In open defiance of authorities, Tibetans set up a portrait of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at a traditional horse-racing festival in China’s Sichuan province this week, inviting festival-goers to pray before the photo and make offerings, sources said.
The popular festival, held this year on July 27 in Dziwa village in Bathang (in Chinese, Batang) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, opened with the Dalai Lama portrait’s formal installation, a Tibetan living in exile told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Tuesday.
“Though Chinese authorities imposed restrictions on the festival, the Tibetans brought in a portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and placed it on a throne,” Tsultrim Choedar said, citing local sources.
“The organizers also invited Tibetans gathered at the festival to view the photo and offer ceremonial scarves,” he said.
“They prayed for the long life of the Dalai Lama and other prominent religious teachers, and also prayed for a resolution of the question of Tibet.”
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet into exile in India in 1959, is reviled by Chinese leaders as a dangerous separatist who seeks to split the formerly self-governing region from Beijing’s rule.
In what he calls a Middle Way Approach, though, the Dalai Lama himself says that he seeks only a meaningful autonomy for Tibet as a part of China, with protections for the region’s language, religion, and culture.
A popular tradition
Horse racing festivals date back to the time of the Tibetan emperor Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century, and are still popular in Tibetan rural nomadic areas—especially in the historical southeastern Tibetan region of Kham, which has largely been absorbed into Chinese provinces, Choedar said.
“This time, when the horse race was organized in Dziwa village, the festival began with an invitation to all who came to the festival to participate in the installation of Dalai Lama’s portrait and to receive blessings,” he said.
Most of the horse-racing events are held annually “but in some places the event is organized twice each year.”
Many travel for days to attend the festivals, he said.
In September 2012, Bathang-area Tibetans also defied authorities by parading large portraits of the Dalai Lama during the enthronement of a local religious leader, Tibetan sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Several thousand Tibetans, many on motorbikes, took part in the enthronement ceremony to welcome the young lama, one source said, adding, “Many displayed huge photos of the Dalai Lama on their motorbikes and paraded in the ceremony.”
And in March this year, a 31-year-old nun named Drolma self-immolated near a monastery in Bathang to protest Beijing’s rule, sources in the region and in exile said.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 131 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the Dalai Lama’s return.
Reported by Pema Ngodup for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.