Five decades before Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers from Tibet sought political asylum here in 1959, his predecessor, Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama, stayed in India.
Hundred years ago, on February 22, 1910, the 13th Dalai Lama began his visit to the country where his successor has stayed for more than half a century.
On that trip, he spent close to three years here, says a biography of the 13th Dalai Lama written by Narkyid Ngawang Thondup.
Towards the end of 1909, the 13th Dalai Lama had returned to Lhasa after a “very successful visit” to Mongolia and China. Soon after that, when the Manchu force (China was not a unified country then) invaded Lhasa, he was forced to leave for neighbouring India on February 22. It was reported in the Indian press that the Manchu emperor had stripped the Lama of his title.
Says Narkyid, the 83-year-old author of The Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama: “His Holiness left Tibet when the situation was tense and India was a natural choice. Not only because of proximity but also because of the cordial relations between the two countries.”
Charles Bell, the Sikkim Political Officer of the then British government, received him upon arrival in Darjeeling via Kalimpong.
During his stay, the Dalai Lama travelled extensively to Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India and Nepal.
The Journal of Bhutan Studies quotes the Queen Mother of Bhutan, Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck, on the Dalai Lama’s stay at a palace in Kalimpong built especially for him by her grandfather Raja Ugyen Dorji. Dorji went on to become the prime minister of Bhutan.
Dorji requested him to name the palace and a highly impressed Dalai Lama named it the ‘Palace of Unchanging Delight’.
Dorji’s sister Ayi Thubten Wongmo took religious vows from the spiritual leader. She became a nun and stayed at the palace after he left for Tibet.
On arriving in India, the Dalai Lama and his group left Darjeeling by train via Siliguri and reached Fatepur. They then made their way to the holy places of Kapila and Kushnigar in Uttar Pradesh where prayers were made.
He also visited Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha.
“ He went to Gaya by train and then rode horse-drawn chariots to Bodh Gaya (in Bihar),” says Narkyid, who was the official biographer of the current Dalai Lama till 1994.
According to Narkyid the Dalai Lama and his entourage came under attack from more than 200 soldiers of the Manchu forces on the Tsangpo river near Lhasa (the river is called Brahmaputra once it enters India).
“Around 20 bodyguards held off the Manchu forces for two days,” says Narkyid.
The Dalai Lama and his group managed to climb a small hill and escaped.
Thubten Gyatso is credited with many firsts in Tibet. Narkyid’s biography details the standardisation of the Tibetan national flag, land reforms, establishment of foreign relations and a new foreign office.
“After his return from India, he launched facilities for education, post and telegraph, electricity and roads, and even built factories to print currency bills,” says Narkyid.
The Tibetans drove out the Manchu forces after civil war broke out in China, weakening and eventually wiping out the dynasty. The Dalai Lama was on his way to Lhasa.
“The importance of this centenary,” says the retired Tibetan civil servant, “is that after his return to Lhasa, the Dalai Lama asserted the independence of Tibet on February 13, 1913.”
After that, till 1959, Tibet was free of all foreign rule.
A few months before his death in 1933, the 13th Dalai Lama had prophesised the fall of Tibet.
— The English translation of the The Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama, is expected to be released later this year.