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The Tibetan Culture in Himachal Pradesh

Updated on December 31, 2017
SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image

Travelling is my passion as it gives a chance to visit different places and enjoy the natural and manmade marvels.

The Principal Image of Buddha at Dharamsala
The Principal Image of Buddha at Dharamsala | Source


For centuries, Tibet remained isolated behind the Himalayas until its invasion and occupation by China. After the uprising of 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama fled to India and sought political asylum with thousands of Tibetans following him.

On reaching the mountain town of Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, he set up the Tibetan Dance and Drama Society in 1959, with a handful of skilled artists from Tibet to serve as instructors with few recruits. Now the same society is TIPA or The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. With a conatant threat of extinction under Chinese rule in Tibet, the Institute has taken up the task of giving new height, life, and liveliness to traditional performing arts of Tibet.

Away from home, this is a remarkable effort. The Tibetans have been in Himachal Pradesh for more than 57 years and one should not be surprised to find them establish the cultural affinity with the people of Himachal and vice versa. The performance of the Tibetan artists in state fairs and festivals had become a common and unique sight.

The 14th Dalai Lama at Dharamsala


His Holiness the Dalai Lama

The presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in this town, ensures a constant flow of Indian and foreign tourists, spiritual seekers, journalists, Hollywood stars and globe trotters. Naturally, this has boosted the economy of this hill resort. Besides a number of private hotels and eating places, the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department has a hotel here as does the Tibetan government, to cope with the rush of the visitors.

The title Dalai Lama (meaning the ocean of wisdom) is Mongolian in origin. It was in 1578 AD, that the title was bestowed by Altan Khan, the Mongolian ruler on the third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso (1543-88).

A View of Dhauladhar Ranges from Dharamsala


The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts

The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts is doing its best to preserve the unique tradition of performing arts despite the Tibetans living in exile since 1949.

The endeavors of TIPA to preserve the culture and rich traditions of the Tibetans and educating their youngsters of their cultural heritage, they present a wide variety of the folk songs and the dances of Tibet. Its musicians are the skilled exponents of Tibetan folk and light music playing exquisite instruments like Dhung- Chem (giant horn), Dranyen (six-stringed lute), and Pilwang (fiddles).

TIPA is the home of Ihamo (folk opera of Tibet) and the performances are given regularly in spring every year. Its main aim is to train and post skilled instructors and musicians in every Tibetan School in India and elsewhere in exile to introduce the young Tibetans to their own musical and dramatic heritage and have also produced the tapes of Tibetan songs and video tapes of various performances.

Since 1975, their artists are sent worldwide to perform with their debut in Austria, Holland, and Switzerland and have covered more than 50 American and Canadian cities and have been successful in preserving its rich culture and traditions.

TIPA is the home for the Lhamo, the folk opera of Tibet. The institute aims at keeping alive the ancient Tibetan traditions of music, dance, and theater.

Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala.Bookshelf with Tibetan books at a library, McLeod Ganj. Dharamsala.
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala.
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala. | Source
Bookshelf with Tibetan books at a library, McLeod Ganj. Dharamsala.
Bookshelf with Tibetan books at a library, McLeod Ganj. Dharamsala. | Source

The Tibetan Library

Midway between the upper and lower Dharamsala, stands one of the most prestigious of the Tibetan Institutions, the library of Tibetan works and archives, which houses besides precious manuscripts and books, the rare icons, images, ancient Thankas, mandalas, coins and stamps pertaining to Tibet. It also looks after the lexical project, the wood carving school etc. Thus it is trying to preserve the history and culture of Tibet.

Macleod Ganj

Situated at an altitude of 6000 feet midst the forests of oak, cedar, and rhododendron and overlooking the Kangra valley, Macleod Gang today finds itself on the international map. Founded about 150 years ago by the British and named after the then Lt. Governor of the newly annexed state of Punjab, it remained a sleepy little preserve of Burra Sahib for a long period. This changed however in 1960 when it became the temporary headquarters of His Holiness the Dalai Lama after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. This town rose from comparative obscurity to international fame and today it is known as mini Lhasa.

For the Tibetan refugees from all over the world, it has become a pilgrimage center. They believe that wherever the Yashi Norbu resides, that place is the holy city because Dalai Lama is a symbol and the sheet anchor of their religious and political activity or the identity.

The settlements of the Tibetans have imparted a typically unique atmosphere to the place. The residential buildings, hotels, restaurants and curio shops have transformed the place.

The Tushita retreat

The Tushita retreat is an international center of Mahayana Buddhism, providing a quite milieu for meditation and other spiritual practices. Further up in the mountains between 7000 to 8000 feet above sea level, the Tibetan monks and yogis have their meditation caves.

The Tibetan Museum
The Tibetan Museum | Source

Center of Buddhism

There is not any Patola here, the residence of Dalai Lama is located on a high ridge away from the hustle and bustle of the bazaar. The Tsungla Khang or the main cathedral stands to face the main gate of the palace. Though it is no match for the original at Lhasa, yet it is elegant ant impressive. The principal image here is that of Buddha (gilded) rising 9 feet high from the lotus seat. To its right and facing the direction of Tibet are 12 feet high gilded images of Padam Sambhava and Avalokiteshvara.

The last mentioned deity has an interesting history. The parts of it date back to 7th century AD when it was first installed in the central cathedral at Lhasa by the famous king Scongtsen Gampo. Twelve centuries later the Chinese Red Guards ransacked the cathedral. But the parts of the battered face were recovered from the streets by some pious Tibetans and smuggled into India via Nepal in 1967. These were incorporated into the new image consecrated in 1970, which stands today in the cathedral of Macleod Ganj.

This image of Bodhisattva in compassion has eleven heads. Between the statues of Padam Sambhava and Avalokiteshvara is the pulpit from where the Dalai Lama delivers his sermons.

The Nymgyalma stupa stands in the marketplace with rows of prayers wheels on both side and a small image of Buddha enshrined in a small chamber. The stupa for peace and progress is built in the Ashokan style as a memorial to the Tibetans who died fighting in their homeland.

Next, to the stupa stands the Namgyal monastery where the prayers and rituals of the major Schools of Buddhism are conducted. The monastery substitutes for the one built by the third Dalai Lama in Lhasa in the 16th century and performs its traditional functions of conducting prayers for the Dalai Lama and for the Tibetan Govt. in exile.

Nowrojee Department Store at Macleod Ganj

Amid all the proliferation of Tibetan institutions, shops and stalls stand the more than a century-old Nowrojee Department Store which flourished during the Raj but is now only and apology for its earlier self.

The Buddhist School

The Buddhist School of dialectics provides the facilities for the monks of all Schools of thought to reside here to study the scriptures and master their deeper significance through logic. Started in 1973, it offers a 7-year extensive course in Prajnaparamita (the perfection of wisdom) and a three-year course in Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika philosophy.

Also located near the central cathedral is the Ganden Choeling or the Buddhist nunnery, where the Buddhist nuns from Tibetan settlements in India study the scriptures.

Institute for Buddhist Dialiectics
Institute for Buddhist Dialiectics | Source

The Traditional Tibetan art

The traditional Tibetan art of carpet weaving with its unique designs and patterns has been revived and revolutionized with the establishment of Tibetan Handicrafts center at Macleod Ganj. Other products of the center include woolen jackets, shoes, handbags, purses, and costumes.

Tibetan Medicines

No description of Little Lhasa is complete without mentioning the two eminent medical practitioners here- Dr. Yashi Dhonden and Dr. Lobsang Dolma. Both are internationally known and have traveled widely.

© 2014 Sanjay Sharma


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    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile imageAUTHOR

      Sanjay Sharma 

      2 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks, Shall Walia for the visit and the comment. You are right. The place is enchanting.

    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 

      2 years ago from India

      I have been to Mcleod Ganj a few times. Such a beautiful place!

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile imageAUTHOR

      Sanjay Sharma 

      5 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks DDE for the visit and the comment. The culture and traditions of the people of Tibet is fascinating.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      An interesting culture and I learned lots from you. Voted up!

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile imageAUTHOR

      Sanjay Sharma 

      5 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks rajniraghu for the visit and the comment. Indeed Dharamsala is a beautiful place.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Very informative. I will love to visit Dharmasala one day.


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