by Amitava Banerjee, Hindustan Times, Kolkata on 15 July 2015
DARJEELING: Ask anyone in Darjeeling Sarat Chandra Das was and it would definitely invite a blank stare. The first Tibetan to English dictionary with Sanskrit equivalents was written by Sarat Chandra Das. The dictionary is still being used.
Das, an avid explorer and scholar, used to reside in Darjeeling town in a house he fondly named “Lhasa Villa” after the Tibetan capital he visited in 1879 and again in 1881. He returned to Darjeeling with a large collection of Tibetan and Sanskrit texts.
The newly founded “Himalayan Tibet Museum” in Darjeeling town, delving into the pages of history has managed to salvage such vital information, connecting both tourists and the local residents with the rich bond shared by India and Tibet. Having opened its door to the public on July 2, it is already a hit among the tourists visiting Darjeeling.
“Besides India, Tibet is the only country which has carefully preserved Indian culture and literature down the ages. The museum tries to depict Tibet’s strong cultural bond with India along with Tibet’s connection with the Himalayas,” said Nawang Tenzin Gyatso, president of the Manjushree Centre of Tibetan Culture, a non-profit organisation run by the Tibetan community.
Manjushree, which is approved by the Department of Religion and Culture, Central Tibetan Administration, runs this museum on the ground floor of their premises located at Gandhi Road, Darjeeling. The museum is open from 9am to 5pm, six days a week (it remains closed on Wednesday).
Gyatso who is a Tibetan monk visited Lhasa in 2007. He had gone to Tibet to see the restoration work at the Sanga Choling Monastery in southern part of Tibet which had been completely destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. During his visit to Lhasa he had visited the National Museum built by the Chinese.
“I was utterly shocked to see that vital information was distorted. They manipulated history. Important artefacts and books having Indian connections had been depicted as having roots in China. Tibet has a strong connection with India and not China. This is when I decided that we would have a proper museum in Darjeeling which will depict the truth, where history will not be distorted and people will not be misinformed,” said the president.
Important Pali and Sanskrit texts found their way to Tibet during various invasions in India. They had been carefully preserved in Tibet and even translated into Tibetan. Many of these books are retranslated from Tibetan to Sanskrit by scholars.
In August 2010, the board of directors of Manjushree had an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala when they brought to his attention their plans to establish a museum in Darjeeling to depict the unique Tibetan cultural heritage. His Holiness much appreciated the initiative.
“His Holiness even gifted us rare artefacts including icons along with Vajracheta- an ancient text with gold inscription on Buddha’s teachings,” said Gurmey Tsundue Bhutia, assistant secretary. Since then there has been no looking back. It took more than seven years to collect the artefacts. “We have no curator hence we designed the museum ourselves,” said Bhutia.
The museum has different section depicting the Potala Place, the seat of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government, Zang Zhing, the ancient civilisation of Tibet before the advent of Buddhism; the three great ancestral Tibetan kings; Thumi Sambota, the person who founded the Tibetan script based on Devnagari script; Samye, the first Tibetan monastery; Tibetan currency notes, coins, stamps, passports and national flag; chaam, mask dance; three provinces of Tibet, Thankas, religious paintings; musical instruments, ancient tools, flora and fauna of Tibet; rare photographs and books authored by HH the Dalai Lama.
“We have a section on prominent explorers and Tibetologists who having connection with Darjeeling,’ said Bhutia. The list includes Gedun Chopel who had translated the Bhagwad Gita into Tibetan with the help of a Hindu monk from Darjeeling Swami Prabhudananda; Pundit Rahul Sanskirtayan who had translated many and important Tibetan text into Sanskrit; the famous Russian philosopher, painter, explorer Nicholas Roerich; Hungarian scholar, linguist and Tibetologist Alexandra Csomade Koros along with explorer scholar Sarat Chandra Das.