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April 24, 2009

BangaLore #20: Tibet or not Tibet?

by Sonalee Rau, Online Staff Writer
That is the question.

The 50th anniversary of the Tibetan rebellion recently passed: March 10, 1959 marked the day when the uprising of Tibetans against the Chinese government officially began. 86,000 Tibetans were casualties of this revolt. The greater part of the survivors fled to India. Now, here in a country which is majority Hindu, lies a pocket of Buddhism tucked away amongst the rolling hills of the Deccan plateau in Bylakuppe, Karnataka: the Nyingmapa monastery.

Roughly a three to four hour drive from Bangalore, the golden entrance gate to the monastery transports one into a different world.

The monks who inhabit Bylakuppe used to reside in the Palyul monastery in Tibet. Today, they continue their lives in southern India as if they still lived in their homeland. Their most recent leader, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, recently passed away and his followers are still in mourning; consequently, visitors to the city's largest temple were forbidden to walk past the front foyer of the building. Nevertheless, the view of the temple's interior from even a faraway vantage point was breathtaking.

It was interesting to witness how similar the illustrations of Buddhist deities on the walls were to the Hindu idols seen most often in India. This was to be expected, as Buddhism originated from Hinduism - diverging around 580 B.C.

Of course, the Tibetan culture in Nyingmapa has not remained completely isolated and independent of the customs and traditions it has been exposed to. This was probably the last place I would have expected to see a monk wearing Crocs…or a young monk shooting a toy gun at his playmates. In one shop in their city, I even had the chance to witness an argument in fluent Kannada between an Indian man and one of the Tibetan monks!

But after half a turbulent century spent relocating and rebuilding, the monks residing in Bylakuppe have found home here in South India. Tibet or not Tibet? It's Tibet to the residents of Nyingmapa monastery, and that's the important thing.



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