Bir, Himachal Pradesh
Despite the considerable differences between Indian Hindu and the Tibetan Buddhist culture and social organisation, India is considered as the birthplace of the Buddhist religion, and as such, Buddhist religious practices are generally respected. Approximately 55000 Tibetan refugees can be found in 37 settlements, widely distributed around India. This post talks about one such settlement in North India, where stretches of green fields act as a landing ground for adrenaline-junkies who take to the skies on an epic paragliding experience that begins at Billing, having missed out on the death-defying gene myself, I preferred the quiet serenity of Monastery hopping in Bir-Billing.
Chokling Monastery, also known as Pema Ewan Chokgyur Gyurme Ling, was established in 1960s, after the eviction of Tibetans because of a Chinese attack. Under the guidance of 3rd Neten Chokling Rinpoche (an incarnate lama of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism), and with the help of foreign a Tibetan settlement comprising of 300 Tibetan families was established. A new Neten Monastery was established in the late ’80s along with temples, stupas and monks quarters under the supervision of Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, the eldest son of the third Neten. The fourth Neten Chokling incarnation was born in 1973 in Bhutan and was brought to Bir at a young age where the family of the third Chokling took him under their wings. In 2004, full responsibility for Pema Ewam Chokgyur Gyurme Ling Monastery in Bir was passed to the fourth Neten Chokling
8 white pillars, ornately painted, sit upon red and blue rocks of all sizes, each with gold prayer chants illustrated on them creating a picturesque welcome to the monastery. The expansive courtyard consists of monk’s boarding, set in a semi-circle, facing a massive monastery and a solitary tree with a beautiful golden statue of Lord Buddha beneath it. There is a huge, grand statue of Padmasambhaya in the main hall but unfortunately it was closed when we visited. FYI, the 1999 Hollywood movie called ‘The Cup’ was entirely shot right here – it was about 2 young football-obsessed monks who desperately try to obtain a TV to watch the World Cup Finals in the monastery.
Situated close to the Tibetan Colony in Bir, is the Tsering Jong Monastery which has spectacular design and typical Tibetan architecture, both starkly standing out against the vibrancy of Bir. The monastery was built in 1762 by Jigme Lingpa.
Nyingmapa Monastery, also known as Palyul Choekhorling Monastery, is home to about 170 monks, and was established in 1980 by Venerable Rigo Tulku Rinpoche. The Nyingmapa school was the first Buddhist school in Tibet. Within the school, there are six principal lineages – Kathok, Palyul, Dzogchen, Shechen, Mindroling, and Dorje Drak.
The refugee history of India is interestingly diverse. Maybe it’s the fact that having a grave understanding of the colonial rule and having its own dark echoes of partition as part of history. Freedom for India came at the high cost of partition and the trauma of displacement. For the last 75 years since the momentous occasion, lives of the families across the border will forever be dependent on how the leaders of the two countries maintain and hold their current relationship. Interesting fact that I came to know is that these monument that I have recently featured in my Monument of Love series, incidentally were refugee camps for many communities as the country was ravaged by the after-effects of partition. Maybe this is why the strong solidarity for the thousands of Tibetan refugees!! What do you think?