It’s early morning and the bi-cable jig-jag rope way, grandiose name and all, is all set to swing over rooftops of Deorali in Gangtok. Once the sleepy old Dho-tapu, today Deorali is a bustling little settlement that is also home to the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.
Sequestered in serene natural environs, the institute radiates an air of tranquility that belies its standing as a world renowned repository of the collective knowledge of four Sects of Mahayana Bhuddhism.
The NIT is a major draw for both scholars and tourists alike, especially since it boasts the lone proper museum in Gangtok. Built in traditional Sikkimese style with four towers, the institute sports an almost monastic architecture reinforced by the predominately brown and white hues that charcterise most monasteries in Sikkim. The façade of the building has an old world charm that in fact wears the rather formidable reputation of the institute with an easy nonchalance.
The ground floor of the institute houses the museum, the entrance to which is liberally decorated with religious frescoes in vivid hues and flowing lines. Camera-toting enthusiasts will be sorely disappointed that photography is not permitted inside the museum. However shutterbugs are welcome to pose in front of the Institute proper while the nearby gate of Guru Rinpoche gazes outward from its elevated glass enclosure complete with pond and bridge.
The museum recently underwent a thorough overhauling for conservation process. It boasts an eclectic collection of rituals and art objects, rare manuscripts thankas and icons that have already been researched and documented for posterity. A magnificent statue of Manhushri dominates the museum.
The General library located in the vicinity boasts the large number of non-Tibtan books on various subjects of intrest to scholars, researchers and other visitors in language like English, Sanskrit, Pali, Burmese and Chinese. There are several books on the history, culture, and religion of Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim as well as journals and publications from several academic bodies and institutions.
The founder Patron of the NIT, donated the land on which the institute stands. He granted the Royal Charter of Incorporation, dated 28th October, 1958 whereby the institute enjoys the status of an autonomous academic body with a General Council and an Executive body as its governing bodies. The institute is financed by the Central and the State government on a matching basis. The governor of Sikkim is the current President of the Institute.
While the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology was built during the reign Sir Tashi Namgyal’s reign and under his auspices, the catalytic driving force behind the Institute was actually his son Gyelse (Crown Prince) Palden Thondup Nmgyal who felt the need for a central repository of the collective teachings of all the four sects of Buddhism, i.e., Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug.
The Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology thus came into existence with a unique aim to serve as a central repository of the literature of all the Schools and Sects of Mahayana Buddhism. His Holiness XIVth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso laid the foundation stone of the Institute on February 10, 1957. Twenty months later, on October 1, 1958 the then Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru declared the Institute open. Later the Royal Charter of Incorporation was amended to change the name of the Institute to the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.
One of the interesting things about the Institute is that it wasn’t ready for the proposed inauguration. However, Nehru insisted on inaugurating it anyway arguing that he considered it a privilege to be associated with such an institute and he was anxious to do the honours as he was not sure when would be able to visit Sikkim again.
The building was half complete, with only two front towers ready and the books purchased and gifted had not even been unpacked yet form the felt an Yak hide containers. Yet Nehru delivered an impassioned inaugural speech and invoked the blessings of the Enlightened One on the Institute.
In recent years, the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology has quietly reinvented itself by focusing on Sikkim-centric research and studies while also continuing to pursue its main aims to study and promote the doctrines of all sects of Mahayana Buddhism.
Leaving no doubt one can certainly say that it’s an oasis of learning, looming large on the map of Buddhist studies.
(with inputs from the Golden Jubilee Souvenir)