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Last updated: February 1, 2003

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Tibetan Buddhist festival concludes peacefully in India despite threats

By ANGUS MCDONALD, Associated Press Writer Bodh Gaya, January 20, 2003 (AP) - Despite a threat from some Indian monks to immolate themselves, the biggest religious gathering in Tibetan Buddhism concluded peacefully Monday with the departure of the Dalai Lama.

The Kalachakra Initiation held at the Bodh Gaya complex in eastern Bihar state - where Buddhists believe the founder of their religion received enlightenment - drew an estimated 150,000 devotees, including 13,000 monks, from 100 countries.

But that's just half what organizers had expected at the eight-day ceremony.

The gathering passed off more smoothly than last year, when there was overcrowding and widespread illness, and the Dalai Lama had to cut short his appearance to be hospitalized because of a stomach ailment.

About 2,300 devotees came from Tibet, 1,000 more than last year, when China tightened travel restrictions ahead of the event.

Senior Tibetan monks in attendance included the Karmapa, who is the third highest-ranking Tibetan monk; Ling Rinpoche, the monk whom Tibetans believe is the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama's tutor; and the Ganden Tripa, the head of the Dalai Lama's sect.

Like the Dalai Lama, all three monks live in exile in India.

Security was tightened ahead of this year's Kalachakra, after a group of disgruntled Indian Buddhist monks threatened to immolate themselves in protest against the Dalai Lama's presence.

The monks were subsequently arrested.

Four youths from Nepal and Tibet were also arrested for drunkenness.

It was the second straight year the All India Monks Federation had threatened trouble.

The Federation, which is seeking to take control of the main temple at Bodh Gaya, has demanded the deportation of the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa, accusing the Tibetan government-in-exile of receiving about US$100 million in aid annually from the U.S.Central Intelligence Agency.

The Kalachakra, which means "Wheel of Time," is one of the highest teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, involving four days of elaborate ritual, prayer and the construction of a sand mandala, a circular design symbolizing the universe.

The Dalai Lama donated 1 million rupees (US$21,000) for social welfare programs in the area where the ceremony was held.

The Bodh Gaya complex is located in Bihar, one of India's poorest states.

The Dalai Lama headed Monday to a conference in Varanasi and will then take a one-month retreat at his home in Dharmsala, in northern India.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet after a failed 1959 revolt against Chinese rule.

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Texts and Translations © Peter G. Friedlander unless otherwise indicated.