Lama Sikhs

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Based on the article "The Lama Sikhs: A Himalayan Tale of Faith, Part I" by COL. DR D. S. Grewal - an eminent scholar, who has the distinction of having 12 post-graduate degrees.

In 1986-87, I was posted as a Major, at an army outpost in the village of Segang-Menchukha, in the north western corner of West Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh, India. One night I was woken up in the middle of the night by loud and persistent knocking at my door. “Who could it be at this time?” I wondered.

When I opened the door, I found it to be the village headman, locally known as the Gaon Burha. He was in an obvious state of distress and told me that his son was dying of a severe pain in his stomach and (asked) if I would send for a doctor. I considered it fit to check the patient myself before I telephoned the doctor, who was some distance away and the track was quite hazardous. I decided to accompany the Gaon Burha.

He led me to his wooden hut, which was divided into two, the portion in front was for cooking and at the rear was the living room where I found a young boy writhing in pain and crying. As a precautionary measure, I had taken some pain-killing and digene tablets with me, which I offered to the sick boy. A Lama who was standing nearby, told the boy not to take the medicine. It puzzled me, but there was little I could do because the Lamas are held in great esteem in all matters by the very superstitious people of the area.

Nanak Lama

Immediately after, the Lama started saying a prayer obviously in order to appease the evil spirits. He first fashioned a statue of rice and butter, lit incense, to the accompaniment of the ringing of a bell, started murmuring his prayers calling: "Nanak", "Nanak"! After he had finished doing so, he took the incense to the bedside of the sick boy, read out: "Om Mani Padme Hum" to him and then asked him to take the medicine I had given.

The statuette that the Lama had made aroused my curiosity. I asked him as to whose idol was it that he worshipped. "Nanak Lama", he said. I must say I was quite perplexed with his answer because I never expected anyone in this area, nearly 2000 kilometers away from Punjab, would know anything about Guru Nanak much less worship his idol.

I probed him for further details. He told me: "We worship Nanak Lama and consider him as one of our Guru Rimpoches. We call him Nanak Lama of Amritsar also. His idol is worshipped in our gompha on Dorgilling Hill. It is said that the Guru visited this area and meditated at Pemoshubu". Pemoshubu lies about 15 kilometers away from where we were.

"During his meditation at Pemoshubu", continued the Lama, "the Guru was attacked by a bear but the huge boulder, under which the Guru was meditating, lifted him up and took him in its lap. According to this legend the bear could do nothing, and soon after, made his retreat. The marks of the Guru‟s torso are still etched on this boulder and we often go there to worship every year in the last week of the month of March, because that is the month when the Guru is said to have come here. A fair is held to commemorate Guru Nanak's visit".

"Quite close to the boulder, there is a cave, through which the Guru used to pass to have his bath in the rivulet called Bamchu. Again it is commonly believed by us all that it is only the people with a clean heart who can pass through the cave. Others, no matter how lean and thin they are, cannot pass through the entrance of the cave".

Nanak's natural pool

The Lama continued his story, “The place where the Guru used to have his bath in the rivulet is now a natural pool full of grey and white pebbles, and the crystal clear water is always still. Whenever we want to know whether or not any particular wish of ours is going to be fulfilled, we close our eyes, repeat the wish, pray to Guru Nanak, and pick out a pebble from the pool. If the pebble is white, we believe, this wish is bound to come true. If the pebble is black, however the wish will not come true. If it has both black and white spots on it, the wish will be only partially fulfilled. You can try any number of times; the color of the pebble you pick out is always the same thereafter.‟

God’s Name in the Air

I was truly intrigued by the Lama’s story and persuaded him to take me there for confirmation, which he agreed to do. The next morning we set out, but in order to get to Pemoshubu, we had to pass through a thick forest which was known to be infested with bears, tigers and wild boars. Leaches stuck to our bodies, every now and then, and we had difficulty removing them. The track at times had vanished under the undergrowth and we had to cut the waggling branches to clear our way to the place in the dense jungle. In the midst of the thick undergrowth, we found a small clearing where an old traditional white Boddh flag, printed with "Om Mani Padme Hum" was aflutter. The Lama told me that every time the flag flutters, God’s name goes into the air 1001 times.

From the clearing, we started our decent towards the Bumchu River. After walking down hill for about five minutes, we came across a huge boulder which appeared to be about 30 feet high, with a length and breadth each of about 20 feet. It was leaning towards the east. Below it, there was a sort of rough platform on which were lying a number of white cloth flags, bearing inscriptions in the Tibetan language.

In reverence

The Lama bowed in deep reverence and started to ring his bell and chant hymns. He also laid on the platform a new white cloth flag as his offering. He then pointed to the marks of the bodies etched on the boulder. These were about ten feet above the ground. There appeared two body impressions etched on the boulder, one of a bigger man and the other of a smaller one.

The Lama told me that the bigger one was that of Guru Nanak and the smaller one was of a companion of the Guru. The impression of the head, the shoulders, the arms and the upper part of the bodies were very clear. It did not look as if they had been chiseled but naturally hewn. Since I had no means of verifying the veracity of these marks, I did not question the authenticity of what the Lama said and bowed my head reverence.

After that, the Lama took me further down through a cave and from its farther end we could see the beautiful rivulet, Bamchu flowing by. Down below at one corner we could clearly see the white and black pebbles lying at the pool’s bottom.

The lama bent over the small pool and chanting Guru Nanak‟s name, he took out a stone from the pool; he got a white one. He was too happy. When I enquired as to what he had wished, he told that he had wished for another son. I was astonished at his material attachment despite his being a lama. A junior commissioned officer - Subedar Surat Singh Yadav, an Ahir from Haryana, who had accompanied us, also did the same and prayed for becoming a Subedar Major, but his stone was a black one. I knew it was not possible for him to become one.

My wish is "granted"

They both insisted that I too try for one. I had nothing on my mind as God has always been kind to me. However, a momentous thought came to me, “Why not wish to make a Guru’s place of worship at the spot, if the Guru had come here?” Having wished this, I took out a pebble and found it to be white.

Hence I pondered over the question: I considered it impossible to construct a place of worship at such a remote place where, leave alone bringing building material from the low lands in Assam, as clearing the forest alone seemed to be a major problem. I thought it better to dismiss the idea as a joke.

However my Subedar was quick to respond. “There will have to be a place of the Guru’s here,” he assumingly said. “But how can I alone can make a place in such a difficult area?” I blurted out, giving voice to my doubts.

“Why do you feel alone Sahib? We all will make it happen,” added the burly Subedar. “We will make Guru Nanak’s place here. It is His wish,” said the Lama authoritatively. I was in a divided state of mind, but my companions had already started playing this idea on their minds seriously.

Sylvan Serenity

“We should not alter the originality and serenity of this place and keep it as it is”, said Subedar Surat Singh. “A Better place for the Gurudwara will be the triangular area between the two rivulets; that is within the limits as prescribed by the religious edicts.” (it is an ancient belief that a confluence of two beds of flowing water is an auspicious place for Prayer)

Subedar Surat Singh further said, “It should be within 500 yards of the place of the event,” he explained. I was unaware of all this. As we walked across to the place and examined the area, I found the Lama in deep meditation sitting on a stone. I found the area to be flat but full of big trees, with thick undergrowth. However, it was not slushy because of the close flowing stream and the slope of the land into the streams.

The difficult task begins

It required enormous effort to clear the area, for bringing stores to this place was another very difficult preposition as even nails would have to be got from Tinsukhia, which for an ordinary person would take 10-15 days journey one way. The other alternative was through air, i.e. by helicopters, but priority of helicopters was the rations for soldiers and ammunition for guns, rather than for anything else.

In addition the carriage of these items for 16 kilometers from the helipad was another difficulty. The first requirement, however was to clear the thick under growth up to the selected place which itself was a major task. I did not think it feasible to prepare a worthwhile place of worship under these conditions.

“This is an auspicious place, 15 days hence is the auspicious day to carry out stone laying for the worship place”, the Lama announced, keeping his eyes closed”. “It is perfectly all right. We will clear the place within that time”, Subedar Surat Singh added, taking it upon himself voluntarily, the preliminary task of clearing the area and also the clearing of a track to the place.

The area was studied minutely and the place was selected where the Lama finally put a small stick with a small piece of cloth bearing “Om Mani Padme Hum” hanging over it as a flag. As we returned, Subedar Surat Singh studied the route seriously. The Lama told us whom to contact locally for construction of the place of worship. I thought it was better to make a wooden structure consisting of at least three rooms: one for main worship, one for the helper and the religious teacher and one for storing other accessories. The latter room could also be used for any visitor who wished to stay at the place for a night or so.

It would require about 800 wooden planks and about 100 CGI sheets in addition to other building materials. “How can we manage this all”? I asked Subedar Surat Singh. Nothing seemed to unruffle the Subedar as he seemed to be quite determined. “We will prepare the planks ourselves by sawing wood and CGI sheets can be arranged by air from Dinjan (Assam),” he said as if the task was not difficult at all. No sooner had we returned than I over heard the Subedar, relating the whole incident to the men of my unit with a lot of enthusiasm. These deeply religious Ahirs from Haryana, took every word stated by Subedar Surat Singh seriously and gave a word to him that they will do every bit to carry out the “Will of God”.

The Village Chief

The work started without delay and the men, eager to do something, swung into action. Meanwhile, the Lama had told the Segang people about the event. The Gaon Burha came with his men to help us in whatever way we wanted to utilize him. Subedar Surat Singh asked for the help of a carpenter and a saw man which the Gaon Burha deputed without hitch. I requested him to get the land transferred to the institution to which he agreed heartily. He along with the Lama planned to meet the Extra Assistant Commissioner, Manchuka for permission and transfer of the land on the name of Gurdwara as a religious institution.

Work started the very next day with clearing a part of the route by the soldiers and a group of villagers. I wrote a letter to my wife then located in Dinjan, Assam giving all the details and requested her to buy the required number of CGI sheets and other material and to arrange the money for the same. Bringing the material to Menchukha from Dinjan-Tinsukhia was certainly a problem. I had thought of it for 2-3 days when I met the pilot of the helicopter providing us supplies. He too was eager to visit the place. I took him through the difficult route. After paying his obeisance he looked at the area around closely and mentioned that about 500 yards away, there was a good ground, which could be developed into a dropping zone and if some extra effort was put in, it could also be converted into a helipad. For this, permission and clearance had to come from higher headquarters.


The work progressed faster than expected. Soon the Assam Rifles soldiers also joined in. The senior most officer of the area was the Battalion Commander of Mahar Regiment who was at the time was another Ahir - Major Yadav. As I told him about the place, he too went there out of curiosity. Visiting the area, he recommended deploying a company on the nearby hill, as the site might be vulnerable to enemy attack from some unknown route, it needed immediate coverage. The development of the area turned out to be much faster than I had ever have expected. Later on, the higher commanders of Army, Air Force and Assam Rifles, who visited Manchuka, also made it a point to visit the place.

With the help of the local carpenters and soldiers three rooms were constructed. As the development on the other side caused a great threat to the valley, a brigade was later planned to move to the place and a key location point was planned. Accordingly an artillery field firing range was also proposed. A company of Bengal Engineers, comprising of Sikhs, landed which not only improved the local constructions but was also given the task of preparing an advance landing ground for planes as well as a helipad and tracks/roads to various locations. The place was given the name “Guru Nanak Taposthan” as it quickly became a great place of worship, not only for the local people, but for all the outsiders as well, who longed to carry some worthwhile memories back home.


There was a big fair of the local people at the place on 24 March (1987) as this was the date of the occasion, mentioned by the Lama, on which Guru Nanak and his companion had come to the place. We arranged to give free lunch for all the people visiting the place and had hymn singing at the new place, as well. Sri Guru Granth Sahib too had been placed by then, which I procured on one of my visits to Tinsukhia.

Initially, I carried out the daily routine prayers and rituals at the place in which the Lama helped me. Later a soldier from the Engineer Company took over the task on himself. We celebrated Vaisakhi with all rituals, as the soldiers of the Engineers Company were all Sikhs who naturally took keen interest in performing the rituals. We were able to have an Akhand Path (a non-stop recitation of the entire Sri Guru Granth Sahib completed within 48 hours).

Being inquisitive, I studied the travels of Guru Nanak to the Himalayan region and his contact with the Lamas in great detail. These details were published in three books:

  • The Amazing Travels of Guru Nanak to the Himalayan Region, Book I
  • Guru Nanak’s travels to North East, Book II
  • So Than Suhawa, Book III

Guru Nanak accepted the invitation

Legend has it that Guru Nanak came in contact with Lamas during his visit to Himachal Pradesh in Rawalsar. Indeed the discourse at Mansarovar-Sumer Parbat was the turning point. During his discourse with the Siddhas, Guru Nanak made a deep impact not only on the Siddhas, but also on the local people who were mainly of Tibetan origin. One of those who listened to Guru Nanak was the King of Tibet, Trasuing Deochung, who was a Lama from the Karmapa sect who became one of Guru’s followers. He invited Guru Nanak to Lhasa, an invitation which Guru Nanak accepted.

Next Guru Nanak proceeded through Nepal on his way to Tibet. He returned from Mansarovar, walking along the Kali Nadi (the Kali river), which flows along the western border of Nepal. Thereafter through the Terai region, he entered Nepal. Through Chatra, Guru Nanak visited the fort of Dhomri, then on to Shivpur and Brahamkund, where he attended a fair and delivered sermons to the people gathered.

After Brahamkund, Guru Nanak visited Lakhanpur and Palti Lake. From there he traveled through the hills of Hawal Khanchi, reaching the Krishna Tal area where he preached the True Name. After Krishna Tal, he proceeded through Dhaulagiri ridges to Belagarh and reached Kathmandu and Bhakatpur, the twin capitals of Patan and Banepa of the later Malla King.

[End of Part I]

(to be concluded)

  • Based on article "The Lama Sikhs: A Himalayan Tale of Faith Part I" by Col. DR D. S. Grewal, Director Principal, Bhai Maha Singh College of Engg. Muktsar.
Email: [email protected]

See also

External links