Hsuan Tsang Monastery ~ Paschim Chowbaga, Calcutta (Kolkata)
Hsuan Tsang Chinese Buddhist Temple (Monastery)
Paschim Chowbaga (Tiljala), Calcutta (Kolkata)
As I stepped inside the monastery complex I was reminded of the mountains, the Himalayas. The Hsuan Tsang Monastery has remarkable resemblance with his Himalayan counterparts like Rumtek, Hemis and Tawang, each of which built over a large area containing several temples and other religious structures.
Sadly the Hsuan Tsang Monastery lacked the eternal snow peaks of the Himalayas in its background. Its quiet obvious as the Hsuan Tsang Monastery is not lactated high up in the Himalayas but located in the outskirts of Calcutta (Kolkata).
Located in Paschim Chowbaga of the Tiljala region the Monastery is best approached from the Ruby Hospital on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. Regular auto services are available from Ruby to just sort of the Hsuan Tsang Monastery. Alternatively one can get down at the Paschim Chowbaga bus – stop on the Science City – Basanti highway, cross a rickty wooden bridge over a canal and walk for 15 minutes to reach the Hsaun Tsang Monastery, locally called the China Mandir.
I was accompanied by Dominic Lee, a fourth generation Chinese who calls Calcutta (Kolkata) his home. We were greeted by Nun Hui Rong, the chief nun of the monastery. Nun Hui Rong from Taiwan have been looking after the Hsuan Manastery for over two decades.
Sitting at her office Nun Hui Rong narrated the history of Hsuan Tsang Monastery. She spoke only Chinese and Dominic interpreted the amazing story. The monastery was started by Chien Wu in 1968 and doubled up as a lama training centre. The Moanastery was constructed in stages over the years and still continues to expand. A small temple is under construction and so is an old age home.
Nun Hui Roong took charge about two decades back and presently trains 10 Buddhist orphan children, who attends normal English medium school, in Chinese and Buddhist studies. Sipping on green tea she narrated the story of the changing surrounding. The monastery was once construct far from the city limits, but today the city has grown creating problems to the monastery.
A apartment block has come up straight in front of the pagoda style gate of the Hsuan Tsang Monastery, which blocked the flow of energy. So a Feng – Sui expert from Hong Kong, who visited the monastery, decided to block the main entrance and create a temporary entrance to the Hsuan Tsang Monastery. So today the pagoda styled gate is walled off and entrance is through a sliding door, which seem totally out of place.
We were soon out to explore the Monastery with Nun Hui Roong as my guide and Dominic Lee as my interpretor. It is hard to believe that Nan Hui Rong have been living in Calcutta (Kolkata) over two decades and apart from a few broken Hindi phrases, the only language she speaks is Chinese!!!!
Our first stop was the prayer hall in the ground floor. The huge hall contains four giant Buddha statues, painted with bright golden paint, creating a mesmerising environment. The main alter is flanked on either side my smaller alters housing statues of Chinese Gods and Goddesses. But the glass cover in front of the alter makes photography extremely difficult.
Nun Hui Roong led us past the guest quarters and through the dinning hall to the prayer hall on the first floor. Similar in design with the ground floor hall it also houses a similar alter with several golden Buddha Statues. But the star attraction of the first floor prayer hall is the bright fresco on the wall, pillars and the ceiling, depicting different stories of Buddha’s life and other related events.
Nun Hui Roong narrated that funds were always short and the frescoes were painted in parts by local artist and she has plans for similar frescoes in the ground floor halls also. She also said the regular prayer services are held at the monastery on the first and fifteenth of every month of the Chinese calendar (which respectively coincides with the new moon and full moon day). This prayer hall also contains a small room housing a huge drums and a bell, with beautiful Chinese calligraphy engraved on it.
From the prayer hall we moved on to the Hsaun Tsang Memorial Hall, housing a statue of the famed Chinese traveller, who visited India during the reign of the great Indian King Harshavardhan. The hall also doubles up as a library and houses a rare collection of Chinese religious books neatly arranged in shelves.
The Hsuan Tseng Memorial Hall offers a grand view of the adjoining Chinese Cemetery with the horse shoe shaped graves. Nun Hui Roong pointed out that many of the modern day Chinese preferred to cremated than buried. She led us to a separate building housing the ashes of the dead.
It looked more like a bank lockers with rows of small chambers housing the ashes kept in locker like vaults. The used chambers, containing the ashes in a urn, are sealed off and name of the deceased written in Chinese along with the year of death. The unused chambers were open. Straight ahead is a small alter housing a Chinese deity, who seemed to guard the ashes of the dead.
Finally it was time for home and we returned with a box of Green Tea and a bag full of memories to last a life time.
- Nun Hui Rong not only of the wonderful trip of the Hsuan Tsang Monastery but also for the delicious green tea.
- Dominic Lee not only for taking me to the Hsuan Tsang Monastery but also for helping me unlock many of the secrets of the Calcutta Chinatown.