July 6, 2005

Tibetan exiles celebrate Dalai Lama’s 70th birthday

DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) - About 10,000 people includingmonks, Tibetan refugees and foreign tourists, prayed outsidethe Dalai Lama's home in northern India on Wednesday tocelebrate the spiritual leader's 70th birthday.

Bagpipers in multicolored brocade robes and brown fur hatsplayed sprightly tunes and women in traditional Tibetan silkrobes danced to the sound of cymbals to welcome the smilingDalai Lama who entered a vast pavilion with his hands folded.

"For me, each day is a birthday. Each day, you realizesomething is important," said the Nobel Peace Prize winningmonk, after receiving ceremonial scarves from Buddhist leaderswho came to the hill town of Dharamsala from other parts ofIndia.

"Each day I begin with a pledge that the rest of the dayshould be utilised in a positive way. I am grateful to all thepeople praying for my long life. As long as I live, I will livefor others."

Undeterred by a heavy downpour, thousands of people stoodsilently under multi-colored umbrellas in a temple courtyardfestooned with traditional Tibetan cloth hangings, flags andbanners to hear the Dalai Lama speak.

Thousands of Tibetans have been living in India since theDalai Lama, accompanied by several followers, fled Tibet in1959 after a failed uprising against Beijing's communist rule,imposed after Chinese troops entered the Himalayan region in1950.

When asked what message he had for Tibetans in exile whowanted to return home, the Dalai Lama said: "Patience."

It is more than 45 years since Tibet's god-king fled hishomeland on horseback as Chinese shells rained down on hiscapital but many Tibetans do not expect to see him again, atleast not in his current incarnation.

Since that famous journey, the 14th Dalai Lama, or Ocean ofWisdom, has lived as the head of a government-in-exile inDharamsala and has himself hinted that he may not choose to bereborn after his death.

But many Tibetans still regard him as their spiritual andtemporal leader and, although his photographs are banned inChina, they privately say they yearn for his return.

"If we Tibetans exist today, it is because of him. If theworld knows us today, it is because of this one being," saidTsering Phunsu, a 45-year-old Tibetan refugee, his voice chokedwith emotion.

Tibetan refugees at the ceremony said they prayed for theDalai Lama to have a long life.

"We pray that His Holiness leads us for long and he haspromised that he will be with us until at least 90 years," saidJigme Tenzin, a 36-year-old refugee.