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Tenzin Gyatso was the fifth of 16 children born to a farming family in the village of Taktser, Qinghai province where he learned the Amdo dialect of Tibetan as his first language.
He was proclaimed the 'tulku' (rebirth) of the thirteenth Dalai Lama two years after he was born. On 17 November 1950, at the age of 15, he was enthroned as Tibet's Dalai Lama, thus becoming Tibet's most important political ruler.
The Dalai Lama is a revered spiritual leader among Tibetans and exerts a powerful influence over the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism. He is head of the Tibetan Government in Exile in Dharamsala.
A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, he is also the world's best-known Buddhist monk.