Today, Friday, is the third and final day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. For the past three days, there have been mass prayers and ceremonies around town and at the temples. On a more selfish note, for the past three days all the Tibetan restaurants has been closed, leaving only limited selection for dinner – really can’t wait for tomorrow.
This year, there has been no celebrations like usual. Instead, to commemorate the self immolations, the Tibetan people have been wearing their traditional clothes as a statement. There have been hunger strikes outside the temple and the Tibetan Youth Congress has held several events to create attention and support for their cause.
This morning I went to a mass prayer – it wasn’t something I’d planned, I just wanted to walk down to a smaller temple just south of the big Tsuglagkhang Complex, which houses both the Namgyal Monastery and Temple as well as the residence of HH Dalai Lama. It’s a very beautiful walk through pine forest and all along the path there has been put stones engraved and painted with the Buddhist mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”.
When I got to the temple, there were so many people and after making sure that my presence was accepted, I sat down and joined the prayers. Well, I didn’t know the words but I listened and focused my intentions, in awe to participate in such a moving experience. In the middle all the monks and nuns were sitting and were leading the chanting and spread out on both sides were everybody else. Sometimes only the monks and nuns were chanting, then it was like everybody else answered and they chanted back and forth, sometimes quiet, sometimes louder and more energetic. Children were running around playing, cookies and chai were being passed around, a few tourist walked by and there were some press photographers and a camera crew – such a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere and never without losing the chanting.
It went on for another 30’ish minutes (by then my butt was really cold from sitting on the ground) and then everybody stood up and received a small handful of flour, me included. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it but was told that it was for throwing. We were now all standing, facing the temple and a new prayer was said while holding out the hand with the flour. Twice we lowered the hand and raised it again while the prayers continued and on the third time we threw the flour up in the air and everybody wished each other happy new year, laughing and covered in white :)
That concluded the ceremony and everybody started walking back towards the main temple, most also making a round in and through the temple. The whole thing was such a beautiful experience and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.
Later in the afternoon I went to the Namgyal Temple again (I live right next to it) and another mass prayer was going on. It was actually the same chant as in the morning – I still didn’t understand the words but recognized it just the same.
Around town as well as inside the Tsuglagkhang Complex, big posters have been put up with pictures and stories of the recent self immolations and also posters showing the latest killings of peaceful Tibetan protesters. Tibet has been pretty much sealed off and it’s practically impossible to enter or leave. Many people here in Dharamsala have family and friends still in Tibet, some of them escaping themselves by foot across the Himalayas.
It’s heartbreaking that after som many years, the situation has not improved and it’s almost incomprehensible that the Tibetan people are still so full of smiles.
And they have beautiful smiles.