28 Feb

World Cultures: Dharamshala’s Tibetan Community

By Thomas Jang

Situated in the north of India, the state of Himachal Pradesh borders the disputed territory of Jammu-and-Kashmir to the north and Nepal to the east. One of two winter capitals newly established in 2017 for the state, the town of Dharamshala is home to the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government-in-exile). Moreover, Himachal Pradesh is home to the second-largest population of Tibetan refugees, precisely 15,000 people. It is only preceded by the state of Karnataka in the south, where approximately 21,300 refugees reside. 

Serving as the administrative headquarters of Kangra District, Dharamshala is also home to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), an exile government formed by the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso in April 1959 after Tibet was annexed by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. The invasion that accompanied the annexation killed 87,000 Tibetans, a death toll that has skyrocketed to over 1.2 million under the ongoing occupation. 

Following its initial establishment in the hill station and municipality of Mussoorie, the non-profit political organization of the CTA moved to Dharamshala in May 1960. Since then, Dharamshala has become a hill station and spiritual center for the Dalai Lama and Buddhist Tibetan culture. The establishment of a government-in-exile in Dharamshala was influenced by the formation of India and Pakistan after independence from the British. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru permitted the CTA to move to an area north of the town known as McLeod Ganj. 

Subsequently, the end to the Tibetan’s forced migration allowed exiled Tibetans to safeguard and anchor aspects of their culture and spiritual practices. Due to the creation of several institutions and sites, Dharamshala serves as a major scene for tourism, alongside its agricultural landscape. The Namgyal Monastery was created in the 16th century and has aided in rituals involving the Dalai Lama. The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives was founded in 1970 and is one of the important sites for Tibetan works in the world. The library houses more than 800,000 books and manuscripts, as well as 10,000 photographs and 600 Tibetan Buddhist cotton paintings known as thangkas.