The Two Things I Did Not Know Until I Visited Gangtok

Gangtok is a Tibetan word for the hillside. This place is at its best between March and May or October and December, but its tranquil beauty, attractive charm, and pollution free promise one can imbibe in all the different seasons. A good 6-hour drive from Siliguri took us to this capital and the only city…

Gangtok is a Tibetan word for the hillside. This place is at its best between March and May or October and December, but its tranquil beauty, attractive charm, and pollution free promise one can imbibe in all the different seasons.

A good 6-hour drive from Siliguri took us to this capital and the only city in East Sikkim. It was here that I enlightened myself with the following.

1. Vinaya Tradition: I learned here that Khenpo Budhisttava was one of the greatest Buddhist scholars in India during 8th century AD He was the first scholar to be invited by the Tibet Buddhist king, Trisong Deutson, to teach Buddhism in Tibet.

This Dharma king was the incarnation of Manjushri – the Lord of wisdom. Since the first ordination of Tibetans into monk-hood was established by him, he is known as the father of Vinaya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Vinaya tradition pertains to the moral discipline of Monks in Tibet.

Here on, this tradition flourished in all neighboring countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and India.

Many young boys were sent to India, and more than 100 were invited from India. Among them, Khempo Buddhisttava and Lord Padmasambha were the most revered and respected. They were instrumental in firmly establishing Buddhism in Tibet.

They also helped Trisong Deutson in establishing SAMYE University in Tibet where Buddha teachings was translated from Sanskrit into the Tibetan language. These were also included in the main study of Buddha Dharma curriculum.

Even though the Buddhist teaching is a remarkable feature of the state, Hinduism too is widely practiced. The language and dialects mostly spoken here are Tibeto-Burmese.

2. The Eight Lucky Signs: Gangtok is a cosmopolitan in nature where about 1 lakh people of different ethnicities like Nepalese, Chinese, Tibetans, and Indians live in communal harmony.

In all the festivals, the people of Sikkim show great reverence to its 8 lucky signs. Whether it's a monastery, building, or a piece of furniture or Almanac calendar, everywhere one finds these signs carved and painted.

These manifest themselves in rich colors and are thought auspicious for life.

These lucky signs with their English language counterparts are: DUG or Parasol; BHUMPA or a Vase; DHUNGKAR or a Conch Shell; GYALTSEN or the Banner of Victory; SERNYA or a pair of Golden Fishes; PEMA or a Lotus Flower; PALBHEU or a Knot of Eternity, and CHOEKYI KHORLO or a Wheel of Dharma.

These are widely used in Tibet to adorn temples and monasteries and have become universally accepted symbols of good luck.

With the increasing popularity of Tibetan Buddhism, these symbols have also become increasingly popular as decorative items. It is believed that wearing them bring prosperity and harmony together good luck.

Tibetan New Year is Losar, which is a 3-day festival, generally in the month of February. Other than hanging prayer flags, feasting, folk dancing, and partying, the people paint these lucky signs to decorate their house walls.

Buddhist ideas made Gangtok an important site of pilgrimage for Buddhists all over the world.