01 September 2011

Happy Birthday, Your Holiness! (And Lalita!)

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born on July 6, 1935, my yoga teacher's daughter Lalita was born July 6, 2008, and July 6, 2011 in McLeod was one big party!

In some places, the celebrations for His Holiness's birthday last three days. Here in McLeod it lasts all morning (even though His Holiness wasn't even here because he was in Washington D.C.). We headed to His Holiness's temple after yoga in the pouring rain and saw at the main entrance that we wouldn't even be able to get up the stairs and into the main courtyard because the crowd was so huge that it spilled down the steps. We pushed through anyway, refusing butter tea and accepting buttery pastries on our way, and managed to penetrate about ten feet into the crowd. Unfortunately, though we could hear the TCV students singing, the only way we could see the dancing children was on the display screens of tall people who held their cameras far above the crowd to snap pictures. For a few minutes we stood there, too uncomfortably close to the people around us to enjoy the festivities, and then decided that our time would be better spent watching the live broadcast on television. We pushed back out of the crowd and then decided that we might as well try the upper floors first. The second floor was no better than the first, but the third boasted small groups of students dressing up in their costumes and preparing to go onstage before the enormous crowd. We'd essentially found the backstage dressing room, so we settled in and took plenty of photos of the adorable little children in their bright costumes. Since we couldn't watch the dancing, we took the next best option.

They learn to play these traditional instruments in extracurricular classes at the TCV

The kids were a bit shy about being photographed and nervous to go on stage

We weren't the only ones taking pictures of these cute kids

Three young performers

Older students wearing silk patterned chupas

Ready to perform

For exiled Tibetans in India, these striped aprons have taken on new meaning--they are now a symbol of marriage

Girls in elaborate costumes with long braids
Wearing a chupa and ornamental necklace

Tuning his instrument
Fortunately, I've been at the TCV enough over the last few weeks to witness, from a comfortable, uncrowded front row seat, the rehearsals for this performance, so I've seen all of it done by mischievous, laughing kids in street clothes. It was probably more entertaining than the straight-faced show they were putting on downstairs. The dancing was indistinguishable from the performance at TIPA some time ago, so I will let that description suffice. The narration of the story was more clear, however, with a messenger heralding two royal figures who sat in chairs and were always higher than the people around them. The students seemed to enjoy dance rehearsal for the most part.

Later that night we headed to Lalita's birthday part at the yoga studio. We ate her favorite white sweets, birthday cake, samosas, bananas, and fruit juice. As a group, we bought her the most elaborate barbie doll we could find, and I think she really likes it!

Lalita clapping
Since the Tibetans believe His Holiness to be a reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of compassion, they revere him as a divine being. He has also been the face of the Tibetan cause and the head of the government in exile since he was a young boy. All Tibetans I met respect the Dalai Lama. Most of the photos in my host family's home are of the Dalai Lama and the times when Gyurme and Tashi met the Dalai Lama. His face and words are found in classrooms, computer labs, and offices around the TCV. In fact, it's more common to find a picture of the Dalai Lama in the room with you in McLeod than to not see one. Thus, his birthday is a huge celebration! And not only is it a huge celebration, but it is a manifestation of Tibetan culture. The dance, song, instruments, costumes, and performers are all thoroughly Tibetan, and the event is therefore an exercise in cultural preservation.

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