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In Conversation With Reach Ladakh

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In Conversation with Tashi Rabgias
By Reach Ladakh Correspondent, Friday, October 18, 2013

Leh: Tashi Rabgias, a well-known scholar and historian of Ladakh, was born in the Tukchu family of Sakti village. In his tastefully done, sunny living room, Tashi sits pretty cheerful. Undaunted by his age, 86, he is a ‘vast bank of knowledge’ and sharp intelligence. He devoted himself to Buddhist philosophy and its ways of life at a very early age. Many initiatives in research and other areas about Ladakh have benefited from him as he is an expert not only in Tibetan (Bhoti) language but also in English language, besides being a scholar of the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.

Tashi  was the first Personal Assistant to 1st Deputy Minister from Ladakh, the late H.H. Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, from 1953 to 1958, in the J&K Government. He has also worked as an Asstt. Editor / Cultural Officer, Gangtok (Sikkim). From 1960 to 1962, he was incharge, Ladakhi Programmes, Radio Kashmir Srinagar. He was appointed as lecturer, Buddhist Studies, Delhi University in 1963. He also worked as Information Officer, J&K Government from 1964 to 1982. He is also the founder President, Ladakh Cultural Forum, Leh. Besides, he has been the Secretary, Ladakh Buddhist Association for 7 years from 1964 to 1970; and member, General Council , Sahitya Academy, New Delhi, from 1998 to 2000.

Tashi also worked as Education Officer in Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LeDeG), an NGO. He is also one of the founding members of International Association for Ladakh Studies.

He has a Chair in the name of Gyalwa Lungchen Rabjam who was a famous Nyingma head. The Chair is dedicated to him by the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies in recognition of his services to Buddhist studies.

Q.Ladakh region hopes to protect its culture that many fear it is changing rapidly with the boom in tourism. What is tour take?

A.I have been asked this question many times. When we ask what cultural preservation is, I understand culture has to be living and vibrant, not dead. Preservation means to protect what is dying or dead.

Our culture is based on Mahayana Culture and Mahayana Culture is not a weak culture that you can wipe out. It is a very sound and vast culture. There are some bad customs that developed later on which have now become rigid. These kinds of customs need to be purified or wiped out. We should learn about our culture and go by it in our daily life.

Coming to the tourism point, you never know who is influencing whom. It is possible that we could influence them by our rich culture; and in fact we are doing that. Tourists come to Ladakh to see our culture and they are very impressed; and that means we are influencing them by showing our rich culture to them. And they form a general opinion about Ladakhis that we are all innocent and peace-loving.
We should not worry much; but at the same time we should not be so careless enough to say that we have the Mahayana culture and nothing can destroy it. Doing nothing about our culture is also wrong as it will die one day if we become careless.
Q.Tell us about the book Kunsel Melong. What prompted you to write it? And for whom?

A.It is about the history of Ladakh including its dynasty, monasteries and many other aspects. Kunsal Melong is a mirror which clearly shows what happened in the past in Ladakh. When we look at the history of Western culture/ modern scientific culture, what we find is mostly political history. It does not have any economic or religious history. The book Kunsal Melong takes you to the pre-history period to 1947. And I believe that after 1947, it is not history. There has to be a gap between history and the current period. The history of Ladakh is great and it is more ‘surprising’ than even that of Lhasa. The book has the details of the Dogra period, including kings like Gulab Singh, Ranbir Singh, Pratap Singh and Hari Singh. The book also contains many other aspects like the Buddha's teachings, economy, dynasty, religious history etc.

Many Tibetans think that Ladakh was under the rule of Tibet; but our stand always has been that we were never under the Tibetans; Ladakh has been an independent region all through its existence.
Many things prompted me into writing the book. One was my keen interest; if you have interest in any work, you can do justice to that work. And, secondly, when you do a work with keen interest, then your work is almost done. Thirdly, history is a very interesting subject; and when someone tries to discover the history of his own people, it becomes more absorbing. The present work is the result of a long research work which I had the good opportunity to carry out, not in an academic manner, but because of my interest.

I wrote the book for the people of Ladakh, especially for the present generation like you who doesn’t know much about the history of Ladakh.

Q.What changes do you see in Ladakh?

A.Yes, there is a massive change. We can use one word for that --Revolutionary. When we look at the history of Ladakh, we see that our society changed peacefully.But revolution doesn't mean bloodshed, murder or destruction. You can bring about revolutionary changes without shedding blood; but one must know how to go about it.
Change is inevitable and you cannot stop it. Even Buddha advocates change. Buddha says, ‘Nothing remains unchanged for two consecutive moments.’ Everything changes including the earth, the moon and the universe. Closer home, if you see the Indus River from the Choglamsar Bridge for a moment, you will think it is the same Indus; but it is not. The water under the bridge keeps on changing in no time.

Q.But people resist change because change brings with it a lot of difficulties and pain.

A.Change we must, but is it safer to do so with a cultural and historical background. It will, I hope, remind the people of Ladakh how the course of their history was shaped by various trends, events and personalities. It will show how the people of Ladakh were fortunate to be able to follow the Buddha’s teachings of love and compassion, reason and wisdom for about 2000 years without any interruption.
We can, even now, look forward to a more bright future in our great democratic country of India which has rightly adopted a broad secular policy of tolerance towards all communities. It is our duty to strengthen the integrity and security of the whole nation wherein lies the secret of our own happiness and prosperity. We cannot stop change but we can surely give a direction to it.

Q.You also collected many folk songs. Can you tell us about that?

A.Yes, I have collected more than 200 folk songs. I received a Robe of Honour for the collection of 127 folk songs which was published as a book. The award was given by the Art Culture and Language Dept, J & K. I was the first person to receive it. And, later, I composed 80 folk songs.

Q.You have worked in the Information Department as a journalist. How was the journey as a journalist?

A.I used to go to all the HoDs’ office to collect news and ask them about their plan of the year and used to write about that. But with some of them it was very difficult to get the required news as they would have many excuses and would tell me to come “some other day”. But that “some other day” would never come if I do not approach them again!
Nobody appreciated me and my work those days; and also there was no opposition regarding my newsletters. More than a journalist, I was a good letter writer. I used to write many letters for the people who used to come to my place and read them.
Objectivity is what matters when you are a journalist. You should write the truth with facts and figures. It was a nice experience in that sense.

Q.We heard that you published several newsletters known as ‘Yargyas Kongphel’, Temdel Sargyur etc. What was the purpose of those newsletters?

A.It was when I joined the Information Department that Yargyas Konphel was published. It was compulsory to bring out one newsletter known as ‘Khabarnama’. And Yargyas Kongphel was a product of that requirement; and it means development and progress. It was a landscape paper of four pages and it was a monthly newsletter. At that time, we had a cyclostyle machine to bring out this newsletter. Fortunately, at that time, a BPO was opened in Leh and I used to post the newsletters to all the heads of different villages. We used to print 400 copies and it was for free distribution.
The main motive was to bring awareness among the people. There was no other medium at that time; even AIR was not there. The newsletters highlighted the development activities in Ladakh in Bhoti language.

Q.You have a chair in the CIBS in your name as Nyingna Lama. What sort of contributions did you make in the service of Buddha Dharma?

A.When I was the Personal Assistant of Gyalsras Bakula, I gave him the idea that we should write a letter to the Government of India saying that we need a university for Buddhist studies in Ladakh. And he accepted and wrote a letter to Pt. Nehru. And in a short span, Nehru called us to Delhi and asked us what would be taught in the proposed university? We told Nehru that medicine, science, philosophy, literature, poetry and astronomy were the subjects that could be taught. Nehru laughed and said, “It is not astronomy, it is astrology”. And things started moving fast towards the setting up of what is known today as CIBS. That was my contribution to the Buddha Dharma.

•Five books including Natir Puja (1961, play translated from English to Bhoti).
•History of Ladakh from early times to 1947 in Bhoti language. 1st edition-1984, 2nd edition-2006.
•Ancient Futures translated from English to Bhoti language.
•Collection of 127 Ladakhi Folk Songs published in 1970 by Cultural Academy J&K state.
•Collection of articles in English titled, Ladakh Tradition and Change in 2004.
•Collection of 115 original songs written in Bhoti language, titled Jiksten Kuntoo Gawey Lu in 2007.
•Zosgar Tuski Melong1st edition-2003: about the problems of wildlife written in a drama where the characters are wild animals.
•Mangski Ringluks 1st edition-2003- about democracy.
•Sustainable Spirituality in Buddhism in 2009.
•Contributions made for preparing tex-books in Bhoti language for schools in Ldadkh region.


•Robe of Honour – 1971.
•Sahitya Academy Bhasha Samman – 1998.
•1st Zings-tak Award by Ladakh Buddhist Association Youth Wing through the noble hands of H.H. Dalai Lama in May-1999.
•Dogra Rattan – in October, 2007.
•Honour of Citation and cash award was given by Governor of J&K state on the occasion of Golden Jubilee of the Central Institute of Buddhist studies Leh.
•State award-2008 for contribution to literature, history and culture of Ladakh
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