For the second year in a row, officials are planning muted celebrations for the birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, who turns 86 today. While celebrations for the Tibetan spiritual leader’s birthday often include large gatherings and festivities centered at the Tsuglagkhang (the Dalai Lama’s temple in McLeod Ganj, India), this year the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made such activities impossible.
The Kashag, the Cabinet of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) based in Dharamsala, issued an advisory to all monasteries and settlements in Himachal Pradesh on 30 June to avoid public congregations in celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Instead, they suggested that people mark the day with offerings to the mandala and white katas (ceremonial scarves) placed over portraits of His Holiness. Additionally, they urged Tibetans and followers around the world to recite the Chenrezig mantra Om Mani Padme Hung over 1,000 times to generate the roots of virtue on the day.
The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India for more than six decades and now refers to himself as a “son of India.” Celebrations for his birthday usually draw thousands of pilgrims and tourists to monasteries across the world, but especially to those in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and numerous major Tibetan organizations. Representatives from the CTA, Indian government officials from Himachal Pradesh and beyond, and global religious leaders and peace advocates attend each year.
Tenzin Tsundue, a renowned Tibetan activist, writer, and poet, noted: “Each year, there used to be a group from Mongolia. People from all over the Himalayas, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh used to perform dance, songs. Prayers were held for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
Tsundue added: “Local Indian groups used to perform the Gaddi dance. A 3–4 hour program used to be held in the morning and then in the afternoon a cultural program used to be presented by the Indo-Tibetan Friendship Society in the Tsuglagkhang courtyard. Artistes from different parts of India used to give performances for which they prepare months in advance. Local Gaddi food, dham (rice and curry), used to be served to the entire gathering.” (The Indian Express).
This year, the CTA will broadcast the official birthday celebration on television so that all who wish to can join in from their homes. A statement will also be released by the Dalai Lama to mark the occasion.
“Due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols issued by the government of Himachal Pradesh, Tsuglagkhang is closed for visitors,” said Tseten S Chhoekyapa, secretary at the Dalai Lama’s private office. “His Holiness the Dalai Lama, since last February 2020, has cancelled all his public engagements. Since May 2020 he has been giving weekly public talks and discussions with scientists and scholars. Last year, over 60 million people had watched these events, public talks that were translated into 14–16 languages.” (The Indian Express).
This birthday also marks the end of a year of planned celebrations and commemorative events called the “Year of Gratitude” to mark the 85th birthday of the Dalai Lama.* Over that time, the Dalai Lama has spoken in live-streamed events to dozens of organizations around the world. The year also saw the release of a music album with Buddhist teachings called Inner World** and viewings of a documentary, The Dalai Lama – Scientist.***
On 24 June, the Dalai Lama reunited via livestream with his longtime friend and collaborator Archbishop Desmond Tutu to mark the occasion of another movie, Mission: Joy – Finding Happiness in Troubled Times.
* Year-long Celebrations Planned to Mark the Birthday of the Dalai Lama (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Dalai Lama to Release First Album in July, Offering Mantras and Teachings Set to Music (Buddhistdoor Global)
*** The Dalai Lama – Scientist to Premiere at 76th Venice International Film Festival (Buddhistdoor Global)
Explained: How is Dalai Lama’s birthday celebrated in Dharamshala, why it will be different this year (The Indian Express)
Kashag urges all Tibetans to dedicate Chenrezig mantra on His Holiness’ 86th birthday (Central Tibetan Administration)
Mission Joy: Finding Happiness in Troubled Times
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