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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Haven of ancient knowledge near Sahastradhara

haven of ancient knowledge near Sahastradhara
By Jaskiran Chopra
The Pioneer

Saturday, July 23, 2011
Dehradoon - Only four kilometres before the Sahastradhara (sulphur
springs), Doon's bustling tourist destination, lies a haven of

ancient knowledge and tranquilty in the lap of the Himalayan

foothills overlooking the Sahasradhara River Valley.
This is the Songsten Library and Centre for Tibetan and Himalayan
Studies, the only one of its kind in the country, set up in July

2001. The formal inauguration by the Dalai Lama was held in 2003.
The location of this institution is extremely picturesque and the
surrounding hills are breathtakingly beautiful. Undoubtedly ,this is

an ideal retreat for studying and meditating. Scholars working on

Tibetan or Himalayan projects from all parts of the world come and

stay at the centre.
The centre functions as a non-political institution geared to the
collection and preservation of books, as well as research and

publication on various subjects related to Tibet and the

Himalayas.Established by His Holiness the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang

Rinpoche,the head of the Drikung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism, the

Library is named after Songtsen Gampo (617-650 AD), the 33rd king of

Tibet who is credited with bringing Buddhism to Tibet. The

architecture of the library was inspired by that of Yumu Lhakar,

known popularly as Tibet's first castle, built in 2nd century BC by

King Nyatri Tsenpo, and the artwork reflects influences from Persia,

China and Tibet.
The construction of the institution began in July 1999 and was
completed in July 2001. The library has a comprehensive collection of

important books as well as rare manuscripts on Tibet and the

Himalayas. Of particular interest is the collection of books on the

Dunhuang Documents, the earliest written sources on Tibetan society

and history. These documents were discovered in the early part of the

20th century at various caves around the Silk Route in Central Asia.
Another important collection is that of the publications in various
languages of the Buddhist Kagyur and the commentaries of great

Not many people in the Doon valley are aware of this idyllic place
which is almost hidden away from the "madding crowd" as no prominent

signages announce its existence and none of the tourist brochures

feature it .A narrow , half-kutcha path takes the visitor from the

main Sahasradhara Road towards Kulhan village.Only a kilometer

upwards from here lies Songtsen in its "splendid isolation" inviting

one to come into its charming world, take time out to be with oneself

and partake of the wisdom that has come down the ages.The exotic,old-

world look that the center wears fascinates the visitor and draws him

towards the gates of Songtsen.
The library has more than 2,000 members in India and abroad. It has
rare Tibetan and Himalayan manuscripts wrapped in beautiful silk

cloth of various hues. Of special interest are the collection of

publications on the Dun Huang documents ,one of the earliest sources

on numerous subjects on Central Asian culture including history,

literature, religion, law, astrology and medicine. The original

manuscripts date from around the 6th to the 12th century and were

discovered in the early part of the 20th century at various caves on

the Silk Road of Central Asia.
Lama Anagarika Govinda, well-known western scholar and pioneer of
Buddhism, who lived in Almora for many years, gifted his personal

collection of books and scripts to Songtsen. Six thousand digitised

format Buddhist texts from the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre, New

York ,have been installed by the library. A master collection of

archival quality CD-Rs from the Orient Foundation with more than

13,000 hours of video and oral commentary of the great Buddhist

Masters is also available. The library also houses many frescos,

thangka paintings and statues. Lush green lawns, a lovely lotus-pond

and the backdrop of the Himalayas give the place a picture-book look.
Outside the Library is the statue of King Songtsen Gampo mounted on a
horse.In one of the lawns is a glass enclosure inside which is kept

the old Mercedes car which the Dalai Lama used for fifteen years from

the time he came to India from Lhasa in 1959.It was gifted by him to

the patron of the library, Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche.Visitors

love to look at this car .This glass house with the car gives an

extremely special touch to the entire landscape.
Students from nearby areas, who are looking for a few peaceful hours
of study, have taken membership of the library. Songtsen is a mini-

paradise, a jewel in the Himalayan foothills in the Doon valley.

Looking at the pace at which the Doon valley is losing its peace and

greenery, it may be just a matter of time before the centre is bereft

of its lush green surroundings and echoing silence.

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