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October 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.  Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       October 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.   Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       
Issue:Sep' 2017

BOOK BAZAAR

Exploring golden links of Tibet and Himalayas

Mohan K. Tikku

The Himalayas, despite being the world's most formidable mountain wall, have not stopped people from moving across its peaks and passes. It is a tribute to human endurance and the desire to connect in the face of all odds that there has been a continuous flow of travellers across the Himalayas.
Besides commerce, they have carried knowledge (both material and spiritual) enriching each other.It was thus that the message of the Enlightened One was taken from India to Tibet and beyond to China and Japan. Over the centuries, numerous scholars and savants have kept alive the flow of ideas and intellectual exchanges, undaunted by the difficulties of terrain or weather.
The story about how Buddhism was introduced into Tibet is common knowledge. Something that is not known is how the Tibetan script was devised even before Buddhism reached the 'Roof of the World'. It was the seventh century ruler of Tibet who, sensing the need for an alphabet for the Tibetan language, sent scholar-monk Thonmi Sambhota to Kashmir to learn more about the subject there. This is how the Tibetan script was evolved.
The story tells us something about the closeness of relations and the awareness of each other's capabilities that must have existed between Tibet and the people living across the Himalayas.
That relationship was, however, interrupted when the Chinese stepped in to take charge of Tibet in the second half of the twentieth century. As a result, the traditional contacts between Tibet and the people living on the other side of the Himalayan ranges were disrupted. With such changes, the knowledge about these historical exchanges has been in danger of passing into oblivion.

It was the seventh century ruler of Tibet who, sensing the need for an alphabet for the Tibetan language, sent scholar-monk Thonmi Sambhota to Kashmir to learn more about the subject there. This is how the Tibetan script was evolved.

Siddiq Wahid These days, unfortunately, the trans-Himalayan relationship has often been in the news for the wrong reasons—such as the recent face-off over Doklam, or halting the passage of pilgrims to Mount Kailash.
It is in this context that the recent publication of Tibet's Relations with the Himalaya by the Foundation of Non-Violent Alternatives is to be seen. The book is the outcome of a series of three seminars held over two years. These cover a wide spectrum of subjects ranging from the historical relations between Tibet and Ladakh to the distribution of Tibetan refugees across the Himalayan States and the current state of border trade across Nathu-La. In another chapter, Claude Arpi, who has devoted a lifetime to studying Tibet, has drawn attention to a little known episode of the border dispute as it had surfaced between the erstwhile rulers of Lhasa and the tiny central Himalayan state of Tehri in the early decades of the twentieth century.
A common issue with most books based on seminar proceedings is the unevenness of the levels of scholarship. Editor Siddiq Wahid has tackled this admirably well by getting the authors revise their texts in the light of discussions held at the seminar. However, considering the diversity that the Himalayas represent and their multiple manifestations, this reviewer would have preferred to see 'Himalaya' in the plural in the title of this book.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama often refers to India as the guru and Tibet as the chela. That obviously alludes to the fact that Buddhist thought and philosophy were taken to Tibet from India by great savants and spiritual

A large body of Sanskrit manuscripts that had been taken from India to Tibet were later translated into Tibetan. But subsequently, the original Sanskrit manuscripts in India were lost or destroyed during foreign invasions or such other calamities. But the Tibetan translations had remained secure in Tibet. Now,the only way to access this large body of ancient knowledge would be by re-translating the texts back from Tibetan into Sanskrit.

masters such as Guru Padma Sambhava and Kumarajiva. But there have been instances when the chela appeared to have surpassed the guru.
In this context, I am reminded of an interview I had done with His Holiness in Dharamshala way back in the early seventies. During the interview, His Holinesshad underlined the fact that a large body of Sanskrit manuscripts that had been taken from India to Tibet were later translated into Tibetan. But subsequently, the original Sanskrit manuscripts in India were lost or destroyed during foreign invasions or such other calamities. But the Tibetan translations had remained secure in Tibet. Now,the only way to access this large body of ancient knowledge would be by retranslating the texts back from Tibetan into Sanskrit.
Tibet had thus acted as a safe house for a large body of ancient knowledge. In recent centuries, scholars such as George Buhler(nineteenth century) and Rahul Sankrityayan (twentieth century) had turned to Tibet in search of ancient manuscripts both in Sanskrit and Tibetan. The mining of this vast fund of knowledge was later interrupted following the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
Since Chairman Mao's cadres were not known to be too fond of preserving old manuscripts, it was obvious that many of these manuscripts may have been lost. But many Tibetan refugees escaping Chinese rule did bring some of the manuscripts with them to India. A good lot of them are now safe in Dharamsala.
The whole point of citing these instances is to underline the fact that there is a vast body of knowledge that is waiting for scholarly engagement. One would, therefore, like to hope that this book is not a one-off thing. It could be the beginning of a journey of scholarly exploration that would put together the enriching story of exchanges across the Himalayas through the centuries.Some of it may even have to be captured through an oral history project.
The subject is so important that it deserves to be studied in greater depth and detail so that this half-forgotten discourse is brought to life and preserved as part of the historical memories of the Himalayan people.
The Foundation for Non-Violent Alternatives has rendered a signal service in attempting to revive this discourse. As there still is a good deal of unrepresented knowledge waiting for scholarly attention, this book may be seen as a small beginning in that direction. A baby step, perhaps. But, a step in the right direction!