KATHMANDU—Chinese police detained at least one person when several hundred Tibetans in Lhasa took part in an outlawed incense-burning there in a rare open display of opposition to Chinese rule.
“About 500 Tibetans planned to participate in a huge incense-burning ritual at Kuru bridge in Lhasa in response to the offering rituals for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's long life,” one source told RFA's Tibetan service.
“Every Wednesday, we go for Sangsol [a ritual to invoke protective deities]. This morning, Wednesday, March 14, was very different. There were long lines and huge crowds everywhere in the places of worship,” she said.
“Normally Tibetans aren’t allowed to gather in huge congregations for prayers or incense-burning. But a large number of Tibetans converged in Lhasa and participated” on that day, the source said.
“On March 14, a grand ritual of offerings was conducted for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by the exile government and the Tibetan exile community, and the exile government appealed to all Tibetans—young and old—to get involved in meritorious actions on this day.”
“Chinese security officials stepped in and blocked the Tibetans from participation. In fact one Tibetan woman who was from Kham Jomda [in Chinese, Jiangda] in Chamdo prefecture was detained. She was about 42. Another old woman in her 60s was assaulted,” another source said. No further information on either woman was available.
Kuru Bridge leads to Bumpa Ri (Vase Hill) in the southeast quadrant of Lhasa. Bumpa Ri is one of the highest peaks in the area, which people climb to burn incense and pray.
At Tengyeling monastery in downtown Lhasa, there were so many people there was a risk of a stampede. We could hardly view the statues.
Wednesdays are regarded as auspicious days for the Dalai Lama, and Tibetan Buddhists inside Tibet and in exile routinely make offerings and burn incense on Wednesdays. On that particular Wednesday, March 14, many more Tibetans than usual climbed Bumpa Ri early in the morning and smoke could be seen from Lhasa long before authorities stopped their worship in the afternoon, witnesses said.
“At Tengyeling monastery in downtown Lhasa, there were so many people there was a risk of a stampede. We could hardly view the statues. Wherever I went, there were hundreds of Tibetans who were making offerings to dakinis [the female protectors worshipped by Tibetan Buddhists]. People were offering prayer lamps and buying incense,” one witness said.
“One package of incense usually costs one yuan (about U.S. $.25) but today they were charging three yuan. It was amazing that there were so many people at Jokhang,” the central cathedral in Lhasa.
“The Tibetans usually offer incense and burn ritual substances in front of Jokhang, in front of Palden Lhamo Shrine, and then at Nangtse Shar in downtown Lhasa.”
Tibetan shops in the area were closed, another source said.
“The only shops open were those of Chinese Muslim [Hui] traders. The rest were closed. I heard that government employees and schoolchildren were banned from these prayers and incense-burning rituals. We, the general public in the community were told nothing. In fact I went very early in the morning,” said another witness.
Later in the day, said another, “several hundred police were deployed in different parts of Lhasa city. It was very difficult to move around freely with the huge presence of Chinese security officials.”
Several calls to Lhasa police headquarters during business hours went unanswered.
Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Translation by Karma Dorjee. Service director: Jigme Ngapo. Produced for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.