Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Interlaken, Switzerland, a photo-exhibition and Lord Shiva in the Alps

Monday, May 11, 2020

Snake boat race in Kerala


The snake boat race in Kerala is being run like the IPL matches of cricket.  Being a homegrown traditional sport of kerala, the support base in Kerala as well as the Pravasi Keralites is very good.  the sport now has 9 leagues, and a massive fan following on TV as well.

The Championship of last year (2019)was won by a 01 second margin,  according to Bala Kiran, CEO Trivandrum Smart city.  Over the last 3 years, winning teams took home prize money of approximately Rs 1.60 crores.                                                                
Unlike many other popular sports, the snake boat race can happen only if the rivers of Kerala continue to flow.

River Ecosystems in Kerala for water sports

River ecosystems in Kerala-A glimpse

Pamba River

The Pamba originates  in the Peerumedu plateau in the Western Ghats and is 176 km long.  It empties into the Vembanad Lake, which is the largest lake in Kerala.   

Snake Boat Race at Pamba River 
The snake boat race during the Onam festival in Aranmula is worth seeing.  The video shows the heats before the festival.  In the final event more than 30 boats participate.  

Coracle riding or Bowl boat riding in river Kallar
The Adavi eco-tourism project was launched by the departments of Forest and Tourism as part of the third phase of the Konni eco-tourism project.   

Manimala 

The rich, natural growth of native plants and trees on the banks of Manimala river. Manimala is a 92 km long river in South and Central Kerala. It originates in Idukki district, also in the Western Ghats.  This river also empties into the Vembanad lake.  In fact ten major rivers of Kerala empty into the Vembanad lake.  A mud regulator divides the lake into two parts - one with perennial brackish water and the other with fresh water from rivers draining into the lake.  

The river ecosystems of Kerala are worth protecting for future generations.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The State of Sikkim and Buddhism

The State of Sikkim and Buddhism


Ruins of Rabdentse, Ancient capital of Sikkim


Rabdentse was the second capital of the former Kingdom of Sikkim from 1670 to 1814. The capital city was destroyed by the invading Gurkha army and only the ruins of the palace and the chortens are seen here now. The ruins of this city are seen close to Pelling and in West Sikkim district. Pemayangtse Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim which is close to the ruins. From the vantage point of this former capital, superb views of the Khanchendzonga ranges can be witnessed. This monument has been declared as of national importance by the Archaeological Survey of India. It was first established in 1670 by Tensung Namgyal Namgyal by shifting from the first capital of Yuksom that was consecrated in 1642.

The Rabdentse ruins are part of Buddhist religious pilgrimage circuit starting with the first monastery at Yuksom known as the Dubdi Monastery, followed by Norbugang Chorten, Tashiding Monastery, the Pemayangtse Monastery, the Sanga Choeling Monastery, and the Khecheopalri Lake.

The Three Chortens where the Royal family of Sikkim used to offer prayers to their deities at Rabdentse palace are clearly visible among the ruins.  The ruins seen now in Rabdentse consist mainly of "chunky wall stubs" whose heritage value is accentuated by its location on a ridge, near upper Pelling.  The approach to this location is from an ornamental yellow gate near the Pelling–Geyshing road, from where it is a walking distance through forested hills.  

Along the trek path from the gate, an avenue of chestnut trees with sodden moss leads to a stone throne comprising three standing stones called as "Namphogang", which was the pulpit of the judges from where judgments were pronounced during the active days of the king's reign from Rabdentse. Further ahead, the 'Taphap Chorten' is seen in semi ruined condition. This was the entry point to the Palace and people seeking access to the palace had to dismount from their horses and remove their hat as a mark of respect to the King here. The palace ruins are at the centre of the fourth courtyard.

Ancient carved stones with the images of Buddhist deities at a religious shrine among the ruins of Rabdentse Palace

Team IndianWildlifeClub visited the ruins of Rabdentse in February, 2020.  

As you enter Rabdentse, the 'Bird Park' attracts visitors.  In fact more visitors are found at the bird park than at the ruins(which involves a climb!) The bird park has many exotic pheasants in cages.

Yuksom, Sikkim - First Capital of Sikkim


Yuksom was Sikkim’s first capital. Until 1975, when Sikkim became the 22nd Indian state, it was a kingdom ruled by a long line of chogyals or religious kings. It was in Yuksom that this monarchy was born.

Phuntsog Namgyal became the first “fountain head of secular and religious power”, giving rise to a monarchy that lasted over 300 years. His domain was much larger than the Sikkim known today, and included Darjeeling, parts of Nepal and Bhutan. He set up his capital at Yuksom and established Tibetan Buddhism as the state region.

Geographically, Sikkim is wedged between Tibet to the north, Nepal to the west, and Bhutan to the east. Prone to attacks from many directions, the capital moved several times as a result of invasions or to avoid them. Phuntsog Namgyal’s son Tensung Namgyal first shifted the capital from Yuksom to Rabdentse in 1670. In the late 18th century, it shifted to Tumlong, and finally to present-day capital, Gangtok, in 1894.

42 kms from Pelling town, the Norbugang coronation site still exists today. Strung with prayer flags, the complex houses a prayer hall, a large prayer wheel, a white stupa, and the coronation throne. Made of stacked stones, the rough-hewn throne sits under a large pine tree, with four seats, one for each of the three  patron saints or Lamas

Beliefs swirl around the complex: the chorten (stupa) contains soil and water from across Sikkim; The gifts bestowed on the first king are all buried in the stupa; water from the nearby Kathok pond was sprinkled upon Phuntsog Namgyal during the consecration, and so on. 

A holy lake known as Kuthok Lake, a serene lake, is also linked to the history of the place. During winter one can see migratory birds using the clean lake as a transitory site.
Yuksum (Yuksom) lies on the southern fringes of the Kanchenjunga National Park. The word 'Yuksum' means meeting point of the three lamas. Yuksum is also the starting point for the popular Dzongri Goecha La trek along with being a gateway to the Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve, making it a year-round stopover for tourists, scientists, photographers, conservationists and naturalists from the world over.

The Norbugang Chorten and the Norbugang throne are visited as part of Buddhist religious pilgrimage circuit involving the Dubdi Monastery, Pemayangtse Monastery, the Rabdentse ruins, the Sanga Choeling Monastery, the Khecheopalri Lake, and the Tashiding Monastery


Buddhism- A journey Ravangla in Sikkim to Sonada in West Bengal


Team IndianWildlifeClub on a journey from Ravangla to Sonada.   Ravangla or Rawangla or Ravongla is a small tourist town situated at an elevation of 8000 ft in South Sikkim. It lies between Pelling and Gangtok, about 65 km from Gangtok.  Sonada is in West Bengal.

Buddha Park of Ravangla, is also referred to as Tathagata Tsal.  Constructed between 2006 and 2013, the Park features a 130-foot (40 m) high statue of the Buddha.  THE park was built to mark the 2550th birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha.  
The statue was consecrated in 2013 by the 14th Dalai Lama, and became a stop on the ‘Himalayan Buddhist Circuit’. 
The beautiful statue of Sakyamuni Buddha (Buddha belonged to the Shakya clan of Kshtriyas)with half closed eyes and hands in the Dharmachakra mudra attracts lots of tourists to this spot. There are about 100 steps that one needs to climb to reach the base of the statue. 
Dharmachakra in Sanskrit means the ‘Wheel of Dharma’. It symbolises the occasion when Buddha delivered a sermon to his disciples for the first time after attaining enlightenment, in the Deer Park in Sarnath.  In this mudra the thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle or the Wheel of Dharma symbolising the union of wisdom and method. The three remaining fingers of the two hands remain extended. The three extended fingers of the right hand represent the three vehicles of the Buddha’s teachings-  the middle finger represents the ‘hearers’ of the teachings – the ring finger represents the ‘solitary realizers’ – the little finger represents the Mahayana or ‘Great Vehicle’ The three extended fingers of the left hand symbolize the Three Jewels of Buddhism, namely, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The hands are held in front of the heart, symbolizing that these teachings are straight from the Buddha’s heart.

The entire stretch of the outer wall comprises of beautiful Buddhist prayer wheels.

The eco-garden at the Park was also built in 2006,  to commemorate the birth anniversary of Buddha. This would also be a landmark in Sikkim’s unique effort to promote pilgrimage tourism.
The photographs of the main Mudras of Buddhism were taken at Sonada, in Darjeeling, West Bengal.  
Sonada Monastery lies between Ghoom and Kurseong.  
Elevated at an altitude of 6143ft Sonada houses a magnificent monastery Samdrup Darjay Choling Monastery where the body of His Eminence the Venerable Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche has been preserved as a Kardung making Sonada a scared place for the Buddhist pilgrim.


Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim - Vajrayana Buddhism


Team IndianWildlifeClub visited the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim in February,2020.   The Rumtek Monastery is one of the largest and most significant monasteries in Sikkim.  it is perched on top of a hill 23 km from Gangtok.    
It is also called as the Dharmachakra Centre.
The glorious Rumtek Monastery houses a beautiful shrine temple and a monastery for the monks which were established with the aim of spreading the Buddhist teachings around the world. 
Verdant green mountains surround the monastery and thus serves as a visual treat besides being a focal point for spiritual solace. If you climb on top to the Rumtek Monastery, you can have a breathtaking view of the whole Gangtok town situated right opposite the hill. Besides this, the architecture of the striking monastery is one of the finest in the world.
The monastery belongs to the Kargyu sect of Buddhists who originated in Tibet in the 12th century. The Karma Kagyu school belongs to the Vajrayana branch of Mahayana Buddhism.

The gompa, an epitome of Tibetan architecture, was designed by the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje himself based on his memories of the Tsurphu Monastery of Tibet, the original headquarter of the Black Hat order. Tsurphu was completely destroyed by Chinese authorities in 1966.
Built in the 1960s, the monastery is the main seat of the Karma Kagyu, a sect within the Nyingma school of Buddhism that originated around the 12th century in Tibet.

Vajrayana Buddhism has many rituals.  

Between February to March, which is the end of lunar year’s 12th month, there is an organization of 10day rituals for Mahakala protector. This is followed by the sacred tradition dance of the Mahakala. Monks dress up in the colorful attires and wear to dance with the traditional instruments. You will be surprised to find that how they go into some kind of trance with the beats. Since this is one of the ritual dances, they only have well-trained dancers.

Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism and the two main branches of Buddhism. I requested Mohit, research assistant in Buddhism studies at IGNCA, New Delhi to explain in brief the progression of Buddhism as it spread out from India.  I have included a talk by him to put the visuals in perspective.  

In view of the  COVID-19 linked locked down,  Mohit recorded the talk and sent the audio to be added.

The empowerment of the prayer music in the dance comes from compassion, concentration and mindfulness.  Buddhism asks all of us to turn the wheel of Dharma for all sentient beings(human and non human alike) 



Here is a video to give a perspective of Buddhism as a religion in India
2500 Years Ago Buddhism Originated in India


Worshiping nature or wild animals is part of many tribal and localized religions.  However 2500 years ago a visionary religion called Buddhism originated  in India which based itself not in worship but in compassion for all living creatures including man.

Buddhism is a spiritual practice born out of nature and all living beings. It originated in India nearly 2500 years ago. A belief system based on compassion, Gautama Buddha preached under a tree where the jungle animals also heard him.

 Antelopes, elephants, lions, monkeys and a stag are seen among the audience

Documenting Buddhism nearly 1000 years later in the Ajanta caves, Buddhist art peaked telling Jataka tales. These were tales of compassion told through Bodhisatwas(earlier incarnations of Buddha as various animals). The Jataka tales treated humans and animals as one universe (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) capable of communicating with each other.  The sculptures at Ajanta caves depict Buddha in meditating poses.

The Viharas discovered alongside provided spaces for Buddhist monks to lead a sparatn life of meditation. From the vantage point of the caves they could also exhort the common people to follow the Buddhist principles of "Buddham, Sangham Gachami" (I go to Buddham or higher consciousness for refuge;  I go to Sangham -community-for refuge).  By the time the caves were unearthed from a jungle by a British man in 1819,  the practice of Buddhism had all but vanished from India.  But Buddhism was firmly established as a major religion in many other countries.

Why did Buddhism decline in the nation where it was born?  A researcher in IGNCA (Indira Gandhi national Centre for Art)  had some explanations as given in the video.   

Friday, May 1, 2020

Darjeeling, West Bengal

Kanchenjunga at Tiger Hill, Darjeeling - a celebration to share
https://youtu.be/Gj0tv9tcui8

Near Darjeeling is a short and otherwise unremarkable hill. It is possible to walk up to the summit or hire a jeep to get there. Some even spend the night on or near this elevated place,  so as to catch the early morning sunrays on Khanjenjunga.

Tiger Hill offers a spectacular view of Kanchenjunga, that third highest summit on earth and peoples from far and near assemble to witness the sun strike, not just that lofty summit, but also the dawn awakening of the Himalayas. Due to the elevation of Kanchenjunga and the curvature of the earth, the sun touches here before lighting the lower Himalaya summits to the east. Residents of the area had long held this belief of first light to be true for thousands of years before the first man stood on the summit of Kanchenjunga(actually six metres below the summit in deference to local sentiments) and realized it was true.

Therefore, you have a magic place and a magic moment and an experience best shared. The dawn at Tiger Hill takes on a carnival atmosphere. There are men banging drums and those playing pipes. First, the cold wind stirs chill air and the many prayer flags begin to flutter then the crowd grows almost silent before the moment. Till then the darkness of 4 am is broken by cries of "Coffee" for those braving the chill.  The rising sun tips the summit with gold then blushes rose, the day has begun. Manmade music rises again as those around begin to dance, chant and worship. There are smiles on all the faces and the cold morning long forgotten.



Red Panda--the cutest animal in India
https://youtu.be/09WLeCLfbx4

The red panda is a small arboreal mammal found in the forests of India, Nepal, Bhutan and the northern mountains of Myanmar and southern China. ... In India, it is found in Sikkim, western Arunachal Pradesh, Darjeeling district of West Bengal and parts of Meghalaya. It is also the state animal of Sikkim.
- WWF India

Meeting the red panda in person, remains another beautiful memory of my visit to Darjeeling.  Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park also known as Darjeeling zoo has successful captive breeding programs of Red Pandas in India.  The Darjeeling Zoological Park, West Bengal is well maintained, has many animals in cages and some in open areas with moats all around.  The red panda has pride of place with maximum area allotted and obviously is a big draw.