To give the people a better understanding of Buddhism and its link with Kashmir, art historian Benoy K. Behl has now made a special documentary titled “The Monasteries of Rinchen Zangpo” which will be screened at Tibet House on Lodhi Road here this coming Sunday.
Describing this film as an extraordinary one, Benoy says he had to make adventurous expeditions to the treacherous mountains of Tibet, Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur and Ladakh. He discovered not only mesmerising unexplored monasteries but also learnt about the artists from Kashmir whose paintings and sculptures are testimony to a great tradition of art.
All the 108 monasteries documented in the film were built under the supervision of Tibetan scholar and great translator Rinchen Zangpo.
“Western Tibet King Yeshe Od had despatched a delegation comprising 24 monks to Kashmir so that they could study Buddhism there. Twenty two of them died during the journey: Rinchen was one of the two who survived.”
Noting that the basic objective behind making this film was to enlighten people about Buddhism and clear certain misconceptions, the filmmaker says this film will help in promoting tourism in these regions where prospective tourists are reluctant to go because of lack of infrastructure and accommodation.
“How many people are aware that it were the Kashmiri artists who painted all monasteries in these regions? They laid the foundations of the later traditions of Buddhism in the trans-Himalayas. Since time immemorial, Kashmir was recognised as the seat of the goddess of learning.”
When Chinese scholar Hiuen Tsang visited India, Kashmir used to be a flourishing centre of Buddhism which rivalled the importance of Magadha. “The Chinese pilgrim discovered quite a few stupas and came across numerous monks in the Valley. Hiuen Tsang studied under a renowned Kashmiri teacher.”
Comparing the art in these monasteries with other work of art in different parts of the country, the filmmaker says these are the finest pieces of exquisite art in the region and can be compared with the art of Ajanta and Thanjavur.
“I try not to think of the difficulties which we encountered during this expedition. But we had to make an extraordinary effort in discovering 108 monasteries located in geographically inaccessible regions of the country. For some, I had to trek long distances but every effort made was worth it.”
The expedition to the Sumda monastery was fraught with danger. “As this monastery is located over 12,500 feet above sea level, trekking was an arduous task. We had to carry lot of paraphernalia. Not much of food but plenty of water bottles. There were hidden dangers. If we ran short of oxygen then it could have been fatal. No medical facilities are available,” says Benoy, who was accompanied by an assistant director and two other assistants.
Benoy says the film would not have been possible without the help extended by the local administration and those running these monasteries.
At a time when films are commissioned only if they can be monetarily rewarding, Benoy is grateful to the national broadcaster for commissioning such an interesting but a non-lucrative project.
“Such films may not be commercially viable but they help in increasing understanding about our ancient civilisation and rich cultural heritage.”