Tribute to Tashi Rabgais

Nawang Tsering Shakspo
Tashi Rabgias was born in 1927 in Sakti village situated at the distance of 50 kms from Leh. He obtained his basic education from Primary School Chemde, located 7 kms from his home. He then moved to Leh to pursue further studies. Tashi was a brilliant student and his parents sent him to Kashmir for higher education. To get there, he walked all the way from Leh to Srinagar, which took him several days. Upon arriving Srinagar, Tashi Rabgias obtained admission in Sri Pratap College, popularly known as S.P. College, Srinagar. There, he studied up to the graduation level. I vividly remember that Tashi Rabgias used to talk about the scholarship of Pandit Shridhar Kaul, the person who in his service career in 1949-50’s served the Education Department of the Government as the Inspector of School, Ladakh. He said that Pandit Dullu was not only a kind person to him but at the same time his mentor and he had achieved so much in his lifetime because of his good guidance.
At that time Kushok Bakula was the lone member from Ladakh in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. Kushok Bakula appointed the young and energetic Tashi Rabgias to be his Private Assistant around 1950. He remained in the position for about four years. In 1954, Tashi availed himself of the opportunity to accompany Kushok Bakula to the conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Rangoon. The other important participant in the Buddhist conference from India was Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution. Tashi told that at one point he spoke to Dr. Ambedkar, who asked him where he was from. When Tashi responded that he was from Ladakh, Dr. Ambedkar responded by recommending that he learn English. Tashi would frequently speak about Kachen Eshey Tundup, a Ladakhi scholar who did a commendable job in revitalizing the Ladakhi culture and customs. Tashi used to refer to Kachen as his spiritual master. During the celebration of the 2500-year Buddha Jayanti by the Government of India in 1956, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Holiness the Panchen Lama visited India and attended the celebrations at many Buddhist holy places in India. At that time, Tashi acted as the translator for the Panchen Lama, translating his speeches into English. Tashi was honoured by His Holiness, who granted him some token money and a scarf. Around the same time Tsahi also visited Tibet. In Lhasa, he met scholars such as Geshe Chostak, one of the first compilers of a Dictionary in the Tibetan language. There is no doubt that Tashi was an eminent Ladakhi scholar, historian, philosopher, poet and singer, and a Buddhist scholar of repute who dominated the cultural and literary scene of the region for more than half a century.
I saw Tashi Rabgias for the first time in Srinagar in 1962. At that time, I was very young and was in Srinagar along with some17 Ladakhi students on a vacation residing at the official residence of Kushok Bakula. Tashi was at that time in charge of the Ladakhi programme at Radio Kashmir, Srinagar and he gave a lecture before us saying that you students must learn science. If I recall correctly, Tashi served at Radio Kashmir as a broadcaster in the Ladakhi language for several years and composed dozens of modern songs which helped to bring some kind of social awakening among the Ladakhi who had suffered a lot under the under the bureaucrats coming from Kashmir to run the administration of Ladakh. From Radio Kashmir, Tashi moved to Gangtok, Sikkim, and worked at the Government of India press as an Assistant Editor of a monthly journal titled Yar-gyas Kongfel, “Development and Progress”. During his sojourn in Gangtok he translated Natir Puja, a famous poem of Rabindranath Tagore (“The dancing girls’ worship,” 1932) into Tibetai/ Ladakhi. In those days Sikkim was a kingdom and the Government of India Press was established in Gangtok to propagate the developments that India was making in the field of science and technology to the Tibetan language readers.
In 1960, Tashi briefly worked as a Lecturer in the Tibetan language at the University of Delhi. Around 1964, Tashi Rabgais got an appointment in the Information Department of Jammu and Kashmir as Assistant Information Officer, Leh. During his assignment, Tashi did a commendable job by publishing a monthly journal, Yagais Gongfel in Ladakhi language to educate the people of Ladakh about the developmental activities carried by the State Government in the region. In 1975, I was a candidate for the post of Research Assistant in the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages. There was a selection board constituted by the Academy and interestingly I found Tashi as the language expert and he ultimately helped to select me for the post. With that I remained in touch with Tashi till his last breath.
On my request as well as his sheer love for literature, Tashi wrote more than one hundred articles for the Academy’s Ladakhi publications and I as the editor of Academy journals availed the opportunity to read all of his compositions. Around 1980, Tashi Rabgias published his book on Ladakhi History titled, A History of Ladakh which illuminates all. The book was not only welcomed by the scholarly community of Ladakh but also by general readers. His other well acclaimed book is Ladakhi Folk Songs published by the J&K Cultural Academy in 1970. The book remained popular throughout Ladakh for many years. Tashi also published a book of his compositions of modern songs.
For his contributions in the field of Ladakhi literature Tashi Rabgias was conferred with the prestigious National Award, Bhasa Samman by the Sahitya Akademi, the National Academy of Letters in1990. Prior to that the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages granted him the Robe of Honour. He was also a recipient of the Dogra Rattan Award from Dogri Sansthan, Jammu. Tashi was the founder and President of the Ladakh Cultural Forum, Leh and also remained associated with the International Association for Ladakh Studies. He also served the Ladakh Ecological Development Group as Education Officer. In numerous ways, Tashi contributed by writing books, articles, and poetry. With the passing of Tashi Rabgias, Ladakh has lost one of the greatest writers and scholars of the modern era, which is indeed an irreparable loss to the people of Ladakh.
(The author is former Chief Editor, J&K Cultural Academy, Leh)