The Tibetan Community in India: A Preliminary Archaeological Ethnography | Department of History

The Tibetan Community in India: A Preliminary Archaeological Ethnography

Devina Dimri

The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso’s flight from Tibet in 1959, after the Tibetan Uprising at Lhasa had over 80,000 Tibetans enter India seeking refuge. The Tibetan diaspora in India which has since risen to 94,203 presently occupies over 35 settlements all around the nation. These settlements, being highly influenced by the Central Tibetan Administration and its incessant efforts to retain the distinct Tibetan Buddhist culture has its inhabitants maintaining a very strong sense of Tibetan identity. This identity has for the last 59 years been inculcated subconsciously yet systematically in every second and third generation Tibetan. A Tibetan identity continues to be conserved by the community at large by upholding and sustaining their refugee status, their language, cultural practices (food practices, clothing preferences, craft production etc.), domestic, communal and monastic ritual practices, intra-community relationships, and most important, the inherent imagination of the lost homeland of Tibet, and the mysticism, beauty and eventual oppression associated with it.

The project at its very core tries to develop a coherent understanding of this very identity. It seeks to undertake a material analysis of this larger abstract identity that has remodeled itself according to the Indian social and geographical set up. The project aims to cognize this complex and multi-layered identity by undertaking an analysis of both the materials which are idiosyncratic to this community and their larger role in impacting and forming the Tibetan identity. The materials, which this project aims to look into, include objects of religious, communal or ritualistic nature (in both monastic and domestic spaces), domestic products of daily usage (for example, food products, clothing styles and other lifestyle products) and materials of commercial nature (handicrafts, medicinal and cosmetic products, food products, and so forth). Therefore, materials from all the above categorizations can be studied for their relevance to the Tibetan imagination of what it takes to be a Tibetan.

This project is a pilot study which aims to not only bring forth a preliminary understanding of Tibetan identity but also attempts to provide a better understanding of the sub-disciplines of archaeological ethnography and contemporary archaeology. Furthermore, the project while branching out from the idea of identity, shall also try to acquaint itself with concepts of domestic and communal space, transmission and preservation of culture, imaginations of a homeland and of being a refugee, and of large scale migration itself.