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Opera (Lhamo)

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This page is dedicated to H.H. Dalai Lama who has supported and encouraged the preservation of the Tibetan Performing Arts in exile.
 

 

About the study

Background

Since 1959, when the Chinese occupied Tibet, many Tibetans have lived in exile in India and other countries. It is estimated that 130,000 Tibetans live in Northern India, Nepal and Bhutan. This thesis will mainly concern itself with the group of Tibetan refugees living in the town of McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, Himachel Pradesh, India. Dharamsala is the home of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, and the seat of his Tibetan government-in-exile. The specific focus of my study is the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), which is located in McLeod Ganj.

Methodology

The empirical material on which this thesis rests is without a doubt largely based on the perspectives of the artists and members of TIPA. I have tried to balance this with some interviews with amateur artists from other Tibetan settlements in India and members of the Tibetan community. However, the short duration of my fieldwork and the fact that I lived at TIPA most of that time, have resulted in data which mainly examines performance from an insider's viewpoint. Additional interviews with ex-artists, and ex-administrators of TIPA have given a broader and more politicized perspective which aids the contextualization of performance within the Tibetan diaspora community.

Duration of Fieldwork

Dharamsala is situated in Himachel Pradesh in northern India, 526 kilometers north of New Delhi. McLeod Ganj and the surrounding areas are known as Upper Dharamsala, and lie in the foothills of the Himalayas at an altitude of 1,800 meters. McLeod Ganj, is mainly occupied by Tibetans and is the home of the Dalai Lama and the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

During my first visit to McLeod Ganj, I focused mainly on the perspective of the performers, while the object of my second visit was to concentrate on the viewer's perspective in connection with the Shoton Festival, the annual Tibetan opera festival held in the spring.

During my first fieldwork period (Sept. - Dec. 1998) I lived in TIPA where I had my own room in the residential quarters. This was a great advantage as I came into contact with most of the residents and could participate in their daily routine. It would otherwise have been difficult to penetrate into the artists' world and I would probably have remained a 'TIPA tourist' (a term used by one artist when referring to another visiting researcher).

During my second visit (Mar. - Apr. 1999) I lived in a hotel in McLeod Ganj. By living in town, I also came in contact with more people and this created a contrast to my experiences at TIPA.

The main reason for the second visit was so that I could participate in the Shoton Festival, the annual festival of Tibetan Opera which took place in March 1999. The festival lasted eight days and comprised of day-long opera performances as well as several evening shows with music, dance and drama. Besides TIPA's performances, there were also performances by six amateur opera troupes from different Tibetan settlements in India and Nepal. This festival was traditionally held in Norbulingka (the Dalai Lama's summer palace) in Tibet and has only recently been re-instituted in India.

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