Plumes of scented smoke wafted above the swaying crowd. A monk in robes of burgundy and saffron chanted over the praying of 100 seated Tibetans, words that translated to:
In the land covered by snow mountains
Is the source of all happiness and benefits.
But as people prayed on Saturday morning, the snowcapped mountains of East Asia were far away.
Instead, the Twin Cities' Tibetan community celebrated the Dalai Lama's 83rd birthday under a cloudless sky in Minneapolis' Boom Island Park. The annual event featured prayers, reiterations of the spiritual leader's teachings and speeches.
The Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota hosted the event, which featured music, dance and food, including two large birthday cakes.
Much of the holiday, one of Tibet's largest, has remained unchanged in the Twin Cities, said Thupten Dadak, 66, who hosted the first celebration in his backyard in 1992. What has changed is its scale.
Minnesota's Tibetan population has swelled to thousands, making it the second-largest such community in the United States. With that comes challenges.
"Some of [the children] have completely lost their language skills," he said. "But then there are pluses. We have immigration lawyers, we have doctors, nurses and people on a very professional … level. So that is the uniqueness about America."
For many young Tibetan-Americans, Tibet exists only in stories. Instead of traditional satiny chupas on Saturday, many kids wore T-shirts as they tossed Frisbees or played tag. Teenagers in dark sunglasses flicked at smartphones.
That's why this event is so important, said Tendor Norbu, co-founder of Youth for Umaylam, an organization that educates people on the Dalai Lama-sanctioned Middle Way Approach, a plan advocating an autonomous rather than independent Tibet.
Traditional music, dancing and prayer strengthen the connection for young people, he said. "For them, this is Tibet," he said.
Some said they came to hear messages of peace, compassion and healing. Nancy Dadak, Thupten's wife, said that in a time of political and cultural division, events like Saturday's provide hope. "To be around Tibetans is like medicine," she said.
For others, seeing the community come together is what's most gratifying. That's how it felt for Samten Khangkyi, secretary for the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota.
Throughout the year, her organization champions Tibetan culture and language through community events and weekly classes for children.
"It's a reminder of our past," she said. "Where we came from, what it represents … what we're looking for as a community."