The Buddha wasn’t a mere Buddhist; he was universal and his principles are the pillars of all religions.
And, media makes our mind and mind makes culture. And culture makes a man. And in turn, man makes the media, and then the cycle goes on and on.
These were some of the key points of discussion on the impact of Buddhism on Indian Culture. Organised by the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies (CIBS), Leh, scholars said if India was seen today as a liberal and multiracial and multicultural society with dozens of castes and creed, existing harmoniously and homogeneously, Buddhism gets a fair share of the credit.
Ven Wangchuk Dorjee Negi, Principal, CIBS, pointed out that Buddhism today had enabled the stressed minds all over the globe to have an alternate way of life because of its unique qualities like adaptability, scientific nature and its stress on tolerance. That Buddhism is a highly adaptable way of life and not an orthodox religion has made it one of the factors in maintaining peace all over the world.
Scholars said the Buddhist way of life was one of simplicity, generosity, contentment and liberality. And, therefore, these factors enable man to face life in a manner that the difficulties and sufferings that cripple life are made less hitting. Buddhism makes one see the difficulties of others and hence one may become a “giver” and a “helper” so that your own sufferings are lessened by sharing with those of others. By being generous and loving, one does not lose anything but gets rewards in multifold.
Buddhism, as Nehru had said, “Even as it ceased to be counted as a separate kind of religion except in some pockets of the world, remained ingrained in the culture and minds of the people and thereby as a national way of life in India.”
This sentiment was shared by Gandhi too who had said that Buddhism influenced the Indian life in a hundred ways. Even if you are not a Buddhist, your good ways of life and virtues are a reflection of the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha. Thus, Buddhism has been able to enrich the very living habits of mankind today by ousting the orthodox and the destructive mindsets of the people.
The writer, P.P. Wangchuk is a senior editor, has seen life at the Hindustan Times for almost three decades, and is obsessed with writing on issues that make or break life. Having joined the newspaper as an idealist at 23, he has come a long way, and is today a realist and down-to-earth person. In between, he has handled Page 1 and the Edit Page for several years.
Class XII-C is indeed a class of its own,
where everybody is a star in his/her own way.
Really, a class beyond compare,
It makes everyone stand and stare.
Danzey is so shy, yet definite in all manners &
a great mathematician too…..
Trinley is bold and funny,
whether the day is cloudy or sunny.
Jamyang is simple; on her nose you will find a spectacle.
Ngawang yeshi seldom joins the fun &
likes to stay away from everyone.
Ah! Karma Wangyal is the naughtiest of all,
without him, our class looks dull & dead.
Sherab is a leader from every side;
Tashi kyi & Wawa prefer to be twosome;
Karma(choezom & Wangyal) are always quarrelsome.
Thuley is fine and witty, but
you will never know what is cooking in his mind..
Always has something to say…
Nyima is our latest actor, with a little effort,
he can become a Korean actor.
Khando is our class monitor… a fun filled lady.
but beware; she has an eye of spy.
Samten looks smart & dashing in every angle.
Choedak is our class smiley… Smile never leaves him alone.
Doungbu, Dorji & khando are the pride of our class.
They make our classshine every now and then.
We are XII-C-ompetent.
To our classmate, may luck favour us always
& Success be on our side.
Lhasang Tsering is Poet/writer-activist, born in Tibet and brought into exile at a young age. In 1972, giving up an opportunity to study medicine in the US, he joined the armed Tibetan resistance force, who were then operating from Mustang, Nepal. He was later President of Tibetan Youth Congress and a founding director of Amnye Machen Institute. Lhasang, an outspoken and ardent advocate for Tibetan independence and a passionate lover of literature.
The 2010 Ladakh flood occurred on 6 August 2010 across a large part of Ladakh, a region of the northernmost Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. 71 towns and villages were damaged, including the main town in the area, Leh. At least 255 people were reported to have died, six of whom were foreign tourists, after a cloudburst and heavy overnight rains triggered flash floods, mudslides, and debris flows. 200 people were reported missing in the initial aftermath of the storm, and thousands more were rendered homeless after the flooding caused extensive damage to property and infrastructure. Overall, 9000 people were directly affected by the event.The flash floods happened after a night of heavy downpour.
The cloudburst itself occurred between 0000–0030 hours IST on 6 August 2010, leading to flash flooding, debris flows, and mudslides over the region. The rainfall distribution was highly spatially variable. The most intense part of the storm was focused in a 6 km wide band parallel to, and a few kilometers from, the river Indus. This band was centred over most of the major settlements in the area, including Leh. Outside the band, the rainfall intensity was unremarkable; the only weather station in the area, at Leh airport, recorded only 12.8 mm of total rainfall for the night of 6 August. However, within it precipitation intensities were over an order of magnitude higher, peaking at at least 150 mm/h over Leh during the most intense part of the storm. Some estimates of the maximum total rainfall in some places were as high as 250 mm. It was like, The implied 75 mm of rain over Leh during the most intense part of the storm is equivalent to around a year’s worth of rain falling in 30 minutes.The rains occurred at night, and surprised everyone.
In Leh, many buildings were destroyed including hospitals, the bus terminal, radio station transmitter, telephone exchange and mobile-phone towers. BSNL communication systems were fully destroyed. Communications were later restored by the Indian Army. The local bus station was severely damaged and some of the buses were carried more than a mile by the mud. The city’s airport was damaged but was rapidly repaired to allow relief flights the following day. The village of Choglamsar on the outskirts of the city was particularly badly hit.In neighbouring valleys, large numbers of smaller villages which lay under the main rainfall band were also heavily damaged, with large numbers of casualties. As in Leh, much of the destruction was caused by debris flows coming from the rocky sidewalls of the valleys, not by the flooding itself.Notable impacts occurred in Sobu, Phyang, Nimmu, Nyeh, and Basgo villages. In total, almost 1500 homes in 71 settlements across the area were reported to have been damaged.All of the estimated 3000 tourists in Leh, including 1000 foreigners were safe according to local officials.Outside the town, 6 tourists were reported killed. However, official documents indicate that at least 255 local residents were killed, with a further 29 never found.The true toll may have been significantly higher, perhaps more than 600 people.
In popular perception, the Ladakh of today is considered a remote area, cut-off from the rest of the world for six months and a tribal society romanticised by tourists. But it was not very long ago that Ladakh was a centre of cultural exchange, says Abdul Ghani Sheikh, a prominent historian and writer based in Leh. “‘What Port Said is to the Suez Canal, Leh is to the Central Asian Trade road,’ this is what a British Joint Commissioner, R.L. Kennion, posted in Ladakh at the turn of the 19th century,” Sheikh says.
To showcase the rich heritage that resulted from this cultural exchange, Sheikh conceptualised the idea of a Central Asian Museum. The Museum partially opened to the public in August last year. “Not very long ago, the whole world was open to Ladakh. We were connected by trade routes to Yarkhand in Central Asia, towards Tibet in the East and Baltistan, which falls in Pakistan now, was in fact a part of Ladakh. The Leh Trade Route was linked with the historical Silk Route,” said Sheikh, also an acclaimed Urdu writer.
Ladakhi art, food, costume and language were all partially influenced by Central Asia. “The word ‘Momo’, the most popular food of Ladakh today, is derived from Yarkhand. It was only in 1947 after the political boundaries between nations were demarcated that Ladakh fell into isolation, both geographically and culturally. Traders in their caravans came from Punjab, Yarkhand, Afghanistan, Russia and even Siberia and sold their wares on the streets here,” said Sheikh. “The Leh bazaar was considered a listening post by the British in the 19th century. Polo, horse-riding and football matches took place in the bazaar and drama troupes from Tibet and Himachal Pradesh would come to perform here during Loser (the Ladakhi New Year). The British suspected that Russia wanted to capture Ladakh so a Joint Commissioner was posted here in the guise of monitoring the trade here. However, his main job was to monitor spies,” said Sheikh. Some of the shops in the Leh market still belong to descendents of Punjabi traders who settled down in Leh during those days.
The Central Asian Museum is located right in the centre of Leh town. It is built in the Tsas Soma Gardens, the land where the caravans used to camp. The Ladakhi king Senge Namgyal gave permission to some traders to build Leh’s first mosque on these grounds. “Ladakh and Baltistan are like the members of family divided by the exigencies of time. Now there are only two roads to Ladakh through Srinagar and Manali but earlier, people travelled through Skardo and Gilgit to Rawalpindi. There was another route from Leh to Lhasa from where people could cross over to Sikkim and to Kolkata thereafter. This route was open even till 1960 when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet,” said Sheikh who donated his personal collection of books on Ladakh and Central Asia for the Museum library.
The Changthang plateau, which is cut-off even from the rest of Ladakh in winters now, is the worst affected by the closing of borders. Located five kilometres above sea level, Changthang was earlier a part of the vast Tibetan plateau and the only way to reach Tibet. “The nomads, mainly pastoralists, exchanged their Pashmina wool, butter and cheese for pots and spices with traders passing through the plateau. There would be fares at Gartok, the summer capital and Rudok, the winter capital which falls in the part of the plateau occupied by China now. Still, there are huge rocks in Tang-Tse, a major resting place for traders before crossing over to Tibet that bear inscriptions in more than ten languages.”
Besides business, people from Ladakh also went to Tibet for academic pursuits. “Records show that there was no Buddhism in Tibet till 727 AD. A Chinese monk travelled from Leh to Central Asia that year and wrote that he saw Buddhism in Ladakh but not in Tibet. It was Ashoka who brought Hinayana Buddhism to Ladakh through his emissaries. The king of Western Tibet (Changthang) sent his son to Kashmir to study Buddhism. That’s why the earlier monasteries like Alchi have Kashmiri influence. However, after Islam came to Kashmir, people started looking up to Tibet for Buddhist teachings and monks were sent to Lhasa to study. In the 13th century, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism from Tibet had spread in Ladakh and it continues to remain so till date,” says Sheikh.
Islam made its advent in Ladakh because of trade. The relations between the Buddhist and Muslim communities always remained cordial until the late 20th century. “Inter-marriages were common. The 17th century king, Jamyang Namgyal married a Balti princess Gyal Khatun, who remained a Muslim till death. Earlier, ‘Loser’ and Eid were celebrated together but not anymore,” said Sheikh who is an Argon, a community of Muslims traders who settled down in Leh and intermarried with Buddhists.
Despite the impact of trade, the Ladakhiness remained intact. “The Mongolians were considered ‘Yamdoots’; who would get angry at the slightest of instances. Ladakhis have always been a peace-loving community who were confident of their cultural ethos. We had our own folk songs and dances. For instance, there are 360 songs for the marriage ceremony alone in Ladakhi,” Sheikh said.
The trade interactions could not shake the foundations of the Ladakhi culture but the wave of western education and tourism did. “The kind of interaction that is happening now, has never happened in ages. Records show that once, in an year, there were just four tourists. This year, there have been more tourists than the population of Ladakh itself,” said Sheikh. However, he is optimistic about this change. “There were superstitions like a woman could not get out of the house for a month after child-birth. We should move on from these things now,” said Sheikh.
Written By: Ravleen Kaur is a media fellow with the National Foundation of India working in Ladakh.
Information on Ladakh before the birth of the kingdom (10th century) is scarce. Ladakh can hardly be considered a separate political entity before the establishment of the kingdom about 950 CE, after the collapse of the early Tibetan empire and the border regions became independent kingdoms under independent rulers, most of whom came from branches of the Tibetan royal family.
The earliest layer in the population of Ladakh was probably composed of the Dardi. Herodotus mentions twice a people called Dadikai, first along with the Gandarioi, and again in the catalogue of king Xerxes’s army invading Greece. Herodotus also mentions the gold-digging ants of Central Asia, which is also later mentioned in connection with the Dardi people by Nearchus, the admiral of Alexander, and Megasthenes.
In the 1st century CE, Pliny the Elder repeats that the Dards are great producers of gold. Herrmann brings arguments to show that the tale ultimately goes back to a hazy knowledge of gold-washing in Ladakh and Baltistan. Ptolemy situates the Daradrai on the upper reaches of the Indus, and the names Darada is used in the geographical lists of the Puranas.
The first glimpse of political history is found in the kharosthi inscription of “Uvima Kavthisa” discovered near the K’a-la-rtse (Khalatse) bridge on the Indus, showing that in around the 1st century, Ladakh was a part of the Kushana empire. A few other short Brahmi and Kharosthi inscriptions have been found in Ladakh.
The Chinese pilgrim monk, Xuanzang, c. 634 CE, describes a journey from Chuluduo (Kūluta, Kulu) to Luohuluo (Lahul), then goes on saying that: “From here the road, leading to the north, for over one thousand eight hundred or nine hundred li by perilous paths and over mountains and valleys, takes one to the country of Lāhul. Going further to the north over two thousand li along a route full of difficulties and obstacles, in cold winds and wafting snowflakes, one could reach the country of Marsa (also known as Sanbohe).” The kingdom of Moluosuo, or Mar-sa, would seem to be synonymous with Mar-yul, a common name for Ladakh. Elsewhere, the text remarks that Mo-lo-so, also called San-po-ho borders with Suvarnagotra or Suvarnabhumi (Land of Gold), identical with the Kingdom of Women (Strirajya). According to Tucci, the Zhangzhung kingdom, or at least its southern districts were known by this name by the 7th century Indians. In 634/5 Zhangzhung acknowledged Tibetan suzernaity for the first time, and in 653 a Tibetan commissioner (mnan) was appointed there. Regular administration was introduced in 662, and a unsuccessful rebellion broke out in 677.
In the 8th century, Ladakh was involved in the clash between Tibetan expansion pressing from the East, and Chinese influence exerted from Central Asia through the passes. In 719 a census was taken, and in 724 the administration was reorganized. In 737, the Tibetans launched an attack against the king of Bru-za (Gilgit), who asked for Chinese help, but was ultimately forced to pay homage to Tibet. The Korean monk Hyecho (704-787) (pinyin: Hui Chao) reached India by sea and returned to China in 727 via Central Asia. He referred to three kingdoms lying to the northeast of Kashmir which were:
“under the suzerainty of the Tibetans. . . . The country is narrow and small, and the mountains and valleys very rugged. There are monasteries and monks, and the people faithfully venerate the Three Jewels. As to the kingdom of Tibet to the East, there are no monasteries at all and the Buddha’s teaching is unknown; but in [these above-mentioned] countries the population consists of Hu, therefore they are believers. (Petech, The Kingdom of Ladakh, p. 10).”
Rizvi goes on to point out that this passage not only confirms that in the early eight century the region of modern Ladakh was under Tibetan suzerainty, but that the people were of non-Tibetan stock.
In 747, the hold of Tibet was loosened by the campaign of Chinese General Gao Xianzhi, who tried to re-open the direct communications between Central Asia and Kashmir. After Gao’s defeat against the Qarluqs and Arabs on the Talas river (751), Chinese influence decrease rapidly and Tibetan influence resumed.
The geographical treatise Hudud-al-Alam (982) mentions Bolorian (Bolor = Bolu, Baltistan) Tibet, where people are chiefly merchants and live in huts. Nestorian crosses carved into boulders, apparently due to Sogdian Christian merchants found in Drangtse (Tangtse), and Arabic inscriptions of about the same time are evidence of the importance of trade in this region. After the collapse of the Tibetan monarchy in 842, Tibetan suzerainty vanished quickly.
The first West Tibetan dynasty
After the break-up of the Tibetan empire in 842, Nyima-Gon, a representative of the ancient Tibetan royal house founded the first Ladakh dynasty. Nyima-Gon’s kingdom had its centre well to the east of present-day Ladakh. This was the period in which Ladakh underwent Tibetanization, eventually making Ladakh a country inhabited by a mixed population, the predominant racial strain of which was Tibetan. However, soon after the conquest, the dynasty, intent on establishing Buddhism, looked not to Tibet, but to north-west India, particularly Kashmir. This has been termed the Second Spreading of Buddhism in the region (the first one being in Tibet proper.) An early king, Lde-dpal-hkhor-btsan (c. 870 -900), swore an oath to develop the Bön religion in Ladakh and was responsible for erecting eight early monasteries including the Upper Manahris monastery. He also encouraged the mass production of the Hbum scriptures to spread religion. Little, however is known about the early kings of Nyima-Gon’s dynasty. The fifth king in line has a Sanskrit name, Lhachen Utpala, who conquered Kulu, Mustang, and parts of Baltistan.
Around the 13th century, due to political developments, India ceased having anything to offer from a Buddhist point of view, and Ladakh began to seek and accept guidance in religious matters from Tibet.
The Namgyal dynasty
Continual raids on Ladakh by the plundering Muslim states of Central Asia lead to the weakening and partial conversion of Ladakh. Ladakh was divided, with Lower Ladakh ruled by King Takpabum from Basgo and Temisgam, and Upper Ladakh by King Takbumde from Leh and Shey. Bhagan, a later Basgo king reunited Ladakh by overthrowing the king of Leh. He took on the surname Namgyal (meaning victorious) and founded a new dynasty which still survives today. King Tashi Namgyal (1555-1575) successfully managed to repel most Central Asian raiders, and built a royal fort on the top of the Namgyal Peak. Tsewang Namgyal temporarily extended his kingdom as far as Nepal.
During the reign of Jamyang Namgyal, concerted efforts were made to convert Ladakh to Islam and destruction of Buddhist artifacts. Today, few gompas exist from before this period. Sengge Namgyal (1616-1642), known as the ‘lion’ king made efforts to restore Ladakh to its old glory by an ambitious and energetic building programme by rebuilding several gompas and shrines, the most famous of which is Hemis. He also moved the royal headquarters from Shey Palace to Leh Palace and expanded the kingdom into Zanskar and Spiti, but was defeated by the Mughals, who had already occupied Kashmir and Baltistan. His son Deldan Namgyal (1642-1694) had to placate the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb by building a mosque in Leh. However, he later with the help of the Mughal Army under Fidai Khan, son of Mughal viceroy of Kashmir, Ibrahim Khan, successfully defeated the 5th Dalai Lama in the plains of Chargyal, situated between Neemoo and Basgo.
By the beginning of the 19th century, the Mughal empire had collapsed, and Sikh rule had been established in Punjab and Kashmir. However the Dogra region of Jammu remained under its Rajput rulers, the greatest of whom was Maharaja Gulab Singh whose General Zorawar Singh invaded Ladakh in 1834. King Tshespal Namgyal was dethroned and exiled to Stok. Ladakh came under Dogra rule and was incorporated into the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1846. It still maintained considerable autonomy and relations with Tibet.
In 1947, partition left Ladakh a part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, to be administered from Srinagar. In 1948, Pakistani raiders invaded Ladakh and occupied Kargil and Zanskar, reaching within 30 km of Leh. Reinforcement troops were sent in by air, and a battalion of Gurkhas made its way slowly to Leh on foot from south. Kargil was a scene of fighting again in 1965, 1971, and 1999.
In 1949, China closed the border between Nubra and Sinkiang, blocking the 1000-year old trade route from India to Central Asia. In 1950, China invaded Tibet, and thousands of Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama sought refuge in India. In 1962, China occupied Aksai Chin, and promptly built roads connecting Sinkiang and Tibet, and the Karakoram Highway, jointly with Pakistan. India built the Srinagar-Leh highway during this period, cutting the journey time between Srinagar to Leh from 16 days to two. Simultaneously, China closed the Ladakh-Tibet border, ending the 700-year old Ladakh-Tibet relationship.
Since the early 1960s the number of immigrants from Tibet (including Changpa nomads) have increased as they flee the occupation of their homeland by the Chinese. Today, Leh has some 3,500 refugees from Tibet. They hold no passports, only customs papers. Some Tibetan refugees in Ladakh claim dual Tibetan/Indian citizenship, although their Indian citizenship is unofficial. Since partition Ladakh has been governed by the State government based in Srinagar, never to the complete satisfaction of the Ladakhis, who demand that Ladakh be directly governed from New Delhi as a Union Territory. They allege continued apathy, Muslim bias, and corruption of the state government as reasons for their demands. In 1989, there were violent riots between Buddhists and Muslims, provoking the Ladakh Buddhist Council to call for a social and economic boycott of Muslims, which was lifted in 1992. In October 1993, the Indian government and the State government agreed to grant Ladakh the status of Autonomous Hill Council. In 1995, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council was created