The Dalai Lama celebrated his 74th birthday Monday in a typically jocular mood, remarking lightheartedly that the prayers being said for him might help him live to at least 100.
The Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate has now spent 50 birthdays in exile in India.
Hundreds of Tibetan exiles chanted prayers and sang songs in New Delhi and Dharmsala, the northern town where he lives, to mark the birthday, setting aside nagging worries about their aging leader's successor.
The Dalai Lama has had a number of medical problems in the last two years, which have interrupted his busy schedule of international travel to teach Buddhism and highlight the Tibetan struggle for more freedom under Chinese rule.
As he gets older, there are concerns about who will lead the Tibetan exiles and push for their cause after his death.
Fears that China will appoint a new Dalai Lama after his death have led Tibetan leaders to contemplate ideas that break with the centuries-old system of choosing a child believed to be the reincarnation of the deceased spiritual leader. Among the suggestions have been doing away with Dalai Lamas altogether or naming a successor before the current leader dies.
On Monday, however, the Dalai Lama, who traveled to the Indian capital from Dharmsala, did not focus on worries about the future.
He thanked his followers for their prayers for his health and long life and joked that they would prolong his life.
'Long Live the Dalai Lama'
"I don't know about a thousand years but maybe at least a 100 years," the Dalai Lama, known for his humor and exuberance, said in a speech to his followers.
He also accepted scores of silk scarves from them and watched a musical performance. The gift of a white or cream silk scarf is considered a sign of respect among Tibetan Buddhists.
In Dharmsala, the hill town that is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile, hundreds gathered at Tsuglakhang temple to listen to speeches by religious leaders.
Banners that said "Long Live the Dalai Lama" were put up, and Tibetans dressed in their finery to mark the occasion.
The festivities included cultural shows and dance performances by schoolchildren and Tibetan artists. Sweets were distributed, and businesses were closed through the morning to allow people to mark the event.
Focus on Beijing
"We are happy to celebrate His Holiness' birthday. At the same time, I feel sad because it reminds me that we have been in exile for a long time," said Lhakpa, a 60-year-old Tibetan exile, who uses just one name.
The government-in-exile's Cabinet said Monday that China's unwillingness to make concessions in talks with the Dalai Lama over the autonomy for Tibetans raises doubts whether Beijing wants to resolve the Tibet issue.
"Therefore, we have now shifted our focus on engaging with the Chinese people," the Cabinet said in a statement.
However, the Tibetan ministers said talks with Beijing would continue "once we receive a clear signal from the Chinese government," the statement said. The two sides have held eight rounds of discussions since 2002.
The Dalai Lama has lived in Dharmsala since fleeing Tibet following a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule over the Himalayan region.
"Tibetans do not want to think that His Holiness will not be there with us one day. We all pray for a long, long life for him," said Tenzin Dhoyoen, a young exile.