Experts have installed special cabinets to avoid wear and tear using chemical fumigation
The The tourism industry in the Darjeeling hill areas is likely to receive a massive boost after the Intach’s West Bengal chapter in association with the Tibetan experts has effected a complete renovation of more than the century-old Mag Dhog Buddhist monastery in the hills.
It has taken Intach (Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage) several months of meticulous work to complete the preservation and restoration job in the monastery that was badly damaged in the 2011 earthquake.
Located at a place called Aloobari, some 3kms away from Chowrasta in Darjeeling town, the original name of this monastery is Mak Dhog Monastery. It was dedicated to world peace because the construction of this monastery began when the world was in the grip of the First World War in the early 20th century. The monastery features several statues including that of Buddha and the sage Padmasambhava who was the key man in ushering in Buddhism in Tibet and Bhutan.
Among the traits that make this monastery an attractive destination for the tourists are lovely forested areas of pine trees on the top and tea gardens that hem this temple below. Run by Yolmowa Buddhist Association, this monastery was founded by head priest of the community Sangay Lama who was widely believed to have hailed from Helambu( land of the Yolmos) in Nepal. The literal meaning of Mak Dhog is to ward off war or danger that threatens peace. Hence, shortly after its construction was over, it was dedicated to world peace.
Interestingly, Hinduism is the predominant religion in the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong and there have been a plethora of temples of Hindu gods and goddesses dotting the hill region. A vast majority of the Nepalese and Bengalis here are Hindus. And Buddhism is the next most widely practised religion in the hills.
The spread of Buddhism in the hills and adjoining areas has an interesting history. A huge influx of Tibetan refugees over the years in Darjeeling took place when China invaded Tibet and annexed it. These Tibetans are mostly Buddhists who had begun construction of many a wonderful monastery, some dating back to 1800s. Within the Buddhists, there are several sects like the Yellow Hat, Red Hat, Kargyupa and others. And each monastery belongs to a specific sect. There has been a lot of influence of Buddhism that has come to this part of the world from Tibet. Many of the monasteries in Darjeeling are built in traditional Tibetan style.
Christians are a minority group who has their roots to British colonial time. They too have built several lovely churches, some of which were constructed during the British Raj days.
During mid-February to mid-March, the monks at the Buddhist Monasteries fly the prayer flags in typical Tibetan tradition, hold folk dances and other religious activities to welcome the Tibetan New Year which is known as the Losar. In Tibetan Buddhism, a monastery or the community chapel is often known as the Gumpha. Other than a statue of Buddha, one will also find a separate place or a suit inside the Gumpha that is reserved for His Holiness Dalai Lama along with his picture.
The quakes in 1934, 1986 and 2011 had damaged several parts of Darjeeling, particularly some monasteries. Mak Dhog was one of them and it was after the series of quakes that Intach stepped in to undertake the work of restoration and preservation. After surveying the extent of damage, Intach dispatched a team of restorers early March. “ The restoration work has been undertaken since the monastery houses several important relics and items of spiritual value from the early part of the 19th century,” explained GM Kapoor.
According to him, the phase one of the restoration work has been completed. In phase one, experts have restored vital manuscripts such as Gyetongba which is written in gold and Kagyur(Tripitaka) which are all considered to be Lord Buddha’s oral teachings. Then, 156 other manuscripts, 21 wooden masks, 127 wooden plaques and four mud idols have been restored. In the second phase, the work of which will shortly start, thankas, murals, musical instruments and relics would be taken up for restoration.
However, Intach has been hamstrung by an acute absence of experts who are capable of restoring the interior murals. “Because of their exquisite and intricate work, people not familiar with the background of these murals would not be able to handle the job,” said N T Palchoudhury, Intach Co-Convener (Bengal). “What is important is that these murals inside contain herbal painting material and are more than a century old. Secondly, they depict life and afterlife, the cycle as per Buddhism. Unless the person restoring them is familiar with all this, it’ll be a quite a task to give these murals a new look,” she explained.
Intach experts have installed special cabinets to avoid wear and tear using chemical fumigation. Experts would make annual visits to study and assess the need to undertake further restoration work. “We’re extremely grateful to Intach for the restoration of the monastery relics,” said head monk Phurba Thinley.
Another important monastery that the Tibetans in Darjeeling are proud of is the Bhutia Busti Monastery which is located at some 1.5 km walking distance from the famous Mall. It was earlier located at the Observatory Hill. Originally built in 1761, the monastery went through repeated ill fates as a result of which it had to be relocated to its present location. Considering its original foundation, this is the oldest Buddhist Monastery in Darjeeling. This apart, there is Old Ghum Monastery which was built in 1850 and is one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Darjeeling area.
The main attractions here include a huge statue of Maitreya or Future Buddha that was created with clay brought from Tibet.
The view around is unbelievably breathtaking.
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