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Buddhism Drew Many Mongolians to India

April 19, 2009

Written by Jack Sabharwal
UB Post (Mongolia)
April 17, 2009.

The Mongolian community, which existed in Kalimpong, India, beginning
in the 1950s, was almost a continuation (as well as much smaller
version) of the Mongolian community in pre-Communist Tibet,
especially in Lhasa. Contact between the Mongols and Tibet is said to
have started during Chinggis Khaan's time. Although Buddhism used to
flourish in Mongolia during the reign of Chinggis Khaan, and even
more while his grandson Kublai khan was in power, "the good time did
not last for long". Thus, the meeting of Altan Khaan and Sonam Gyasto
in 1578 becomes the real beginning of Buddhism in all parts of
greater Mongolia.

Sonam Gyatso was a head of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism and
was later recognized as the third Dalai Lama.

In fact, the title "Dalai Lama" was give for the very first time to
Sonam Gyatso at the above-mentioned meeting.

There were always special communities of Mongol monks wherever there
were larger Buddhist institutions in Tibet. In some important
monasteries in Tibet, some sections were specially established for
Buddhist students from all over greater Mongolia.

This gradually become a tradition, at least in some of the major
institutions in Tibet, such as Kumbum, Labrang, Drepung, Sera and
Gandan, and many more. India and Tibet were considered among the
Mongols as "burhanii-oron", meaning "the land of the Buddha". Thus,
Mongol pilgrims who would go to Tibet would often extend their
journey into the holy sites of India.

Darjeeling and Kalimpong, India, are located on a former trading
route that connected the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan
and India, making the two cities important centers of commerce.
Kalimpong also became an academic center as a number of the foremost
scholars of Himalayan culture from all over the world chose to reside
there. There were some Tibetans living in Darjeeling and Kalimpong
even before the Chinese invasion of Tibet. A few Mongols were there
as well. After 1959, many Tibetan refugees settled down in Darjeeling
and Kalimpong. Most of the Mongols who accompanied Tibetans to India
had settled down in Kalimpong. These Mongols mostly were monks, but
later some of them got married, and gradually formed a special
community of Mongols.

There were some very talented scholars among them as well as some
high-ranking lamas, religious leaders and noble families. Mongolian
scholars such as Da-Lama, Rigzin Wangpo, Geshe Wanggyal, Geshe
Kaldan, Geshe Agwang Nima, Lama Chimpa, and many others played
important roles in academic activities in Kalimpong. For instance,
Lama Chimpa assisted Russian scholar Dr. George Roerich in compiling
a large Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionary. Some Mongols were invited to
teach at famous Indian institutions such as Benares Hindu University
in Varanasi, India, the International Academy of Indian Culture in
both New Delhi and Nagpur, and Delhi University. Those Mongols who
remained monks lived in Tibetan monasteries elsewhere. For instance,
Mongol monks had done important works during the restoration of
Dre-pung Gomang, one of the most important Tibetan monasteries in
southern India.

Something also worth mentioning about the Mongols community in India
is that they gave great importance to the education of their next
generations. For example, Tohtoh, who later immigrated to the US and
became one of the founders of the Mongol-American Cultural
Association, was a brilliant student of the Central School for
Tibetans in Mussorie, India.

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