Tibetan monks attending a large prayer festival in Qinghai’s Nangchen county honored a portrait of the exiled Gyalwa Karmapa this week, bringing it in procession into the prayer hall each morning and placing it for veneration on a large ornate throne, Tibetan sources said.
The life-size portrait was the main focus of devotion for many of the thousands who had gathered for the five-day Kagyu Monlam beginning Oct. 31, “with the clergy and lay devotees lining up each morning chanting prayers, with many prostrating themselves in tears,” a Tibetan living in exile told RFA, citing sources in the region.
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. He has since established himself in exile, and is considered close to Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Chinese authorities in Tibet have often restricted the display of photos of the Karmapa, confiscating them from monks and warning drivers not to carry them in their vehicles, sources in the region told RFA in earlier reports.
Coinciding with the traditional Buddhist holiday of Lhabab Duchen, this year’s Kagyu Monlam was the 17th held at Japa monastery in Nangchen (in Chinese, Nangqian) county in Qinghai’s Yulshul (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and drew over 4,000 monks and nuns and “tens of thousands of Tibetan lay devotees from all over Tibet,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The gatherings have grown bigger and more colorful every year, and the organizers have made it a priority to keep the environment at the site neat and clean,” the source said.
“Around 90 senior Tibetan lamas and abbots were present at the gathering this year, and were given special seating at the front of the hall. These learned and respected lamas took turns giving teachings and advice to the devotees during the sessions in the afternoon,” he said.
Japa had previously been the scene of large protests challenging Chinese policies in the region, with thousands of Tibetans gathering at the monastery in early 2014 to push for the release from jail of a senior monk, Khenpo Kartse, popular for his work promoting Tibetan language and culture.
Meanwhile, in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, pilgrims and devotees observed Lhabab Duchen—a holiday believed to mark the Buddha’s descent from the god realms—by visiting local monasteries “in greater numbers than usual,” a city resident told RFA, also speaking on condition he not be named.
“And as many beggars showed up on the streets, generous Tibetans handed out money and food,” the source said.
But large numbers of Chinese police, both in uniform and in plain clothes, were posted in the milling crowds to keep watch near the Jokhang, the city’s central cathedral, the source said.
“And so the religious event was observed under tight control,” he said.
Reported by Dorjee Damdul and Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.