A Tribute to “The Architect Of the Modern Ladakh”

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Marking the celebration of VijayDashmi 2017, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagawat’s opening remarks started with addressing centenary celebration of 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche,”19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche the name would’ve been heard by new generation for the first time, the old generation knew him very well. In Himalayas he is well-known as one of the greatest Lamas“. Further he added,” Kushok Bakula ji’s sense of responsibilities foKushok Bakula Rinpocher national duties is an example on its own. Also, the manifestation of nation’s vision and world’s vision towards global humanity development could be seen through his social conduct.”

The Lineage of Bakula is the reincarnation system (Tulku) which is based on the theory that Buddha’s soul never vanishes, but reincarnates in succession to lead his followers and to accomplish his mission. The 19th incarnation was Thupstan Chonjor born on May 14, 1917, in a royal family of Matho village of Ladakh. He was recognized by the 13th Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of Arahat Bakula, one of the 16th Arahat(a term used for the ones who are far advanced along the path of Enlightenment). He went to Lhasa(Tibet) at the age of 13 and received education in the great Drepung monastery which was the largest monastic institution in Tibet. He was awarded with the degree of Geshe Larampa(the highest degree in Buddhist metaphysics) at the age of 25 in the presence of the 13th Dalai Lama.

After returning back to India, he dedicated his life for the core Buddhist principles and for the betterment of the people in Ladakh. His support and enthusiasm helped Ladakhi people to sustain their way of life with the mixture of both the ancient traditions and the modern education. He campaigned door to door teaching the importance of education and motivated young students to enroll in school. He also made a point of having education in Ladakhi language.

In the late 1940s, he emerged as a great politician in J&K’s political atmosphere. It was the time when great transformation was taking place in post-colonial era. He not only ensured betterment of Ladakhi people but also there security and its future development.In 1948, when in the form of tribals the Pakistani’s attacked J&K, he with coordinated efforts of Indian Army successfully protected ladakh from enemies and also made a strong case for Ladakh to be the part of India after the plebiscite backed by UN. At a meeting, Shri. Jawaharlal Nehru suggested Bakula Rinpoche to join politics which would be a remarkable route for Ladakh’s social and religious movement. In the very first democratic elections in Ladakh in 1949 the people of Ladakh had elected Bakula Rinpoche as their leader and served as Minister of State in J&K State Government from 1953 to 1967. A significant victory in the case where a ordinance was brought in to prohibit more than 120 monasteries which would have marked a dead end for Buddhism was spearheadedly opposed by kushok Bakula which led him in forefront of religious and political sphere of J&K.

In 50’s he toured every nook and corner of Ladakh and due to his tireless efforts, the Government of India sanctioned scholarships for eighteen Ladakhi novices to obtain modern education at Sarnath. Under his leadership Ladakh Buddhist Association and All Ladakh Gonpa Association were found in the larger interests of Buddhist Monasteries. In 1955 he made a visit to Lhasa(Tibet) and after returning back to India he warned the Government of India about the increasing threats and Chinese army near the borders but the warnings fell on deaf ears. Still in the Sino-Indian war he helped Indian army by converting a part of Monastery into Military hospital and called upon the people of Ladakh to provide necessary help to the army. He was elected as Member of Parliament twice representing Ladakh in 1967 & 1971. His work ethics and the zeal as a parliamentarian led to have contacts with the Stalwarts in the politics resulting in him being appointed as a member of the newly formed National Commission for Minorities by the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai.

In 1989 he was appointed as ambassador of India to Mongolia, becoming the first Buddhist monk to hold an ambassadorial position and take part in the development of the bilateral relations between India and Mongolia. Several months after the overthrow of the Communists a new democratic political system was setup which paved the way for Kushok Bakula to revitalize Buddhist knowledge and rebuild their monasteries and impart teachings to the Mongolian Buddhists. For the first time the President of Mongolia, P. Ochirbat, participated at a public, religious ceremony where Buddha’s birthday was celebrated by thousands of people. Kushok Bakula procured financial support and visas for Mongolian monks who desired to study in Tibetan monasteries in India and also for Mongolian monks who were in dire needs of teaching, he invited highly qualified Lamas from Ladakh and Sikkim. Later, Kushok Bakula built the Pethub Stangey Choskor Ling Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, which is commonly referred to by Mongolians as Bakula Rinpoche’s Monastery which became a prominent center for Mongolian monks in ritual empowerment and teachings. Likewise he motivated Mongolian youths to learn Indian languages, Indian traditional dance forms so as to create new opportunities. In 2001, for his rejuvenation of Buddhism post-communism and service to the Mongolian nation, the President of Mongolia awarded Rinpoche with one of the highest honors of the country, “The Polar Star”.

President R. Venkataraman awarding ‘Padma Bhushan’ to the 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche in 1988

The 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche passed away on the 4th of November, 2003. Up to his last breath he worked hard as a zealous social & religious leader and in recognition of his distinguished service of high order to the nation, the President of India awarded him the second highest honour, “Padma Bhushan” in 1988. Likewise, former Prime Minister Shri. Manmohan Singh called him “The Architect of Modern Ladakh” and the airport at Leh is named after him. The then Prime Minister of India, Shri. Atal Bihari Vajpayee paying his condolences said, “In the death of noble Lama Kushok Bakula, we have lost a great saint, guide and inspiring personality of the Buddhist world. It is difficult to imagine Ladakh without him.”

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Sairaj Desai
About Sairaj Desai 7 Articles
Sairaj is currently working in a start-up based on providing 5G solutions. He is a post-graduate from the communications background in IIT, Madras. His areas of interest include history, culture, heritage and science & technology.