Losar in Nepal

Despite Nepalese officials’ warnings not to display the photo, the Dalai Lama’s photo was briefly taken out of Samten Ling monastery.

Departing from their traditional celebration of new year, Tibetans in Kathmandu today did not conduct their religious ceremonies at the Boudha stupa in Boudhanath, Kathmandu. After repeated warnings from Nepalese police, the Dalai Lama’s Representative in Nepal, Wangchuk Tsering, opted not to hold any official ceremony on the steps of the Boudha Stupa but rather moved the rituals inside the compound of Samten Ling Monastery.

“Knowing the pressure and limitations of His Majesty’s Government, we do not want to annoy our host,” Tsering said after the Buddhist prayer ceremony concluded. “Nepal made it very clear to us in the last two years that we are not to display the photo of the Dalai Lama outside our temple prayer halls, nor make any speeches over loud speakers.”

Referring to the last two years of disruption of religious ceremonies in Boudhanath by Nepalese police on order of the Home Ministry, Tsering said, “As we couldn’t have the Dalai Lama’s photo, we chose to take our celebration elsewhere.”

The Boudha stupa is considered the most significant symbol of Tibetan religion outside of Tibet, and one of the most important pilgrimage sites. For the last four decades, it has been the focus of the Tibetan community and Buddhism in Nepal.

Nepalese authorities regularly make statements that no anti-China activities will be allowed on Nepal soil. The Nepal Home Ministry, and the police department that works under them, began restricting the display of the Dalai Lama’s photograph outside of monasteries and in public places in 2001, informing the Tibetan Welfare Office and the Dalai Lama’s Representative that the photograph was a de facto political statement.

Despite the repeated warnings, Tibetan community leaders today briefly circumambulated the Boudha stupa with a large framed photo of the Dalai Lama before returning to the private compound of Samten Ling Monastery.

Nearly one thousand Tibetans gathered on the stupa awaiting the annual religious ceremony that usually follows the circumambulation of the photo. While the crowds waited for the ceremony, the rituals actually took place at Samten Ling with approximately 200 Tibetans squeezed in the small courtyard. Diplomats from the US and German embassies attended the ceremony.

“We missed it,” Tenzin Drolkar, a student from Namgyal High School said. “It is always at the stupa with everyone involved, but I guess that isn’t going to happen anymore.”

Tibetans began holding new year celebrations at the Boudha stupa in the mid 1960s when as refugees, they began taking up residence near the historically important pilgrimage site. Carrying the Dalai Lama’s photograph around the stupa is a recent event, which has replaced the carrying of cloth covered Buddhist scriptures around the stupa.

Tsering Topgyal, president of Tibetan Youth Club, told ICT, “It is clear that Nepal now agrees with China in that the Dalai Lama is a politician, not a religious leader.”

Some among Kathmandu’s Tibetans believe it is not necessary to carry the Dalai Lama’s photo, especially if it means disassociating their celebration from the Boudha stupa. A majority of Tibetans however, maintain that they have the right to assemble peacefully with the Dalai Lama’s photo, regardless if he is a political or religious leader.