earlier this week in Ladakh and at Tashi Lhunpo monastery in South India, the now 32-year-old spiritual leader’s monastic seat in exile.

In India’s northwestern territory of Ladakh, celebrations were held on Sunday at Tiktse monastery in the regional capital Leh—the first observance to be held in the territory, the scene of recent border clashes between Indian and Chinese troops.

Event organizer Lobsang Tsultrim noted that although the Panchen Lama’s birthday is regularly celebrated by Tibetans around the world, this was the first celebration to be held in Ladakh.

“It is a sad fact that he has not been with us all these years,” Tsultrim said. “His disappearance has been an unfortunate reality not just for Tibetans, but for other Buddhist and Himalayan communities as well.”

“Now, we are celebrating the Panchen Lama’s birthday today so that we can explain the situation [of his continued disappearance] to our esteemed guests and try to do something about it,” Tsultrim said.

The Buddhist community of Ladakh had overlooked the Panchen Lama’s birthday until this year, agreed Thupten Tsewang, president of the Ladakh Buddhist Association. “But now we must continue to celebrate this significant day,” he said.

“The Panchen Rinpoche was abducted when he was only six years old,” said Tenzin Choephel, a representative of the Ladakh Student Body, using an honorific Tibetan term for a revered spiritual teacher.

“But we and the Indian government then overlooked this situation for such a long time. From now on we, the youth of Ladakh, will do everything in our power to raise awareness of this issue,” Choephel said.

Celebrations were also held on Monday at Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Bylakuppe, in southern India’s Karnataka state, the exile branch of the Panchen Lama’s traditional monastic seat in Shigatse, Tibet, with Tashi Lhunpo’s abbot Zikyab Rinpoche calling on China to free their detained spiritual leader.

In a statement, Zikyab Rinpoche noted that NGOs and sympathetic governments of countries around the world, including the United States, have “collectively intensified their demands” that the Panchen Lama be freed.

“We will not rest until the issue is resolved,” Zikyab Rinpoche said.

Forcibly disappeared

Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six as the 11th Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in 1989.

The recognition by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama angered Chinese authorities, who three days later took the boy and his family into custody and then installed another boy, Gyaincain Norbu, as their own candidate in his place.

Tibetans remain bitter about Chinese intervention in the selection of the current 11th Panchen Lama, whose predecessor died in 1989, and the Panchen Lama installed by Beijing remains unpopular with Tibetans both in exile and at home.

Concerns over the advancing age of the Dalai Lama, now 85, have meanwhile renewed uncertainties in recent years over his possible successor after he dies, with Beijing claiming the right to name his successor and the Dalai Lama himself saying that any future Dalai Lama will be born outside of China.

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago, and the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers later fled into exile in India and other countries around the world following a failed 1959 national uprising against China’s rule.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

Reported by Trinley Choedon and Pema Ngodup for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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