13th Dalai Lama

Thubten Gyatso - Temporal and spiritual ruler of Tibet

The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Thubten Gyatso, was born in 1876. He was the son of peasants who lived in Langdun, a district of Takpo (or Dagpo), in Southern Tibet. He was recognised as the reincarnation of the 12th Dalai Lama in 1877 and taken to the Potala to begin his monastic training the following year.

In 1895 the Thirteenth Dalai Lama reached maturity and came to power, taking over the reigns of both spiritual and temporal power. His five-point edict of that year set out his ambitions for Tibet and his wishes for the country. The British having heard rumours of caravan loads of arms and ammunition pouring into the country from Russia, created a Military expedition under the pretence to develop better Trade relations with the Tibetans. The British Mission, which would become known as the Younghusband expedition became a punitive mission and as the forces pushed further into Tibet there was much bloodshed, destruction and looting, which caused the Dalai Lama to flee from Lhasa to Mongolia, accompanied by the Buriat Mongolian monk Dorjieff, in about June 1904. Following a long and sometimes uncomfortable stay in Mongolia he travelled to Peking in 1908 visiting the Chinese Emperor Kwang Hsu and the Dowager Empress of China, this too was not entirely successful, as the Emperor and Dowager deemed to give the Dalai Lama new, subordinate titles.

At the end of 1909 he returned to Lhasa, but shortly after, in early 1910, 2000 Chinese troops invaded Lhasa, and he fled this time to British India where he arrived at Gnatong on 21 February 1910. His initial stay was in Darjeeling where he arrived on 3 March 1910, and was assisted by Charles Bell. He was eventually housed at Hillside on the outskirts of Darjeeling and then later at Bhutan House in Kalimpong until July 1912, when he returned to Tibet following the defeat of the Chinese army by the Tibetans following the collapse of the Qing Empire. On reaching the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, the Dalai Lama made a declaration of independence, formally declaring Tibet's independent nation status. While in India, in March 1910, the Dalai Lama visited Lord Minto in Calcutta, staying at Hastings House, following which he made a pilgrimage to important Buddhist sites including, Bodh Gaya, Benares, Rajagir, Gauhati, Kashinagara, Balarampur, and Lumbini in Nepal.

He was an autocratic ruler and although Tibet had a government and a Prime Minister, the final decision, even on small undertakings fell to him. Despite pushing for a programme of modernising reforms to the infrastructure and governance of Tibet, through the development of a range of initiatives including, a postal system, a secular education system, an armoury, a mint, the overseas education of young Tibetan boys and even a Tibetan flag and national anthem, his changes were resisted by the highly influential monastic communities in Tibet. One open rebellion by Drepung (that was repressed) being recorded by Bell in his Lhasa Mission diary of 1920-21.

In his final political statement before his death in December 1933 he warned Tibetans of the coming dangers for Tibet and its culture. He realised that in order for Tibet to protect itself, it needed a fully equipped and trained army and that Tibet could no longer retract from the ever encroaching world. Written by Emma Martin.
  • Gender
  • Relationship
    Previous owner, sitter
  • Nationality
  • Born
  • Place of birth
    Asia: Central Asia: Tibet [China]: Takpo
  • Died
  • Place of death
    Asia: Central Asia: Tibet [China]: Central: Lhasa
  • Cause of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
Page load time: 343 ms