Celebration for Exiled Tibetan Religious Figure Kept Low-Key to Avoid Chinese Clampdown

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Tibetan devotees inside Tibet marking the 34th birthday of the Karmapa.
Tibetan devotees inside Tibet marking the 34th birthday of the Karmapa.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

Singers and artists from across Tibet held a concert on Tuesday to celebrate the 34th birthday of the exiled Gyalwa Karmapa, but the event was kept brief and lightly attended to avoid a clampdown by Chinese authorities.

The Karmapa, head of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and one of Tibet’s highest-ranking religious figures, escaped from Tibet into India in 2000 in a major embarrassment to Beijing, which had sought to groom the young lama as a supporter of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

He has since established himself in exile, and is considered close to Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

The June 25 concert took place in Chengdu, capital city of western China’s Sichuan province, Thoreng Karchen, a Tibetan living in exile, told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“About 40 to 50 Tibetan performers and singers gathered in Chengdu for the celebration of the Karmapa’s birthday,” Karchen said, citing sources in the region.

In a video clip of the celebration obtained by RFA, a huge portrait of Gyalwang Karmapa is shown displayed on a background screen as the young singers and performers introduce themselves one by one.

“The food served was purely vegetarian, and it was a formal event,” Karchen said.

“Many Tibetan singers staying in Chengdu showed up, but the number of participants was deliberately kept small over fears of a backlash from the authorities,” he said.

Large gatherings usually require permission of the Chinese government, but was not sought in this case in order to keep the event off the authorities’ radar, Karchen explained.

"The Chinese have certain restrictions on activities relating to the Karmapa, and no formal announcement was made about the event except on the day that it was held,” he said.

“But everything ended successfully,” Karchin said, adding, "[Because of the] sensitive nature of the event, we don’t want to reveal any details about the organizers.”

Several popular Tibetan artists also sent video greetings for the event that were seen by RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Monasteries in Tibet also held public ceremonies on Wednesday to celebrate the Karmapa’s birthday, Karchen said.

In a video clip obtained by RFA, a long procession of devotees is shown chanting prayers while carrying life-sized portraits of the Karmapa at Tsurphu monastery, the Karmapa’s main seat in Tibet.

An essay contest for 145 Tibetan writers both inside and outside Tibet has been launched to celebrate the Karmapa and promote the use of the Tibetan language, with the essays to be published in book form and later presented to the Karmapa himself.

“New songs in celebration of Gyalwa Karmapa’s birthday are also being composed and sung by Tibetan singers inside Tibet, and other greetings are being sent,” Karchen said.

The Karmapa left India in May 2017 and subsequently acquired a passport from the Commonwealth of Dominica.

He has expressed a desire to return to India but has so far been unable to do, and according to sources now lives in the United States and Germany.

Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul Written in English by Eugene Whong.





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