Saturday, June 17, 2000

Where the gods live

By Rama Sharma

IN Himachal Tourism’s calendar of events for Millenium 2000, Aug 1 to 15 has been earmarked for celebrations of Kaalchakra at Key-Monastry, in Spiti Valley, known for its large stretches of arid — almost lunar landscapes with a strangely haunting beauty. Lying in the trans-Himalays, Spiti is a sub-division of Lahaul-Spiti district of Himachal. The height of Key village, where the monastery is situated is more than 11,000ft and the monastery itself is one thousand years old.

Kaalchakra means cycle of time. In Tibetan-Buddhist (Vajrayana) philosophy Kaalchakra Tantra is a means of attaining full enlightenment or Buddhahood within one lifetime. It is an initiation into the highest level of Buddhist mysticism. The act of initiation by the guru substantiates the belief that a Bodhisatva is a person who has developed infinite wisdom and compassion.


Key Monastery is considered to be an old seat of Buddhist learning The Kaalchakra Mahabhishek ceremony is also considered a prayer for world peace. A reference book published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala (H.P.), describes Kaalchakra at three levels. External Kaalchakra is the Cosmos, ie the Universe, Sun, Moon and planets and discusses the inter-dependence of the universe with the cosmos. Inner Kaalchakra is the universe of sentient beings, those having the power of sense, perception, breath and energy and represents the cycles of the life and death. Alternative Kaalchakra means ripening one’s mind with the help of the empowermental. The Tibetan word for empowerment is je nang, which translates as initiation. It teaches the purification to be undertaken by a person on an individual level as well as the universal level for enlightenment and Buddhahood. All these aspects of Kaalchakra are highly relevant even today. His Holiness The Dalai Lama will give initiation at the Kaalchakra Mahabhishek ceremony at Key-Monastry and grant an insight into the Tantra to the general public along with a prayer for love, harmony and world peace. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will also be present at the closing ceremonies.

The event is being publicised to attract pilgrims from Buddhist countries. An added attraction are the remains of an ancient civilisation discovered only recently by archaeologists. The mummified body of a monk discovered a few years ago and now lying encased in glass case is one of its exhibits.

Key Monastery is considered to be a very old seat of Buddhist learning. The seat of Lochen Tulku, the 24th Lotsawa Rimpoche (reincarnation of Rinchen Zangpo, the great translator). Its hilltop position points to a post thirteenth century construction. The monks’ dwellings rise in a closely packed cluster up the south and east to the narrow summit, where the main temple building is situated. The three-storeyed structure consists largely of storage rooms at the bottom level while the middle floor houses the dukhang and the upper floor has another temple and the head lama’s residence on one side of an open terrace. The dukhang contains well-executed wall paintings. But Key’s major artistic wealth lies in its collection of thankas, saved somehow from the devastating raids of the Dogras and the Sikhs in the 19th century.

Often called the middle-country, Spiti is a cold desert which Rudyard Kipling in Kim called a "World within a World", and a place where ‘Gods live.’ It has small monasteries like Hikim Komik, Langia besides its largest monastic complex, Tabo. Founded in 996 A.D, Tabo has exquisite frescoes and stucco statues spread over nine temples, 23 chortens and several caves and is often called the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas. Dhankar Gompa, another masterpiece of local architecture was at one time used as castle by Spiti’s rulers.

Although the natural process of ageing in the arid and arctic geo-climatic conditions is slow, yet its incessant effect is visible on the monastry structures. The process of degradation has been accelerated manifold in the last few years by human activities which have disturbed the ecology of this region. Another dimension has been added to this by relaxing of inner-line restrictions on tourists in the interest of commercial-tourism. This may have much more serious consequences for the inner region as wanton incursions unscrupulous tourists not only threaten the safety of antiques and the material culture of the region, but may also local socio-cultural traditions. While it is neither possible nor desirable that this region be kept isolated from the mainstream, it is very essential that the pernicious side effects of commercial tourism are anticipated and a code of conduct for tourists enforced, besides adequate advance measures to protect the ancient civilisation.