Dharamsala: Thousands of Buddhist devotees have started heading to Leh where their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, will participate in the highly venerated 'kalachakra' (Wheel of Time) ceremony next week and pray for world peace. The Dalai Lama, revered by the Tibetans as a "living god", turns 79 July 6.
It is after a gap of 38 years that the Dalai Lama will hold the kalachakra ceremony in Leh, the mountainous district of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, from July 3, event organizers said Sunday.
McLeodganj, a suburb of Dharamsala which is home to the Tibetan government-in-exile and a large Tibetan population, is beginning to look deserted. "We are heading to Leh to participate in teachings and seek blessings of the Dalai Lama," said octogenarian shopkeeper Padma Dolma.
She said she also participated in the last kalachakra ceremony held in Bodh Gaya in Bihar in January 2012.
Officials of the Dalai Lama's office said this would be the 33rd occasion since the Dalai Lama conferred on the teachings for the first time in May 1954 at the Norbulingka Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
"We are expecting over 150,000 devotees to participate in the Kalachakra ceremony from July 3 to 12," Ladakh Buddhist Association general secretary Sonam Dawa told IANS.
He said the last kalachakra ceremony in Leh was held in September 1976 when around 40,000 people participated.
Dawa's association and the Ladakh Gonpa Association, both based in Leh, are the organisers of the event, which is held for world peace and for the smooth flourishing of Tibetan Buddhism.
During the first three days, the Dalai Lama, along with the monks of Namgyal Monastery and senior lamas, will conduct rituals that will prepare and consecrate the venue at Choglamsar in Leh.
From July 6 to 8, the spiritual leader will give teachings. The kalachakra ritual dance will be performed by Namgyal Monastery monks July 9 and the Dalai Lama will confer the kalachakra initiation from July 10 to 12.
Official sources said half of around 16,000 Tibetan population residing in and around this town, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, have left for Leh.
Taru Yeshe, who sells Tibetan dumplings or momos outside the Tsuglagkhang temple here, said most of the vendors have left for Leh. "In Leh we will get an opportunity to earn as well as to get teachings," she added.
Lobsang Wangyal, the producer and director of the Tibetan Music Awards based in McLeodganj, said the road condition between Leh and Choglamsar is bad.
"This kalachakra has been planned long back but local authorities have failed to improve the road condition despite the fact that thousands of devotees from across the globe are descending there," said Wangyal, who has reached Leh.
He said the other attraction of the kalachakra ceremony is that special prayer sessions for the long life of His Holiness on his birthday would be held in Leh.
Members of the local hospitality industry say the deserted looks of McLeodganj, which became an attraction for tourists in search of Tibetan culture and spiritual sustenance after India allowed the Dalai Lama to settle here, will impact their business.
"Normally a number of Buddhists travel to Dharamsala from across the country to seek blessings of the Dalai Lama on his birthday. But this time I believe most of them are heading to Leh," said Pankaj Chadha, owner of the McLio restaurant in McLeodganj.
The Dalai Lama has lived in India since fleeing his homeland in 1959. The Tibetan exile administration is based in this northern Indian hill town. Around 140,000 Tibetans now live in exile, over 100,000 of them in different parts of India. Over six million Tibetans live in Tibet.