Monday 2014/09/01

Tibet / Arts & Entertainment

The State of Tibetan Opera in Exile

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Ache Lhamo, meaning sister goddess, is a traditional Tibetan folk opera performed through a unique combination of dialogue, dance, chants and songs. Based on Buddhist teachings and Tibetan historical figures, ache lhamo are traditionally stories of love, devotion, good and evil.


Founded in the 14th century by Thang Tong Gyalpo, lhamo opera has till date continued as a symbolic auspicious performance during Tibetan festive occasions.

The Tibetan exile community in the past six decades has made strides in renewal and promotion of this traditional Tibetan opera. The early revival of ache lhamo took place in the 1960s in Kalimpong in Northern India before its performing troupe was summoned to Dharamsala.

The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts has been at the forefront in promoting and renewing the lhamo art form in the Tibetan exile community.  According to TIPA instructor Lobsang Samten, the performing institute has performed 8 of the traditional opera brought from Tibet and has recreated new opera stories based on Milarepa's life, the 5th Dalai Lama's biography and Thang Tong Gyalpo's story. All together, TIPA and the different opera associations in India have created 8 new opera performances.

Tibetan opera masters say ache lhamo has a unique essence to touch core of people's heart with its message of compassion and karma. However, there are concerns about the diminishing prospects of ache lhamo with the continuing loss of older Tibetans knowledgeable of Tibetan opera.

Kundeling Thupten, a Tibetan opera master in Bylakuppe sees the need to transform Tibetan opera to make it more appealing for the younger Tibetans to take an interest and to learn Tibetan opera.

The Dalai Lama himself is known to be a fan of Tibetan opera and has on many occasions inquired of young Tibetan's interest in ache lhamo. He has in many instances spoken about the uniqueness of namthar, a tibetan opera singing.

The opera has been incorporated into many activities in schools like Tibetan Children's Village School.

Table Talk discusses the state of ache lhamo in exile with opera masters Lobsang Samten from TIPA, Kundeling Thupten from Bylakuppe and Tsewang Paljor from Kalimpong.
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