608 years ago, Nyammey Sherab Gyeltsen established a monastery in Tibet. It was called Menri Monastery. Established in the year 1405, it was revered by followers of the all religions. Enter the communist Chinese Dragon on its plundering spree and the monastery is gone. Vanished!
Bonpas are known as experts of the medicinal science. It is said that the Tibetan Menri was surrounded by medicinal plants, springs, and soil, where from they derived the knowledge and power to heal ailments of any kind.
Bonpas along with Tibetan Buddhists migrated to India in 1959. And because no two religions have lived harmoniously anywhere in the world, Bonpas and Buddhists too lived in conflict. Although Bonpas got recognition from the 14th Dalai Lama in 1977, they are still called chipa (outsiders) whereas schools of Buddhism thought are called nangpa (insiders). The difference between these two religions is not known to me.
Before Buddhism was introduced to the holy land of Tibet in the Seventh Century, Bon religion was the major religion. Since then Buddhism and Bon religions have competed furiously with each other and currently only Buddhism is what the world thinks of Tibet. Today, only 10-15% of the Tibetans are Bonpas while a staggering majority of 90% follows Buddhism. Technically, Bonpas are Tibetan minorities and it was not before 1977 that they were formally recognized by the Tibetan Parliament – In –Exile.
That’s the little story of Bonpas in Tibet. The Bon religion dates to the pre-Buddhism era. Not all Tibetans are Buddhists which is a general perception these days. Even I wasn’t aware of existence of the Bon Religion until 2011.
Although the original Menri monastery in Tibet that was plundered by the Chinese has been rebuilt, the Menri Monastery in Himachal Pradesh attracts students, tourists, and historians from across the world. Located in an unknown corner of the Solan District, Menri monastery is house to more than 300 Bonpa research scholars.
Yes, you read it right. When I visited Menri in 2013, there were more than 300 Ph. D students in the monastery?
And what were they studying?
Everything that once Bonpas practiced in the ancient Tibet; Dzochen, Tantra, Sutra, Poetry, Dance, Thankpgpa, the list is endless. And this is just one half of the picture. There is another monastery (nunnery to be precise) across the river called Renla Menling Monastery.
While Menri translates to ‘Medicine Mountain’, Renla Menling means ‘Land of Precious Medicine’. It is the only Bon Nunnery of India. Mainly girls from Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan come here to study the intricacies of Bonpa religion and its magical world of medicine science.
Sparkling Yellow Menri
Did it irritate you? The yellow color!
I had never liked the yellow color until I visited the Bonpa Menri Monastery in Dolanji, Solan. The bright yellow color they have is strikingly beautiful. Yellow never looked so appealing to me. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Menri yellow is equivalent to Pandong Tso blues. These Bonpas make yellow look as calm as their persona. Not one bit disturbing to the eyes.
There are five main buildings within the monastery compound while the Renla Menling monastery is across the river on another hill. I believe both these monasteries are not popular unlike Buddhist monasteries in India. Marketing matters you see!
The inside view of the monastery is mesmerizing. Wooden study tables spread across the hall in a beautiful pattern give it a poetic appearance. One can even stay at the monastery but that requires permission from the authorities. If you can afford then spend a day at the monastery, I am sure it would be worth your time.
How to Reach?
The monastery is located at Dolanji (Solan) on the Oachghat-Narag Road. A road branches off from Oachghat and a nine kilometer bumpy ride takes you to the monastery. The vehicle goes straight to the monastery compound. Menri Library welcomes you at the entrance and believe me I haven’t seen a library as big as Menri’s.
So next time you land in Solan, pay a visit to the Menri Monastery in Dolanji. Its just a matter of 20 kilometers. The famous Jatoli Mandir is en-route Dolanji. This is by far the only temple in Himachal which is built in a North Indian style. At least the external view gives such an impression.
Bon Religion has got interesting stories to tell. One of them is their association with the Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet.
P.S. Even the State Government tourism website gets it wrong. They call it a Buddhist Monastery. So much in the name of promoting ‘religious tourism’.