January 26, 2015
The road into the Vihar has been lined in soft orange and cream satins embellished with gold sequins, and just after the gate into the Vihar, a large Dharma wheel has been chalked on the red carpeting. Nearby are a group of five male dancers with tall brocade hats and their maroon and white striped stoles. Just behind them wait five Ladakhi ladies, wearing their distinctive clothing and headdress—a wide turquoise studded wave that dips down over their forehead to end in a single beautiful stone. They carry long-spouted brass pitchers of liquor, the traditional offering of welcome in the Himalayan region. In the courtyard, about four hundred ordained and lay people wait before an open area reserved for the dance performances. Just beyond it, an elevated pavilion has been set up with a throne for the Gyalwang Karmapa, net to which is a shrine with an impressive three-foot Buddha statue lined below with the traditional seven offering bowls and a butter lamp.
Minutes before two o’clock, the distant sound of a siren becomes audible. Soon the Karmapa’s car pulls up and he steps out to the welcome of dancers, the enchanted sound of the shehnai (a north Indian oboe), and two sets of double kettle drums. Walking to the ceremonial plaque that has been set up with a curtain and a kata, he pulls the string to reveal gold letters carved into a coal black stone: “The Ladakh Buddhist Vihara was inaugurated by His Holiness the XVII Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje on the 26th of January, 2015 at 2 pm in the presence of Ven. Lobzang Tashi, President of the Himalayan Buddhist Association, Tsewang Thinles, President Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) Leh, Ladakh/General Secretary Himalayan Buddhist Association.”
The Karmapa then walks up a few steps to the veranda of the finished building and cuts a bright orange ribbon tied across the door to one of the new rooms. Thinking of what would be useful to Ladakhi pilgrims, the planners have equipped each room with an attached bath and a kitchen. The Karmapa then turns and moves to the pavilion where he lights a lamp in front of the Buddha before taking his seat on the throne.
The Karmapa is accompanied by the young Druppön Dechen Rinpoche, who has a special connection with Ladakh. His previous incarnation, who was a great practitioner, built monasteries there and in 2000, the present one was born in Changthang Nyuma, Ladakh. At the age of two, he was recognized by the Karmapa and at four, the yangsi went to Rumtek Monastery, beginning his studies at the age of five. After learning the rituals along with their music and mudras plus memorizing all the texts for the practices performed in the monastery, he passed the rigorous exam to be a chant master at the age of thirteen. Since the founding of Rumtek Monastery, he is the youngest one to have been awarded this title.
The program for the afternoon alternates dances by a troupe from Ladakh and speeches by important Ladakhi personages. The first speaker was Sh. Tsewang Thinles, president of the Ladakh Buddhist Association, who thanked the Karmapa for coming and reminded people that the Karmapa had laid the foundation stone for the new building in 2013. Sh. Tsering Namgyal, a member of the Minority Commission for the Government of India, expressed his hope that the Karmapa would be able to resume all the activities of his previous incarnation. Dr. Sonam Wangchuk, Executive Councilor, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council expressed his thanks for the Karmapa’s continued spiritual support.
The third dance of the birds was especially charming as the women fluttered long white katas like wings to float them around the dance and fly them off the courtyard. The next address was by Sh. Thupstan Chhewang, a Member of Parliament, who spoke of his plans for development, and the last dance featured the five men in black hats, folded over to the side and resembling a beret. They carried the same bronze pitchers as the women did earlier, and as a final flourish, the placed them atop their black hats as they continued to dance in a circle and then dash off through the side exit.
On behalf of the Vihar, the Karmapa descended from this throne to present gifts to officials, the engineer, and contractors. Returning to his seat, he addressed the gathering, beginning with welcoming everyone. The Karmapa rejoiced that in this perfect place of Bodhgaya, the most supreme in the entire world, they had been able to build a Vihara where not only Ladakhis but people from all over the Himalayan region could come to stay. Of all Buddhist pilgrimage sites, this one is the most important. He hoped that their plans to build other viharas at sites special to the Buddha’s life would also go as smoothly and be as successful as the one here in Bodhgaya, and he offered his support and help for these projects as well. Mentioning that he had been to Ladakh three times, he expressed the hope that he would be able to return in the future.
Next followed a dance of auspiciousness which came to a temporary end when the male dancers gave their stoles to several people, who then went into the audience and offered the stoles to the important speakers, inviting them to join in. Everyone seemed to know the steps well and more people came to participate, including three women, who used the dupatta of their salwar kameez as the stole in their dance. It was a festive, familial way to share the blessings and happiness of the occasion.
After a vote of thanks from Sh. Rinchen Namgyal, President of the Ladakh Buddhist Association’s Youth Wing, the officers and speakers offered katas to the Karmapa and, instead of his attendants who usually do this, it was the Karmapa himself who received the katas and returned them around people’s necks to highlight an auspicious connection. The official event came to a close as the Karmapa departed to the sound of the drums and shehnai. Afterward, tea and bread were served to everyone, continuing the feeling of a closeness and warmth the occasion had created.