New Straits Times
Tibetans greet new year with giant Buddha thangka
QINGHAI: Despite a few elbows to the face, Tsering pushed through the broil of Tibetan worshippers and lifted her bawling 2-year-old over the mad crush, briefly pressing the girl’s forehead to a passing sacred scroll.
Scores of monks and men heaved the enormous thangka — an image of Buddha painted on silk, rolled up in a tight cylinder while in transit — through the packed streets around Rongwo Monastery in China’s Qinghai province for a ritual wrapping up Losar, the Tibetan new year.
“It’s good luck, especially for children,” said Tsering, breathless and flushed with success.
China has long been accused of trying to eradicate Tibetan culture through political and religious repression. Beijing insists Tibetans enjoy great freedom.
Rebkong County is a major centre of traditional Tibetan culture and the Gelug, or “Yellow Hat”, sect of the exiled Dalai Lama. It has witnessed numerous self-immolation protests against Chinese rule since 2009.
Police were a constant presence throughout the celebrations, watching over ceremonies, stopping cars entering the county seat and checking the hotels allowed to receive foreigners.
But, Losar passed without incident in a riot of colour and celebration.
Like the Chinese Lunar New Year, the first few days are dominated by family and feasting.
The climax for the Gelug is the annual “sunning of the Buddha”, as it is known in Chinese, where a colossal thangka painting multiple stories tall is paraded through the streets and briefly displayed.
Under blue skies, men flailed ceremonial scarves as a procession left the Rongwo monastery, beating away an endless stream of frantic hopefuls aggressively pushing to touch the painting.
On a steep hillside outside the monastery, the thangka was unrolled in a splendour of rich pinks, greens and blues to the sound of firecrackers and the wail of conch shells.
“The thangka is an offering to Buddha, but it must be big so all living creatures can see it — people, but also birds and insects. That way, all beings will have a chance at a better existence in their next life,” a monk said.
At a much smaller monastery in Gartse town, families gathered in their finest clothes to watch the cham dances, ritual performances by masked monks thought to purge the new year of negativity from the previous.
“It’s an exorcism, to get rid of bad things and dishonest practices. If we don’t do this today, there will be bad consequences for everyone,” said a dancer.