A Pilgrimage to Tawang by Verrier Elwin

A Pilgrimage to Tawang by Verrier Elwin

Tawang is a picturesque place situated in corner between Bhutan and Tibet. It is famous for a number of reasons. First, for it's Buddhist monastery in a beautiful upland Valley; secondly, because it was the first place of importance, which the Dalai Lama visit when he sought asylum four years ago; and thirdly, because it was captured by that Chinese in 1962 and a later, because it was re-occupied by the lamas and the Indian administrators after a few weeks.

Verrier Elwin and his second wife Lila went to Tawang in the month of May 1956 following the very route, which the Dalai Lama had used, but in the reverse order. Then the only way to travel was on foot or pony; but later a Mountain Road made it more easily accessible.

Tawang being a long way off, they started from Tezpur and drove to Charduar at the foot of the mountains and then upwards by the car towards Bomdila. The Dalai Lama had been greeted by 200 journalists when he had arrived at Tezpur; he head also travelled by jeep between charduar and bomdila. However, Elwin and Leela had to abandon their vehicle about 28 miles beyond Charduar after a steep climb of 8000 feet. Then, they went on food and pony along a narrow bridlepath. The best things about this path was that it led them through lovely scenic valleys, hills, streams and sacred shrines; the worst was that they had to endure the stings of dimdam flies and had to ride ponies alone extreme edges of precipices.

Elwin regards this journey, to be one of the most memorable adventure NEFA has to offer. He gives us a vivid description of the beautiful countryside and opines that if there is a Paradise in NEFA, it is this valley. It is followed by a detailed description of the local dress, which they don in preparation of their pilgrimage in the mids of the snow clad mountains.

In the next few paragraph, we are given a description of the Dirang Valley inhabited by the monpa tribe: their faith, custom and traditional. From bomdila, they were escorted along the river really to Dirang by friends and politics officer rs Nag and a young anthropologist sachin. Dirang is home to the Monpa tribe of NEFA. Buddhist by religion, there were several Buddha temples. Great prayer wheels and grindstones where work or rotated by water and along with the flags fluttering in breeze,repeated endlessly their sacred words: OM MANI PADME HUM. Their houses were two storied stone buildings stone nestled the Hills on both the blanks of the river. The house where they put up was a small Temple, which stood above an old fort or dzong, situated in the middle of the village. It had a small library and the room in which they slept had several small idols of the buddha. Elwin found the experience of sleeping under the gaze of statues unique; It was not considered wrong or disrespectful to occupy space along with the Buddha and he understood that Buddhist religion was not considered apart from life. They met the Abbot of Tawang whom Verrier describes as gentle, courteous, simple and luminous with inner joy. The local people gave them a ceremonious welcome with local dignitaries and a band of trumpeters and drummers in attendance. Each place they crossed had the same welcome for them and Elwin describes in colourful detail about the way the Monpa tribe showed their hospitality towards visitors. He also mentions their habit of sticking out their tongue as a way of greeting. His impression of the tribe was a favourable one: they were courteous, gentle and friendly.

The same ceremonial welcome was extended to them at Sinzedong, a plateau under the Se La Mountains, where the Dalai Lama had halted on his journey. They crossed the sela pass, which is 14000 feet high and came across twin lakes called the Eyes of God. It rained as they crossed the parts and climbed Halfway down the other side where at a height of  Meetha Naam 20000 feet the monpas constructed their tiny tent like a bower of flowers. Though beautiful, they spend a very cold night and the next day proceeded to Tawang 20 miles away. They got their first glimpse of the monastery while there were 15 miles away. It stood on the hillside like a huge ship 10000 feet above sea level. When they arrived, the villagers and the Prior with some senior monks resplendent in their ceremonial robes  and hats accorded them a ceremonial welcome.

The following paragraph of the essay are devoted to a description of the monastery. It had a huge countryard and the main temple contained a huge statue of the Buddha along with smaller images. Here they witnessed the mahayana types of Buddhism with strong tantric elements. He saw images of Demons, great saints, temple hanging Bells, scrolls, flags, and lights, human thigh bones used as trumpets, rich carpets and the traditional artificial lights, which illuminated the temple in a rich and sombre magnificence. Since the next day was Buddha purnima 24 May, the 2,500 birth anniversary of the Buddha the monks were sitting in long rows in the temple chanting prayers.

The monastery had a library, which possessed rare Buddhist scriptures, called the Getompa, consisting of 8 volumes-three of which are lettered in gold. Of the 700 books, some were hand written and some printed. The Lamas revered books even though they may not be able to read it. On days of festival scred books were carried in processions around the village. In the library, they were offered strange but pleasant dishes and butter tea, a speciality of the area, while they watched dances performed in honour of the festival.

The monastery reminded Elwin of Oxford and Cambridge. We observed similarities between them, as there was the same casual atmosphere which concealed much dignity and protocol. There were norrow streets dividing tall houses where the monks lived in cells. The monastery had a common room where the lamas decided on monastic policy and affairs. It had a hug kitchen with enormous teapots; paved countryard, where many horse roamed it will. the basement below had a library and served as a storeman for ceremony custumes and if printing press as well. printing was laborious process, which required each page to be carved separately old wooden blocks.

Always interested in buddhism, Elwin concluded that those few weeks had brought definite change in his life; he considered it a step toward spiritual realization.

Textual Questions

1. Describe Elwin's journey to Tawang.
2.Views Elwin's essay as travel literature.
3. Why does Elwin call his journey to Tawang a Pilgrimage ?
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