pp. 17 – 20.
ANILA KARMA KHECHOG PALMO (FREDA BEDI), SIKKIM
MEMORIES OF ACHARYA RAGHUVIRA
I shall always remember a slight scholarly figure writing Sanskrit with exquisite handwriting. It was in an Oxford library—the Indian Institute, and the year was 1932. Those were the days when I knew I should spend my life in India. "I would like to write like that" I said. Babaji, then a young student in PPE like I was, said '"Yes, you shall".
The young student went on writing. Some Karma had put him in a suit, but he, I realised only later, should have been dressed in the white cottons of Benares. Pandit Gauri Shankar of Lahore has passed into the mists of history, but his delicate laborious hands still write in a timeless way. He did not know, nor I, that he was showing me again a path perhaps I had been travelling on in many life-times.
We reached Lahore a couple of years later. The old Lahore of the 'thirties when the great shack of the Lajpat Rai Bhawan was full of students and staffed by brahmacharis. In the Shalimar Gardens the fountains played; women crowded the colleges, but the Purdah Club still met in garden settings. In Dubbi bazar, history lived. Craftsmen, wizened, with embroidered caps, fashioned marvels of beauty out of gold thread.
We lived in Model Town, the brain child of Dewan Khem Chand, whose heart was larger than his enormous tribe of relations, and whose natural community spirit brought into being a modern housing estate. It was a perfect place to live in. Between us and the Lahore of the Sahibs, the Cantonments and Stiffles was a long dusty road.
A long dusty road that had all Punjab in it: donkeys, with potters on them. Bearded walkers, wearing checked lungi cloths. Fantastically uncomfortable buses with their cargoes of good companions.
Somewhere in the middle, in a waste of land where new houses Were growing into new villages, under the burning midday sun there was a modest bungalow. It was there in what must have been his first family home that Babaji and I met Dr. Raghu Vira. With him were Mataji and the children.
I had my first sight of Lokesh as a schoolboy.
To be honest I can't remember what we talked about, and why we ever went there. But Babaji and I seemed to find our way into the circle of scholars and artists and spent hours and days discussing history and books and writing; looking at paintings. Those were the days of political overtones but we lived in the books and the colours and the folk life of the villages.
On one visit to the budding Acharya we found a few Japanese scholars in his sitting room, an unusual sight in days when air travel had not made international living a reality. It was on the verge of the Second World War. Suddenly, we heard that Dr. Raghu Vira had been interned. "Not Dr. Raghu Vira . . . . He never bothered about politics." I tried to imagine him sitting behind some barred door somewhere trying to explain to somebody something about Japanese culture . . . It was incongruous.
Of course his University friends rallied round and in a few days he was out again. Smiling, behind his round eyeglasses.
After that the great storm of 1947 blew over the Punjab and stripped the trees bare of so many leaves that had given us summer shade. Prof. Brij Narain was gone. Where was Dr. Lakshman Swarup who used to descend on our Model Town huts, and sit in the mudded courtyard under the thatch of grass, correcting the English of his beautiful manuscript. Written by a South Indian queen, translated from the Sanskrit, it brought with it the scent of the forest ,and the flowers twining round the tree trunks.
"Where, 0 where . . .” The land was rent, and the old Punjab was no more.
Dr. Raghu Vira had gone with his family to Nagpur. We were up in the refugee camps of Kashmir. In Delhi the forts were full of suffering humanity. Kurukshetra lived again in a township of tents. It was not until the early fifties that we all found each other again. It was a joyful reunion. The Raghu Vira clan, now grown up. Dr. Lokesh Chandra married with his bride of the moon face; the girls growing up; various grandchildren.
They were in that extraordinary beehive of industry and scholarship that is modern and yet traditional . . . the International Academy of Indian Culture. I found that all the members of the family, the young bride included, knew some unusual oriental language, and all were working together on. multi-lingual dictionaries that linked Indian culture with the Buddhist culture of Tibet,
China, Mongolia, Korea, Outer Mongolia and Buryatia that lies in the USSR. Indonesia with its Sanskrit undercurrents; Afghanistan and its giant Buddhas in the rocks of Bamiyan. It was a new, old world.
Acharya Raghu Vira was born. His historic trail took him across the steppes into yurt and temple. Across mountains into cave and library. With his magnificent Red Cross mind that looked to the greater humanities and stepped lightly over Governments and their rules and regulations, he travelled where others cannot travel. Made friends everywhere. All he brought he housed with cleanliness and infinite care.
I can see the central hall with its books of dharanis, before which incense burned. The artists contributed rupas and pictures and line drawings.
For me and for many others however the greatest wonder of the Acharya's work has been the way in which like a traditional SRUNGMA or guardian of the secret teachings, he has worked for the preservation of Mahayana Buddhist culture in its Tibetan form.
It was in the Buddha Jayanti year of 1956 that His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Panchcn Lama Rinpoche made their visit to the Academy, and it was as if foreshadowing the great influx of scholars and manuscripts that came in 1959, when the forcible occupation of Tibet released a stream of culture that came back to the land of its origin, India, like a great fertilising river.
Perhaps others will write in detail of the great collections and dictionaries that have been printed in the Tibetan language, with English introductions. The world and its scholars know more of that great work (that will be honoured for centuries to come) than does India.
It was Lokesh who struggled with the casting of Tibetan type; complex and expensive printing methods. Artists came from the old Tibetan monasteries, calligraphists, monk scholars.
The India of Acarya Nagarjuna; the days of old Nalanda; the Mahapandits of the past. All come to mind. We are in a new Oriental renaissance sparked by the arrival of the living religious tradition of Tibet. Acharya Raghu Vira knew it; so does Lokesh; so do His Holiness the Dalai Lama; His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa; His Holiness the Sakya Trizin; the venerated Dudjom Rinpoche and a whole line scholars of the Nyingma and new Tantra tradition of the Himalayan range.
All honour to Acharya Raghu Vira and those who carry on the great work. His untimely death was a tragedy, but he has left a son to carry on all the publication that his great vision encompassed. Is it too much to ask that he may leave his Celestial Heavenly Halls and take the patient path of the Bodhisattvas instead? He is needed-here
Dharma Chakra Centre, Rumtek, Sikkim.
Notes by Samten de Wet, 3rd May 2003.
In a footnote in her own handwriting, sister Palmo noted:
“Dr. Lokesh Chandra is now the Publisher, especially of the Satapitaka Series of which several volumes are in my collection.”
This text was xeroxed from The Dr. Ernst Landsberg Papers, in the University of Cape Town Library. It was sent to the late Dr. Lansberg sometime during the mid-1970’s.
At the top of the document, Sister Palmo had written:
“To show you our Indian “Punjab” background: 1934 – 1947. *the break-up of old India into India and Pakistan).