In Tibet, speaking the words "Dalai Lama" is a severely punishable offense. Patrick French's work, Tibet, Tibet gives life to true popular accounts of families' sacred possessions and utterances, pictures of His Holiness and prayers for his safety and long life, being kept and spoken in utmost secrecy from fear of government harassment. This being the case, a culture of code words has grown up in the Tibetan homeland, and poems and songs with seemingly innocuous texts brim with covert nationalistic pride and secret devotion to their religion and its arbiter, His Holiness.
Soong Dhang Laymo is one of these songs. From what I've come to learn, it was actually written some time before the occupation of Tibet, and has taken on a new life and meaning in the last 60 years, with a special resurgence occurring in the last year or so. The song is about the "Yishi Norbu," the precious jewel of the Norbulingka. The meaning is something along the lines of, "if His Holiness isn't the precious jewel, then who or what is? It's not the grand buildings, the artwork, gardens, and statues, that make Tibet's sacred city sacred. It is the Lama that graces them, and for whom they were all made." For the Tibetans in exile, it serves both as a song of longing for their ancestral home and freedom as well as a song of comfort for the great blessing they have in the current Dalai Lama, who lives among them in exile. In the person of the Dalai Lama, there is a spiritual and cultural center powerfully active even in the absence of an accessible physical center.
And, in a few weeks (if all goes well), I get to play the traditional version of this song, for vocal and dranyen, at the Dalai Lama's Palace in Bylakuppe for his birthday. The next day I will be playing it for the SOS TCV school, where I have been trading drum lessons for dranyen lessons for the last week and a half.
This has been quite the experience. There are two talented and passionate music teachers at the TCV (Tibetan Children's Village) school. One is about my age, maybe a few years older, and the other is in his late thirties/early forties. They are both graduates of TIPA, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, and as such are schooled in all aspects of Tibetan musical culture - dance, instruments, and singing. My friend and host, Namgyal, introduced me to them through one of the cooks, and it's been a blast ever since. Sitting in this little stone room hour after hour for days on end, learning all about Tibetan music and teaching Western drum set, is a dream come true. Sometimes I run down a mental list of what is happening right now: I'm living in the jungle in South India, in a village of Tibetans, playing protest and devotional music on an ancient instrument, getting ready to perform for the birthday of a living god, and I'm with my sweetheart the whole time. This little blue and green ball we live on is quite the place.
When I get some pictures of the Palace and the TCV, I'll upload them to this post. In the meantime, listen to this cat:
Namgyal hipped me to this dude. He's kind of a gypsy Sufi renegade. Dig.
And check out this photographer's portfolio of the TCV: