The Dalai Lama's 75th birthday: Tibet Festival in the Park
[London] Over 2,000 people joined in and celebrated the Dalai Lama's 75th birthday at the inaugural Tibet Festival in the Park on Saturday 3 July 2010.


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ImageWith a mixture of immense trepidation and excitement, the organisers (The Tibetan Commemorative Committee) headed to the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park to commence the set-up for this inaugural Tibet Festival. The morning heralded clear and sunny skies as the stage was built, Tibetan tents erected, prayer flags strung up, stalls assembled for the Lhasa Bazaar, transforming the park into a Tibetan festival.

Image The event commenced to the deep growling of long Tibetan horns signalling the start of a traditional procession with two Tashi Lhunpo monks carrying a portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, accompanied by the Representative of the Dalai Lama in London, Thubten Samdup, the Chairman of the Tibetan Community in Britain, Pempa Lobsang and one of the two Tibetan MPs for Europe, Sonam Frasi. Once on stage the Dalai Lama’s portrait was placed on a special alter, butter lamps lit and prayers for His Holiness’s long life were chanted. Tibetans present then laid khatags (traditional Tibet honorific scarves) at the alter.

ImageFollowing this, on stage there was a programme of amazing performances and acts. First was a fantastic Tibetan costume parade organised by Rinzin Frasi, with colourful dresses and outfits from different parts of Tibet modelled by members of the Tibetan community.

Lhodup Gyaltso, a young up and coming Tibetan singer born in the Amdo region of Tibet and now based in London, captivated the audience with two traditional songs that evoked the feeling of being high up on the Tibetan plateau hearing the echoes of nomadic songs across the vast spaces. Often called Ngawang, which means “one with the captivating voice”, Lhodup’s performance certainly entranced all.

ImageMichael Ormiston and Candida Valentino gave an incredible display of Mongolian khöömii (overtone) singing. For anyone who has not heard this before, it is an extraordinary depth of sound and rhythm that really seeps into your being. Michael and Candida also coaxed Tibetan singing bowls into haunting and floating voices that had the audience mesmerised.

ImageAs a special addition to the programme, Erle Taylor, a highly regarded Burmese dancer, performed a Makuta dance that gets its name from a golden bejewelled crest or crown. Dressed in a resplendent costume of yellow satin bedecked with jewels, the whole symbolising a Buddhist Temple, Erle gave a wonderful display of measured, graceful and courtly movement.

ImageThe Tibetan Dance group, which was formed in 1995 as the cultural wing of the Tibetan Community, gave hugely entertaining performances with vibrant and enthusiastic displays of song and dance. Again, the audience was transported to Tibet and felt as if they were part of local informal gatherings where young men and women tease and flirt with each other through song and dance. The song performed by the children of the group was terrific and had everyone clapping.

ImageThe long horns of Tibet were then heard again when the Tashi Lhunpo monks took to the stage and the grass area in front to give a marvellous display of chanting and cham performances. This was the first performance of the Tashi Lhunpo monks’ 2010 tour of the UK, where they showcase their unique Tibetan culture and special monastic tradition. The cham dances are uniquely Tibetan, with masked costumes and a whirling of colour, they are living examples of how Tibetan Buddhist teachings and parables are part of the Tibetan way of life.

The main programme was due to end with songs from world renowned Tibetan singer, Soname. Unfortunately Soname had to withdraw because of severe food poisoning. In her place, Lhodup Gyaltso stepped in to perform a further two songs, this time accompanied by two friends on traditional Tibetan instruments giving impromptu renditions of well-known Tibetan songs that received a rousing round of applause.

ImageThroughout the afternoon there were also guest speakers including Thubten Samdup (Representative of the Dalai Lama), Sonam Frasi (Tibetan MP), Fredrick Hyde-Chambers (Chairman of Tibet Society), Pempa Lobsang (Chairman of the Tibetan Community) and Simon Hughes, who is not only the Deputy Leader of the LibDems but also the MP for Southwark, the local borough. In his address, Simon Hughes urged everyone present to re-commit themselves to Tibet, making the very strong and simple points that everyone, no matter where they are in the world, has the right to follow their chosen religion unhindered and the right to self-determination. He also commended the Dalai Lama on his peaceful path to find justice and pledged the government will actively work towards finding a solution to Tibet within the Dalai Lama’s lifetime.

Birthday messages from Annie Lennox, Joanna Lumley, Fabian Hamilton MP (Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet), Norman Baker MP (President of Tibet Society) and Mark Durkan (MP for Derry, Northern Ireland) were read out, all emphasising their admiration, respect and commitment to the Dalai Lama, with Mark Durkan succinctly saying, “Today we celebrate your wisdom, warmth and inspiration.  We still look forward to celebrating justice, freedom and peace for the people of Tibet.”

ImageAway from the stage, there was also a lot happening. Crowded and popular workshops took place, including learning about sand mandalas with the Tashi Lhunpo monks, Mongolian throat chanting with Michael Ormiston and the kids’ workshop, which was so popular it was extended for the whole afternoon. The Lhasa Bazaar thronged with people buying yak wool jerseys, prayer flags, books, cup cakes and taking time out in the healing zone or having sparkly face painting. The Tibetan medicine exhibition gave a fascinating glimpse into the history of Tibetan herbal remedies; the wonderful wool nomad tent had plenty of visitors sampling the traditional Tibetan tea being served, whilst the art exhibition by Ugyen Choephell gave visitors a contrast between the intricacies of Tibetan Thangka paintings and modern day Tibetan art.

ImageNearly 400 people wrote birthday messages to the Dalai Lama or requests regarding Tibet to Prime Minister David Cameron on special windhorses (paper prayer flags) that fluttered in the sun making a colourful and moving display. All the messages resonated the underlying warmth of feeling the Dalai Lama engenders in millions of people around the world. One child wrote, “I am a big fan, you are so cool”, another from a visitor from Australia said, “my brother says you are a great human being”, whilst another simple said, “keep on keeping on!” Many wrote wishes of long life and of a return to Tibet soon, with one urging, “please eat healthily and organic and look after yourself as you are invaluable to us.” The one that perhaps encapsulates most messages says, “Many happy returns, may you live long and continue to shine your light and wisdom upon us and help us keep the right frequency on earth.” All these messages will be sent to the Dalai Lama and David Cameron.

And then there were the Tibetan momos! Always popular, there seemed to be a queue all afternoon, but the patience of all who waited for the steamers to cope with the demand was rewarded as the verdict was they were the best momos ever!

Image The Tibet Festival in the Park not only was a wonderfully sunny and happy day, with everyone enjoying the amazing performances, workshops and simply relaxing in the sun, but was also a really great way to celebrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 75th birthday. A huge thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make the day such a success ... and to all who came and not only enjoyed the afternoon, but also learnt more about Tibet and its unique customs, traditions and culture.

The Tibetan Commemorative Committee is made up of:
The Office of Tibet London
Tibetan Community in Britain
Tibet Society

See more photos from the event on Tibet Society's facebook page.

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