Why Kushok Bakula is an Indian independence hero
By Hindol Sengupta This is the time of year when India remembers its patriots. Independence Day, when the country broke away from British colonial rule, was August 15, and it is particularly special this year as it is the 75th year of India’s independence.
Among the names of nationalists few remember is a Buddhist monk from Ladakh whose role in resisting attack by tribesmen and Pakistani armed forces in 1948 in the Himalayan highlands of Jammu and Kashmir has been largely forgotten. His name is Kushok Bakula Rinpoche. Coming from a Ladakh royal family, Kushok Bakula Rinpoche traces his roots to Skyide Nyima-Gon, the first king of Ladakh. He was born in a palace in the Matho region on the outskirts of the capital Leh. As a lifelong biographer and secretary, Sonam Wangchuk wrote in Kushok Bakula: The Architect of Modern Ladakh, the young boy was recognized according to the traditions of Mahayana Buddhism as a reincarnation (the 19th rebirth) of Arhat Bakula, the one of the first sixteen disciples of the Buddha.
Sent to the highest theological schools in Tibet, Kushok Bakula excelled in all subjects and proved himself to be a fully ordained monk who could have chosen to stay in Tibet and attain the highest positions in its sacred institutes. Instead, he chose to return to Ladakh to serve his people; and by the time the Pakistani invasions began he was a well-known figure in Ladakh, revered as a scholar, monk and spiritual figure loved and respected by all in Ladakh. When the invasion started from Skardu in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Ladakh, word reached the Rinpoche that the marauders were looking for him too. Instead of fleeing like hundreds of others, Kushok Bakula Rinpoche rallied his people, teaching ordinary people to band together and resist invasion. In the summer of 1948, at the request of Kushok Bakula, dozens of young Ladakhis volunteered to help the Indian army drive out intruders and defend their homeland.
From this volunteer force came the Nubra Guards (later to become the Ladakh Scouts Regiment), an elite Indian Army mountaineering unit that became the front line against the attacking forces of Pakistan . In his book, Wangchuk writes, “These volunteers joined the Indian Army and with the help of Indian Air Force airstrikes on Pakistani positions and supply lines, they pushed the looters out of the Indus and Nubra valleys. But it was not easy. There were many casualties and medical facilities were minimal. When the situation became particularly desperate, Bakula Rinpoche offered the army part of the Pethub monastery to be used as a makeshift medical center for wounded soldiers and civilians. The army gratefully accepted the offer.”
When the Indian Army struggled during this period to find an airstrip to land troops and weapons to retaliate, again it was a most suitable strip of sand which happened to be the land of Pethub Monastery by Kushok Bakula. This the Rinpoche gave without a second thought – and that is where the Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport in Leh is today. It was on this airstrip that military supplies and soldiers of the Gorkha regiment landed to defend Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir against infiltration. When the first plane landed with soldiers and supplies on the airstrip, it was received by hundreds of ordinary Ladakhis led by Kushok Bakula. Most of these people had never seen an airplane before. After the war, Kushok Bakula Rinpoche was invited to New Delhi and personally thanked for his efforts to save Ladakh by General KM Cariappa, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army.
It is important to underline what happened after the war with the volunteers who had responded to the call of Kushok Bakula Rinpoche. One of them, Chewang Rinchen, who was the leader of the Nubra Guards, was twice awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, India’s second highest military award for bravery. He became a major and then a colonel in the Ladakh scouts. The contribution of Kushok Bakula Rinpoche is rarely remembered in this first great war that independent India fought and won. But without the patriotism of this Buddhist monk, the borders of northern India could have been very different.
Disclaimer: The author of this opinion piece is Hindol Sengupta, who is an Indian historian and journalist. (ANI)
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)