Two Events, Few People, and the Lama Who Speaks Bengali

So far in Darjeeling I have attended two ceremonies which are purely Buddhist in nature; one Tibetan, one Sikkimese but both follow the same tradition of Vajrayana. My office is below the railway station from where there is a shortcut to my house but on most of the days I take the longer route via chowrasta. Life is pretty lonely here, especially after sunset. So I try to linger outside as much as possible after office. It was last week when I was going home from work when I saw this little notice outside Kunga Restaurant. The Tibetan Himalayan Buddhist Women Association was organising the yearly puja of Devi Tara at the local community hall. And I knew I had to attend this. I knew where the community hall was but the problem was something else. I am a pure chickenshit when it comes to unknown or new social situation, let alone barge into some community ceremony uninvited; even though I was almost sure they wouldn’t mind. Still I called up my landlord Mr. S and requested him to introduce me there. As it turned out he had some known faces there as well (I was not surprised exactly) so the whole process went pretty smoothly. And the next morning I was on my way with a bag full of cookies, fruit juice and khata (the traditional ceremonial scarf) to the community hall. Food was offered, khata was hung, and butter lamp was lit wishing for happiness of the loved ones. Then sitting amidst the elderly ladies of the local Tibetan community while munching on yu-shang bhaley and sipping butter tea I heard the story behind the whole festival from Mrs. G, a jovial middle aged Tibetan lady accepting donations from visitors. This puja of Jetsun Dolma or goddess Tara takes place every year during the month of July. This year it got delayed owing to the turbulence. Monks from various monasteries of Darjeeling gather here to perform the whole ceremony which is organised by the elderly ladies of the Tibetan community here. The organisation runs purely on donation which is spent on the meal they offer there throughout the day, including the bhaley and tea I was having. I felt it was only appropriate if I too made some contribution, which was graciously accepted.






The second invitation came as unexpectedly as the previous one. Mr. B is a retired employee of my office who hails from the Sikkimese Bhutia community. It was admiration at first sight when he had first come to meet on my first day at work. A devout Buddhist and a thoroughly learned man, he exhibits the quintessential charm of a good-natured Sikkimese which I am so fond of. So it was no wonder at the very next chance I would be seen trotting my way to his house down at the Bhutia Busty just off the mall. The afternoon spent at his house was the best time I had in Darjeeling till now. He has a separate prayer room which is pretty much a mini version of monastery itself. We had long chats on Buddhism, Sikkim, Tibetan culture and I devoured his words with utmost attention. Not to mention he told me the story of his nephew who is the head lama at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. I wanted to visit the local monastery with him but then he said I must visit the next day as they were organising Tsechu there. Tsechu is the festival that celebrates the birth of Guru Rinpoche. And there I was, at the monastery – my second social event within the same week. This time I was sitting at the hall of the monastery surrounded by the relatives and neighbours of Mr. B, feeling overwhelmed by their hospitality. I was introduced to a very old lama there who, to my surprise, hails from Calcutta, and can speak Bengali. He was overjoyed to converse with me and even sang an old Bengali Kishore Kumar number to prove how well he knew the language. When I requested him for a picture he posed like such a pro that would give us a run for our money. However, Bhutia Busty Monastery has a long history which will require a separate post.






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