Bylakuppe: A Tibetan 'nation' that grew from 10 to 10,000 people

Bylakuppe: A Tibetan 'nation' that grew from 10 to 10,000 people
Life at Bylakuppe is centred around the Golden Temple.

When Tibetans first arrived at Bylakuppe in Karnataka to escape Chinese attack, they numbered a mere ten. Now the figure has swelled to over ten thousand, making Bylakuppe virtually a Tibetan territory.

Life at Bylakuppe is centred around the Golden Temple. The place attracts thousands of travellers every day who are captivated by the temple with its Buddha statues. Now, the Golden Temple spreads glory as well as divinity all around.

Work on the temple was started by the then Rinpoche (chief monk) 54 years ago. A visitor at the temple is initially greeted by the sight of a courtyard of a three-storey 'L'-shaped building which houses the Buddhist monks. The path to the temple is lined with various shrines. The Golden Temple lies beyond the prayer hall on the left. It is also called 'Padma Sambhava Buddhist Vihara'.

The place and customs

Bylakuppe can be reached from Madikeri via Kushal Nagar. Tibetans, comprising the monks and their kin, reside in a ten-km radius. The place is literally owned by the Tibetans who consider the Golden Temple as their spiritual abode. According to Tibetan custom, the first-born male child should be made a monk. It is these youngsters who are the inmates of the Golden Temple.

The monks are engaged in prayers from daybreak to midnight. All their rituals are attractive and involve joyous celebrations.

Tourists arriving at Bylakuppe between 8 am and 5 pm can enjoy the songs and instrumental music played by the monks.

The three doors

Sunrise at Bylakuppe is marked by the ringing of the bells at Namdroling Monastery which also announces the start of the prayers in Golden Temple. The first group to arrive for the prayers comprises the boys who are yet to be initiated into monkhood. Wearing sleeveless yellow waistcoat and dark brown robe wrapped around, they look like school boys in uniform. They head to the ‘school’ in the temple.

The first monk who arrives at the temple sits under a bell near the main door and rings the bell. Hearing the sound, the monks start reaching the shrine. Two ‘boy monks’ open the main door. The temple has, in fact, three doors – each representing the three states of existence; mind, body and speech. In essence, the three doors symbolize a thinking mind, a body that is engaged in action and speech that reflects one’s thoughts.

The monks pass through all the three doors, which are 12 feet high, into the temple. Pin drop silence prevails in the temple even though the monks number over a thousand. They sit on long carpets laid on the marble floor in front of the Buddha statues. The current Rinpoche recites the prayers written by Padma Sambhava, a Buddhist monk who lived in Tibet during the 18th century. The other monks repeat the lines from a hand book shaped like a palm leaf manuscript. The prayer book is placed on a folded saffron-coloured cloth.

Bylakuppe: A Tibetan 'nation' that grew from 10 to 10,000 people
The monks are engaged in prayers from daybreak to midnight.

After an hour, the main monk holds up a golden dome against the Buddha statue and recites a prayer. The dome is filled with items like apple, pineapple, orange, cherry, rice and sugar candy. After each section of the prayer, a portion of the items are shifted to a bucket. The monks are given a drink during the prayers and they themselves remove the empty bottles from the prayer hall.

Golden Temple has three statues of the Buddha which depict him as Padmasambhava, Sree Buddha and Amitayus. The temple was consecrated by Dalai Lama in 1961 and the monks have been offering prayers to these idols since then. Visitors are not allowed into the temple during prayers, but they can watch the rituals from outside. Photographs can also be clicked.

By 12 noon, the morning prayers end and the monks head to their quarters. The atmosphere which was calm and quiet since day break suddenly comes alive with the Tibetan language echoing all over the place. The visitors are then admitted into the temple. They turn busy clicking the images of the Buddha idols, carpets and other attractions. Often, monks request them to avoid crowding around the Buddha statues for clicking selfies.

Numerous paintings adorn the space around the three Buddha statues. They depict the various divine beings in Buddhist mythology. The area in front of the idols is decorated with lamps, festoons and other items. Incense sticks spread the feel of a Hindu temple.

The Golden Temple is a huge hall with eight big pillars and several windows all around. However, it has only three doors, all of which are on the front side. From the outside, the temple looks like a massive wedding hall. Its name is written as ‘Padma Sambhava Vihara’ in Tibetan, Kannada and Telugu.

Another important building at Namdroling Monastery is a ‘Vihara’ with an image of the Dalai Lama. However, there is no entry for tourists here and the building is opened only during festive occasions.

To explain the presence of Tibetans in a place far away from their native land, one has to go back in time.

Some history

Tibet is geographically a part of China, but the western countries considered it to be a separate entity. The communist government in China had never appreciated this policy. Meanwhile, the Tibetan people declared the Dalai Lama as their ruler. An enraged China decided to annex Tibet.

Buddha had taught his followers to tackle enemies with love and prayers. The Dalai Lama’s followers, ardent Buddhists, could never have resisted a Chinese attack; they scattered. A defenseless Dalai Lama, facing imminent arrest, sought refuge in India. He requested the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to allow him to stay at a place with a cool climate.

Soon, Bylakuppe, 33 km from Madikeri in Kodagu, was selected for the purpose. After sometime, the Lama left Bylakuppe, but several other monks who had accompanied him from Tibet continued there.

Bylakuppe: A Tibetan 'nation' that grew from 10 to 10,000 people
Sunrise at Bylakuppe is marked by the ringing of the bells at Namdroling Monastery which also announces the start of the prayers in Golden Temple.

Padma Norbu Rinpoche, the 11th in the line of Tibetan monks, reached Bylakuppe in 1961. He had just Rs 300 and around ten monks with him. The first structure that came up on the barren hills was a tent. It measured barely 80 sq. ft. in area and the prayers started from there. However, by 1969, the Golden Temple came up.

The Rinpoche, a teacher of Nyingma philosophy, left the world - attained 'parinirvana' - in 2009. However, by that time, the town of Bylakuppe had turned into a thriving Tibetan 'nation' of 10,000 citizens.

There are now four monasteries - Sera, Tashi Lhunpo, Sakya and Namdroling - at the place. Facilities like school, telephone exchange, post office, banks and hotels also have come up.

The monks of Bylakuppe follow the ‘Palyul’ tradition, which is the oldest in Tibetan religion. It is believed to have been started during the time of the Tibetan ruler Trisong Detsen. Monks like Acharya Padma Sambhava, Bodhisatwa Santharakshita and Sankhyamuni Buddha laid its foundation. These teachers gave lessons in Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Athiyoga. It is these teachings that are imbibed by the present day student monks at Namdroling also.

The Rinpoche depicted in the hit film ‘Yodha’ is the same Rinpoche whom the monks at Bylakuppe revere. There are, in fact three Rinpoches in Bylakuppe – Kabje Karmakujan Rinpoche, Kentul Gyang Kang Rinpoche and Mumgsang Kuchan Rinpoche.

During festive occasions, the place comes alive and offer more attractions for visitors. Preparations for the Tibetan New year, which falls in February-March, start by September itself. There are continuous celebrations from September to May. The Sagadava festival is during May-June. It is the ‘national festival’ of Tibetans. Buddha jayanthi falls during June and Dalai Lama’s birthday, in July.

More rituals

In the afternoon, the prayers at Namdroling are accompanied by the recital of bugles. The volume rises steadily as the day passes.

On the premises of the temple are two shops selling decorative items and fancy jewellery manned by monks. A plate with the words ‘teg cheg namdrol shed rab dargeling Golden Temple’ hangs near a door. Prayers from the temple can be heard from afar. They say, “This is nectar which defeats death. It is everlasting and can erase hunger from the face of the earth. It is the remedy for all ailments and a bridge between peoples. It is the path from worries to joy as well as the key to illuminate the mind. During a disaster, it shows the way out.”

The route to Bylakuppe

Regular buses are available from Kasaragod to Sulliya. From there head to Madikeri and Bylakuppe. On the Bengaluru-Mysuru route, head to Kushalnagar, which is the main commercial center of Kodagu. From here, travel to Gundikoppe, Godde Hosuru and Koppa. Take a right deviation from Koppa to reach Namdroling, where several lodges and restaurants await visitors.

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