Ahead of festival, eerie silence in Dalai Lama's abode

Dharamsala, Feb 10 (IANS) An eerie silence prevails at McLeodganj near Dharamsala, where thousands of Tibetans and their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, have been living for over half a century, ahead of the sacred Losar festival, beginning Monday.

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the elected government of exiled Tibetans based here, has appealed to Tibetans across the world to shun celebrations as the current situation in their homeland is grim.

According to the Tibetan lunar calendar, Losar is the first day of the New Year. Traditionally, it is celebrated in a big way. This year, the festival falls Feb 11.

"Our main concern is the spate of self-immolations inside Tibet," political head of the Tibetan people in exile Lobsang Sangay told IANS.

"The situation has worsened. They are crying out for justice, autonomy and freedom to worship. It's our moral responsibility to support them and to apprise the international community of human rights violations," Sangay, the first democratically elected prime minister of the government-in-exile, said.

Sangay said 99 Tibetans had set themselves on fire since 2009. The common cry of all those immolating themselves has been the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom for Tibetans.

"News from Tibet continues to be grim. So there will be no merrymaking (on Losar). We will only perform rituals like visiting temples and making offerings on that day," Padma Dolma, a local shopkeeper, said.

Dolma, who was born and brought up in India, said she and her friends would wear traditional clothes on Losar. "This helps display our unique identity and tradition".

"Since 2009, we have been abstaining Losar celebrations. It's a way to express solidarity with our dear brothers and sisters inside Tibet," said another Tibetan Tashi Dhondup.

The three-day festival marks sacred and secular practices like prayers, ceremonies, rituals and folk dancing and merrymaking.

The CTA will hold special prayers Monday morning at the hilltop Tsuglagkhang temple close to the official palace of the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), the largest pro-independence group in exile, has chalked out a series of activities, including candlelight protests, across Tibetan settlements in India and the world to mark the festival.

The Dalai Lama and his followers fled Tibet after a failed uprising against China's communist rule in 1959.

Around 140,000 Tibetans now live in exile, over 100,000 of them in different parts of India. Over six million Tibetans live in Tibet.

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