Tibetan Performing Arts at 50

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Today, I heard on the Voice of Tibet that the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala has turned 50.

This is one institution in exile that has served a unique purpose in bringing Tibetan performing arts tradition to the world at large, including the Tibetans in diaspora. In the process many have lauded its contribution in clearly projecting the “pure” Tibetan tradition (as opposed to what China is doing to the art).  I feel the time has come for TIPA, as it is more popularly known to the English-speaking community (Dhoegar to the Tibetans), to reassess its role in the new environment it is in.

Fifty years back, TIPA was set up for the basic functional utility of being a center for preserving some of the Tibetan music and dance traditions. It has very much served this purpose since then. But now the time has come for TIPA to go beyond mere preservation and to step up its efforts on composition.  Yes, TIPA artistes do compose and some of its products come out through bands like Akama. Also, the most popular tune during my school days would be “Zepay Rinzin Wangmo”, composed by then TIPA artiste and currently located in Canada, Thupten Samdup la.  But these are non-traditional output.

In recent years, TIPA has done much to promote the Tibetan opera tradition. I heard TIPA Director Wangchuk Phasur say that it has been supporting eight Tibetan opera troupes throughout the Indian subcontinent. Also,  TIPA has composed more than two operas (Milarepa and The Great Fifth Dalai Lama) in the post-1959 period (there are, I think two more that I have not seen) .  Such works need to be expanded.  Similarly, in the field of semi-classical music like Nangma, Toeshey or Garlu, I do not think there have been any new compositions and that needs to be paid attention to.

It is only through composition that we enrich the classical musical tradition. But then, as a commercial for a church in our part of the United States says, what I am doing is giving “Just a thought, not a sermon.”

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