Tibetís mystical castle in Doon

by Anupma Khanna, The Pioneer, Sept 16, 2009

Dehradun, India -- Eager to discover the mystical castle of Tibet, set picturesquely against the sprawling Himalayas? Well, for all the ‘wish-but-cannot-do’ sapiens finding it difficult to visit the Roof of the World, the Songtsen Library — a splendid replica of the Yumbhu Lakhar, Tibet’s first castle built in 2nd century BC — promises to be an elating retreat.

Studding the sterling distinction of Doon’s cosmopolitan culture, the Centre for Tibetan and Himalayan Studies is one-of-its-kind institution and holds something of interest to everyone: The architecture, artwork, Dalai Lama’s vintage Mercedes or the rare manuscripts. Take, for instance, the collection on the Dun Huang documents, the earliest written sources on Tibetan society and history. The original manuscripts date from the 6th to the 12th century and were discovered at various caves on and near the famous Silk Route of Central Asia.

Then there are the Buddhist Kagyur (Buddha’s voice) and Tengyur, the commentaries and the personal collection and journals of Lama Anagarika Govinda, a prominent Buddhist monk credited with bringing Buddhism to the West. Born in a German family, he settled in the hills of Kumaon in Almora in the mid-80s. Also stored are Japanese, Chinese and Pali literature. For those accustomed to the virtual word, the library offers over 6,000 digitised Buddhist texts procured from the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre, New York.

In another milestone, the literary centre is all set to add a brand-new section dedicated to authors from Dehradun and Mussoorie, comprising the likes of Ruskin Bond, Nayantara Sehgal and RS Tolia. The Pioneer’s ground survey revealed that the move is being welcomed by the community.

“I teach Tibetan language in a Tibetan-administered school that doesn’t instruct in English. However, given the globalised world that we live in, children need to be exposed to the English literature and culture. Tibetans cannot stay cut off anymore. It is heartening that Songtsen Library is introducing a section on English authors from the valley. Our youth will benefit a lot from the new books,” beamed Phurbu, resident of the Tibetan settlement on Sahastradhara Road.

Named after Songtsen Gampo, the 33rd Dharma King of Tibet, who introduced the religion to the country, the establishment belongs to the Drikung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism and was inaugurated by the XIV Dalai Lama in 2003.

The remarkable artwork adorning the interiors of the library — the Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of compassion, over the main door, the Thangkas adorning the ceiling et al — proffer a fascinating mix of century-old cultures, especially Persian, Tibetan and Chinese. But even before gaining entry into the tranquil ambience, one is awed by the beautiful landscape, holding the edifice like a cradle. And while there, do not forget to ogle at the beige Benz used by the Dalai Lama from 1964 to 1982. It stands proudly in a glasshouse.

The Indo-Tibetan association, in fact, dates back to the early 1900s when a few exceptional upper class Tibetans migrated to the country for business opportunities and occasional Government trade missions.

Gradually, as Chinese military’s presence in Tibet increased, around 5,000 Tibetans slipped into India in the succeeding years. The exodus swelled between 1959 and 62 with the flight of their temporal and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. A sizeable proportion of the drifters settled in the Indian Himalayan States of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The Dalai Lama himself settled temporarily in Mussoorie before shifting to Dharmsala.

In the decades that followed, the ethnic group lived largely aloof; in isolated Tibetan settlements that preserved their unique identity and culture. The community hardly mingled with the outside world, except on the issue of freedom for Tibet. However, in a clear departure from the past, the recent years have seen a growing desire among them to interrelate with and adapt other cultures.

The adaptations range from celebrating Diwali, Dussehra and Holi to Punjabi cuisine sharing space with thupka and momos at the dining table. It is not uncommon to come across young Tibetans playing antaakshari during their idle hours.

Corroborating the same, Gyaltsen, Tibetan Welfare Officer, Dehradun, told The Pioneer, “The many decades that I’ve spent with Tibetans across the country, I have discerned a growing desire among the community to interact with other ethnicities. More Tibetan parents now want to send their children to Indian schools. Even wedding ceremonies among Tibetans though still traditional clearly reflect changes in sync with Indian and western cultures.

Nuptial celebrations are held in hotels, with guests carrying wrapped gifts and enjoying dinner. Dancing to Bollywood hits is concomitant with an evening of Tibetan folk music at these festivities. Also becoming prominent are modern Tibetan weddings, where couples exchange vows in the presence of an officiating Tibetan priest. Over 70 per cent Tibetans in India currently live in nuclear families, unlike the traditional Tibetan culture preferring joint families.”