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Tibetan Caravans

By Abdul Wahid Radhu

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On his throne, dominating the presence, the Dalai Lama was seated cross-legged. He was then a child of less than eight years but his innocent face already seemed imprinted with dignity and authority. Behind him, the highest dignitaries, the regent at their head, didn’t take their eyes off him, as if he were their prisoner, whilst at the same time watching over the members of his family, especially his father whom certain people accused of abusing the situation.

A magnificently dressed chamberlain stood on each side of the throne. Then, all in formal attire, came the ministers, clerks and laymen wearing golden headdresses followed by descendants of the families of the preceding Dalai Lamas in hierarchical order and other members of the nobility. The least important of all those present kept their eyes fixed on the child sovereign.

On the left side of the throne, the English and Nepalese residents had taken their place but I don’t remember anymore if there was also a Chinese representative. As for us, members of the Lopchak, we were amongst the foreigners and Tibetan subjects, a position which we shared with the Bhutanese of the Dugpa Lopchak which had come to Lhasa at the head of a mission very similar to ours. The other Muslims formed a group amongst the representatives of the various Tibetan communities and the crowd of monks. The ceremony began in an air thick with incense smoke.

Adhering to hierarchical order, the audience filed slowly one by one before the throne, prostrating in front of the Dalai Lama. But there were exceptions. Neither the British agent nor the Muslims prostrated. In virtue of the custom which had always been respected by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and which his successor had to confirm as soon as he became of age, the latter greeted him in the Islamic fashion with salams, or greetings of peace. This peculiarity was significant of the status of the Tibetan Muslims and the good relations they continuously maintained with the highest authorities of the Buddhist theocracy which constituted Tibet.

The small meal following the homage ceremony gave way to indescribable pushing and shoving. Then everyone rushed for the pastries and biscuits served by the Dalai Lama and placed in the centre of the room. It was not at all a question of gluttony but desire on the part of the Buddhists to derive as much as possible from a food considered to bear beneficial spiritual influence emanating from the sacred personality of the religious head. As soon as he had withdrawn, free passage was given to disorder. And the audience in the room could be heard as their exclamations and protests resounded: ‘Don’t push! Stay in line! Don’t you know how to conduct yourselves? On your guard!’

The excitement increased, the din became louder, and politeness was forgotten. Even the hierarchic order didn’t seem to count much anymore.

For the next few days in Lhasa only the durbar and what had happened there was talked about.

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