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Sunday, 30 March 2014

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The Tibetan patriot

Tibetan S.Mahinda Thera's name is a household name today in Sri Lanka. He lines up with the top patriots of the island and classes in schools, on days such as the Independence day are redolent with the sentiments expressed in his poems aimed at rousing national frenzy.

Time when his ideas and sentiments sizzled was somewhere in the mid 20th century though he still continues to glow among the Sinhala Buddhist populace. But few seem to be aware that he hails from a distant country named Sikkim that constitutes the 22nd State of India or Bharatha Desha and that his anti-colonial feelings had already got baked there. That needs some explanation.


Ven. S. Mahinda Thera.

If one gets curious as to what energised the young Tibetan Bhikkhu who came from Sikkim to get into a fit of preserving the identity of the island race, what was happening in Sikkim at the time he left these snowy Himalayan foothills provides the answer. Sikkim was on its way to losing her identity under the boots of imperialism and the boy, Pempa Thendupi Serki Cherin (Mahinda Thera's lay name )was too small to retaliate. What did he do? Once coming over to Lanka on a scholarship granted by king of Sikkim, on the request of his elder brother, he transposed all his national sentiments on to the Sinhala race.

It is indeed a unique story and it even seems to confuse the suppositions that are ingrained in the concepts of nationalism. To put things more clearly one need not be born a Sinhala Buddhist to carry the bandwagons for that identity.

How Serki the boy who was unable to wage the battle against the imperialists in his own country due to his kinsmen being too bonded to the White rulers let out his frustrations here is evident. This needs examining the social structure of Sikkim.with its affinity to Tibet, adding on the prefix Tibetan to Mahinda thera. Culture wise and religion-wise Sikkim was very similar to our country.

It was a Buddhist country inhabited by two clans, Lepchas and the Bhutias. Life went on with the two clans living in harmony while drums gonged in temples and echoed around the gorgeous Himalayan range..

The sonorous chants of saffron robed monks added to the native ethos of the environment.

Imperialists

From the 17th century however had seeped in a new race to India, first in the form of a trading company ie. the British East India Company. Local rulers were in disarray and the foreigners found a vast hunting ground to fatten their resources. One by one states of India fell into their hands as the Company got the blessings of the State of England too. Sikkim was soon to succumb but not rapidly. The clans held fast to their native bonds and then the imperialists performed their famous tricks. Hindu Gorkhas from Nepal were brought in large numbers and dissension set in. A House Divided is an easy prey. Sikkim was sinking.

Its main city, Darjeeling was made into a holiday resort for the English men. Sikkim's total eclipse as a separate state however came after India gained her independence. Riots began and Indian armies aided by the Nepalese quelled the riots that ended with an India-Sikkim agreement. Sikkim became a protectorate of India but by that time one of its most brilliant citizens was here in Sri Lanka composing verses for his books such as Nidahase Dahana (mantram of independence) to arouse sleeping Lankans from their lazy slumbers.

He left Sikkim in a very confused state of its history. Many are under the belief that Mahinda Thera was an orphan handed over to Mahabodhi Sociey to be sent to Ceylon. But actually he had belonged to a very well-known and affluent family in Sikkim. His father had headed a large Buddhist temple named Gutiabasthi Vihara that by its very name implies that it catered to the two main clans of Sikkim. This temple had been later shifted since its drums disturbed rituals of a church built in the proximity to cater to the Westerners. His elder brother had been a lecturer at Calcutta University who after the father's death came back to head a prestigious school where the son of the king of Sikkim himself had studied. This son was later to go on to Oxford.

State decree

But the clouds were already gathering around the independent boy, Serkey (Mahinda). He felt which way the winds were blowing.

The identity of Sikkim was at stake. A State decree stipulated that Buddhism and Tibetan culture should do their exit from the school curriculum. The king himself had got brainwashed and was under obligation to the British who has sent his son overseas.

One fine day Serkey (Mahinda, that was the name given after he came here and got enrobed) and his brother vanished from the school headed by the elder brother.

They were brought back. At this time Ven. Ganathiloka, the German monk who was residing at Polgasduwa off Hikkaduwa was on a visit to Sikkim. Perhaps he was responsible for sending the boy over here for a Buddhist education on a scholarship that endowed six rupees for sustenance for a whole year! Sikkim today according to sources is so different from what it was originally. The Buddhist Lipta clan is almost non-existent. And the Nepalese Buddhists come over are today mostly Catholics. Gangtok, the capital is almost a Christian city.

What happened to the royal dynasty that had held sway in Sikkim for centuries? No they were not deported to Vellore as done here. They stayed on in Sikkim utterly powerless till the one who had claims to the rights to the throne passed away in 1977 under mysterious circumstances. Some ascribe it to a motor accident. His father, Thendup Namgyal, school mate of Mahinda Thera the last reigning monarch of Sikkim like Sri Wickrema had even a stranger history. He had succumbed to the charms of a female American missionary busy converting local Gusthis and Lepchas and married her. They were allowed to live in the palace even after the political changes. But after the crown prince's death things became too unbearable and the whole family shifted to New York.

Cancer

There his wife left him for another and the ex-king had died all alone having succumbed to cancer. The king had another son, who was the second heir to the throne but he got so disillusioned by all what was happening that he took to robes and retreated to a hermitage.

Two children born later to the American wife of the king, named Hope and Paldane are said to still live in America.

More strangely they are said to be strongly resistant to American influences and have found life mates of Sikkim nationality.

Even the relations of S. Mahinda Thera continue to live in Kalingphone of Sikkim and continue as fervent Buddhists, some even taking to robes. It was they who had supplied much information to Missaka Kamalasiri Thera, who has written one whole book encasing these facts.

The truth is stronger than fiction. But how much the beautiful snowy slopes of the Himalayas miss the sacred gongs of Buddhist Sikkim is only left to guesswork. And one boy who was disenchanted with the way his country was going, thought it fit to demonstrate his anti-imperialist feelings in his adopted country of Sri Lanka.

 

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