Kolkata is a city which is known to welcome people from all places with an open heart. It is one place where everyone embraces different cultures and indulges in different festivals and celebrates it with full enthusiasm even if it is not of their heritage and locality. As per the census held in 2011, near about 0.45 population includes Buddhists and Sikhs in Kolkata. India’s Chinatown is in Kolkata, where once about 20000 Chinese used to reside. With time these Buddhists people, regardless of their country of origin have found a hearth in Kolkata and have built magnificent Buddhist temples all over the city which are worthy of a visit.
Hsuan Tsang Monastery:
We have all read about Hsuan Tsang in our school life. The world-famous Chinese Buddhist monk and scholar came to India in the 7th century, during the reign of the great Harshavardhan, and spread his teachings and co-relations between Chinese and Indian Buddhism. Popularly known as the China Mandir, the Hsuan Tsang Monastery is located in Tiljala (Paschim Chowbhaga), which is in the outskirts of Kolkata. At first glance of the monastery, you will feel that you have transported into some authentic north-eastern monastery or Buddhist area where only the mighty Himalayan back-drop is missing. It was founded by Chien Wu in 1968, which means it completed 50 years this year. The 50 year anniversary was celebrated in much grandeur in collaboration with the Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou of China and with the assistance of the Chinese Consulate of the city.
This monastery is also a Lama Training center. The monastery was built in phases and it still is in the expansion. At the time of its establishment, it was far from the city limits. But with time the place has been crowded with high-rises and modernized. The construction of an apartment block led to the blockage of the flow of energy. On consultation with a Feng-Shui expert from Hong Kong, the main pagoda styled beautiful entrance has been walled off. In its place, a temporary gate has been installed which is not in sync with the remaining and mars the beauty of the place to an extent.
The two-storeyed monastery has two prayer halls. The one on the ground floor contains beautiful large four statues of Lord Buddha, painted in Golden. Various Chinese deities are placed on either side of the main altar. Apart from a prayer hall, there is a dining room on this floor.
The prayer hall on the second floor contains beautiful frescos on the ceiling, walls, and pillars which depicts stories of Buddha’s life and related events. These paintings are mainly the works of local artists and it gives a nice bright ambiance to the room. Giant sized golden statues of Lord Buddha are also placed here. A small room aside contains a big bell with Chinese calligraphy and Chinese drums.
The Hsuan Tsang memorial hall is on the second floor. It contains a statue of the great monk. This hall also doubles as a library. Various rare Chinese religious books are kept here.
There is a Chinese cemetery adjoining to this hall. Just beside the memorial hall, is a building which acts as the present day cemetery. Nowadays Chinese people prefer to be cremated and their ashes are kept here in an urn and sealed in locker type boxes with name and date of death written in Chinese.
A small statue of a Chinese deity is kept in an altar who is believed to guard the ashes.
Prayer services are held every first and fifteenth day of the month of the Chinese calendar.
This beautiful Hsuan Tsang monastery is an unknown treasure in the city of Kolkata. The condition of the monastery is in a dilapidated state and plans for its renovations are already on the operation. Chinese architects have devised the plan and are in process of sanction from the local authority.
How to reach:
Best way to reach the Hsuan Tsang Monastery is on the eastern metropolitan bypass, from Ruby Hospital. One may also get down on Paschim Chowbaga bus-stop, go across the canal bridge and walk for 15 minutes to reach the monastery.