On 26 August 2021, the Tibet Policy Institute (TPI) of Central TibetanAdministration organised a prayer service on the 49th demise-day of the late former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Raja Virbhadra Sing, followed by a daylong symposium on Tibet-Kinnaur Relations. Senior monks from Nachung monastery conducted the prayer session in accordance with Tibetan Buddhist tradition by lighting hundred butter lamps dedicated to the deceased. The prayer session is attended by senior officials and other staff members of CTA, scholars and students from College for High Tibetan Studies, Sarah and Norbulingka Institute.
Fondly known as Raja Sahib, he was a scion of the Rampur-Bushahr royal family and had been the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh for six times among many illustrious posts that he held and served with dedication and vision. As the home to the Tibetan establishment in exile, including the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Himachal Pradesh has a special place in the hearts of Tibetan refugees and the late Raja Sahib made it bigger and deeper.
His kindness and support for the Tibet’s cause in general and Tibetan community in his home state is deeply felt and highly appreciated by Tibetan people. In his introductory remarks, the Director of Tibet Policy Institute, Dawa Tsering said, “For the past sixty years, late Raja Virbhadra Singh has played a pivotal role in sustaining and strengthening the
historic bond shared by the people of Tibet and Kinnaur. He was also close to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and has been steadfast in providing support to the Tibetan refugees. We remain grateful to him and therefore we are organizing this prayer service in his memory.”
Raja Sahib’s love and affinity with Tibetan people had their roots in a long history of friendship cemented by many generations.
Looking back to the history of Tibet and Kinnaur (formerly known as Bushahr) relations, they shared a warm relationship of common interests –particularly after the signing of a friendship treaty in the 17th century. In reference to the treaty, Director Dawa Tsering said, “In the 17th century, Tibet’s military general Gaden Tsewang and Raja Kehri Singh of Kinnaur signed a treaty of friendship with Tibet. The treaty declared that the friendship between Tibet and Kinnaur will endure until the crow turns white, Mansarovar lake turns dry or the snow on Mount Kailash melts.”
Cultural exchanges like visits of Buddhist scholars and students between Tibet and Kinnaur have further strengthened the relationship –making people to people friendship and exchanges. In fact, many people from Kinnaur played a significant role in the field of Tibetan culture and religion. For instance, director Dawa added that, “Since that time, the bond between the two regions have grown even stronger. The bond is also reflected in Tibetan Buddhism as Kinnaur is home to a number of reputed Tibetan Buddhist scholars and Rinpoches. K
hunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen, one of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s spiritual teachers, is also from Kinnaur. Tibet Mirror, the first Tibetan language newspaper was brought out by a person of Kinnauri origin. The Khunu Lotho/ལོ་ཐོ། (Almanac) is also widely used in Tibet and was perhaps published earlier than the one brought out by Mentseekhang.” Such a rich history of friendship, culture, scholarship, trade and other exchanges need in-depth research and study.
Along with the prayer service, TPI also organized a daylong symposium reminiscing the historical relations between Tibet and Kinnaur, also known as Khunu in Tibetan, to honor and cherish the centuries-old friendship between the two regions. This is aimed to revisit, reflect and revere the rich historical bond shared by Tibet and Kinnaur spanning from religion and education, medicine and astronomy to trade and business. Director Dawa further added that, “As advised by the Sikyong, president of CTA, TPI have invited various eminent scholars, professors, and Lamas from Kinnaur region to address the symposium in the hope that the future generation can appreciate our shared history.”
The daylong symposium included talks by Shri Bhagat Singh Kinnar, Kyabje Lochen Rinpoche, Shri Sherab Choephel, Prof Sempa Dorje, Acharya Roshan Lal Negi, Dr Vidya Sagar Negi, Dr Wangchuk Dorji Negi, Geshe Thubten Gyaltsen, Prof Ramesh Chandra Mathas, and Khen Rinpoche Dr Ramesh Chandra. The speakers talked on wide range of topics including the life and legacy of late Raja Virbhadra, relations between Tibet and Kinnaur, the treaty signed between Bushahr and Tibet in the 17th century, account of Geluk monasteries in Kinnaur, Drukpa Kagyu monasteries in Kinnaur, trade relations, traditional practice of Kinnauris travelling to Tibet for religious studies, the Kinnauri Almanac, biography of Khunu Lama Rinpoche Tenzin Gyaltsen and the Lake Rewalsar and its relation with Kinnaur. The symposium is divided into three sessions and moderated by research scholars from Tibet Policy Institute. In addition to in-house audience, the whole session was also livestreamed on Tibet TV and Tibet Policy facebook page for wider audience.
After the occupation of Tibet, the tradition of Kinnauris travelling to Tibet for studies or the vibrant trades between Tibet and Kinnaur may have stopped but the centuries-old friendship remains alive and indeed flourished even to this day.
Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, the Deputy Director of Tibet Policy Institute, moderated the introductory session and also delivered the vote of thanks.