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hh123The Indian state of Sikkim's first Tibet Festival commenced yesterday, with a message of support from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness's speech, read by Mr Dhondup Dorjee, Tibetan Settlement Officer of state capital Gangtok, emphasized the close historical, religious and cultural links between Sikkim and Tibet.

"Although all the major religious traditions flourish in Sikkim, Buddhism is its traditional religion and has contributed to the evolution of the Sikkimese identity," he said.

"This Buddhist cultural heritage encourages the cultivation of such ideals as compassion, peace and non-violence, which have a role to play in the development of the Sikkimese society.

"Therefore, one way of getting benefit from this heritage and preserving it is to incorporate its message in the educational system.

The festival was organised by Sikkim's Tibetan community, in association with three Tibetan NGOs from Dharamsala.

In his opening address, state transport minister Mr TT Bhutia praised the Tibetan community for its contributions to Sikkim, and stressed the importance of preserving Tibet's rich cultural heritage.

Mr Bhutia also mentioned a possible joint venture between Tibetan and Sikkimese religious groups, saying, "The young Sikkimese lamas have much to learn and have to seek guidance from Tibetan lamas on the intricacies of Buddhist rituals."

The festival was organized to thank India for providing refuge to the Tibetan community for the past 50 years, and to promote Tibetan culture, religion, medicine, astrology, performance arts, crafts and cuisine.

The event continues until November 10 at Kanchanjunga Shopping Complex, Lal Bazaar, Gangtok, Sikkim.

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