Prayers, songs and a heavy presence of Indian politicians marked the traditional birthday celebrations of the Dalai Lama in the hill town of Dharamshala Sunday.

The spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists turned 80 according to the Tibetan lunar calendar on Sunday. His date of birth according to the Western or Gregorian calendar is on July 6, when he plans to be travelling in the United States.

Celebrations began early morning with prayers for a long life for the smiling monk who sat on a dais at the feet of the Buddha statue as monks chanted hymns, played traditional musical instruments and conducted elaborate rituals.

The Dalai Lama and thousands of followers fled to India in 1959 after China took stern steps against a rebellion.

The Tibetan government-in-exile, known as the Central Tibetan Administration,has been based in Dharamshala since then.

The Dalai Lama, who won the 1989 Nobel peace prize, has been called a separatist by China and accused of fomenting trouble in Tibet.

After the temple ceremony, a cultural programme and speeches of felicitation were held in the courtyard of the Tibetan parliament building.

“I hope your life will inspire us to make the world a better place,” Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tuki said. He invited the Dalai Lama to visit his state again to bless its people.

The north-eastern Indian state has a majority Buddhist population and also has one of the world’s largest centres of Tibetan Buddhism in Tawang, an area claimed by China as its territory and part of southern Tibet.

China had lodged an official protest in 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the region.

Two of Modi’s federal ministers – Mahesh Sharma, minister for culture, tourism and aviation and junior interior minister Kiren Rijiju, who is also from Arunachal Pradesh – also attended the ceremony.

“Today is the birthday of an extraordinary leader,” Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile said.

The entity is not recognised by any of the world’s nations.

The exiles initially campaigned for an independent Tibet, but later the Dalai Lama settled for a more pragmatic demand for autonomy within China, what he called “the middle way.”

Several rounds of fruitless talks were held between representatives of the Dalai Lama and of the government of China. The last round was held in 2010.

The Dalai Lama vested his political powers in Sangay, who was elected by the Tibetans abroad as prime minister in 2011.

The 80-year-old monk now spends his time travelling around the world giving sermons and talks on the power of love, compassion and forgiveness, the need for religious harmony and for safeguarding Tibetan culture and heritage.