In pics: Bhutan’s big idea of happiness
Guru Rimpoche is regarded as the second Buddha. A visual essay captures his anniversary in Bhutan where he first set foot 1,270 years ago
The clouds parted to reveal an island of green tranquility set amidst the mighty Himalayan ranges. The Paro valley came into view. The valley and the rest of Bhutan were preparing for the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rimpoche, who is revered in Bhutan as the second Buddha. I was in Bhutan by invitation to capture the event and I looked forward to make the most of the opportunity.
June 15, 2016, had a unique configuration. Once in 60 years, the Guru’s anniversary falls on the tenth day of the Monkey Month, in the Fire Male Monkey Year, believed to be the same configuration as the time when the Guru was born in the eighth century.
Watch: The birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche
Paro valley has a special place in the Guru’s biography. His travels spanned the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush and beyond. It is believed that he came here to Paro on the back of a tigress and meditated in a cave for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours. That cave came to be known as Tiger’s Nest, housed in the Taktsang Monastery that is perched on a precarious cliff and is now one of the most popular places of tourism in Bhutan.
At a drop from Tiger’s Nest is the Paro Rinpung Dzong, that was all abuzz on the morning of June 15. The old and the young from all across the valley arrived in a disciplined single file dressed immaculately in traditional clothes to witness the unveiling of a 110-feet thangka depicting Guru Padmasambhava. It was a time of deep prayers and reverence.
Locals watch a traditional mask dance performed by monks in front of a 110-foot scroll depicting Guru Padmasambhava. (Gurinder Osan/HT Photo)
This special day of the Buddhist calendar was also an occasion to understand the Guru’s life and beliefs and witness his physical manifestation through performances by masked dancers. Organised by the Center for Escalation of Peace and Center for Bhutan Studies, the event was another attempt to reinforce the close religious and cultural connect between the South Asian countries that Guru Padmasambhava travelled through leaving a lasting imprint of peace in the region.
n Bhutan, where the Guru first set foot 1,270 years ago, his teachings especially on Vajrayana Buddhism, have guided the people of this ‘Hidden Holy Land’ to live with compassion for all beings and in harmony with the environment. That is evident as you walk through the streets of the towns and villages here. The feeling of serenity and the smooth pace of life relaxes one’s jangled urban nerves.
There is respect and emphasis for personal as well as public space here. The balanced development defined by the nine domains of ‘Gross National Happiness’ index has made the rest of the world revisit the whole development debate. Bhutan simply exudes this sense of peace. It is one of the last few places in the world that give a glimpse of Shangri La, at least for now, and gives us all hope for the future.
Some of the younger people one met, however, seemed to be wondering ‘what next?’ Yes, there is peace and overall security as it should be, but is there more to life? Education in international universities, exposure through the Internet on the latest smartphones, and television programmes have started to bring in the influences of a different world. And that seems to be challenging the present state of harmony.