Minutes of the Webinar “Commemorating the Legacy of Tashi Rabgias” 

by Dr. Rigzin Chodon

On 26 October the International Association for Ladakh Studies (IALS) organised a webinar to commemorate the legacy of the late Tashi Ragbias (1927-2020), one of the most distinguished Ladakhi scholars of his generation.

Tashi Rabgias (right) during the 2005 IALS Conference. © Ante Celar.

Tashi Rabgias had been invited to serve as the patron of the International Association for Ladakh Studies in 2005 and remained in this position until his demise. In September 2019 he made one of his final public appearances at the 19th IALS Conference held here in Ladakh in collaboration with the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies (CIBS). At that time, the IALS again honoured him for his contribution to the field of history, literature, philosophy, poetry, and this webinar presented a further opportunity to celebrate his legacy.

IALS President Dr. Sonam Wangchuk opened the webinar by offering a warm welcome to all participants. The first panel was dedicated to personal accounts of Tashi Rabgias. Mountaineer Steve Berry recalled meeting Tashi Rabgias in 1987 and learning from him about the historical relationship between Ladakh and Bhutan. Tashi Rabgias presented Steve with translation of a moving passage from the works of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal, the 17th century founder of Bhutan. The second presentation was by Namgyal Angmo who give a vivid account of her own meetings with Tashi Rabgias, and the way that he had served as a source of inspiration for younger scholars

Dr Rigzin Choden chaired the second panel, which was devoted to academic fields of study that were important to Tashi Rabgias. There were six speakers:

  • John Bray, an independent historian, spoke on the Moravian missionary August Hermann Francke’s research into Ladakhi songs in the early 20th century, and highlighted the contributions of the Ladakhis who worked with him. These included Konchok Tashi from Tagmachik, Ishey Rigzin from Khalatse and Joseph Gergan from Nubra/Leh. Later, Tashi Rabgias   made his own contribution to this field through his book La dwags kyi yul glu, a collection of folksongs first published by the J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in 1970.
  • Dr. Noé Dinnerstein, an ethnomusicologist and Adjunct Professor of Music at City University, New York, spoke on Tashi Rabgias’s contributions to the music culture of Ladakh. These included his work on the preservation and propagation of traditional songs, as well as his own role in popular music and theatre. Tashi Rabgias said that he had collected the songs to preserve the literature of Ladakh. In Noé’s opinion many of these songs should not be classified simply as “folk music”. In certain genres, they should be considered as “art” or “classical music”.
  • Sanjay Dhar, an experienced paintings conservator, spoke on the 19th and early 20th century travel writings as a source for understanding the physical history of Hemis Monastery. By analysing the texts carefully, and scrutinizing the illustrations, it is possible to reconstruct some of the architectural changes that took place in this period.
  • Tsunma Nawang Jinpa, who is now a PhD candidate at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, spoke about: “Tashi Rabgias: Intimate Witness and Chronicler of Hemis and Chemrey History”. She discussed the historical account he composed in 2008 at the request of the senior monks and members of Hemis Managing Committee. This carries the title “The Drukpa Kargyud School of Buddhism in Tibet and Hemis Monastery of Ladakh”, and the original typescript is preserved at the library of Hemis Museum.
  • Tashi Choephel from Koyul, who has an M.A. in Tibetan Literature, spoke about Tashi Rabgias’s contribution to Ladakhi literature through his extensive writings in Bod-yig, including poems, songs and plays. His poetic style inspired and was adopted by later poets, and his writings enriched modern Ladakh literature, often highlighting a secular thematic approach.
  • Finally, Tsering Wangchuk, an M.Phil Research Student from the University of Jammu presented a critique on the “Historiographic analysis of Tashi Rabgias’s History of Maryul Ladakh” (originally publishedin 1984 as Mar yul la dwags kyi sngon rabs kun gsal me long zhes bya ba bzhugs so sgrig pa po). He noted that the scholar wrote from a particular perspective that at times lacked the critical objectivity required of academic historians. Nevertheless, we are all indebted to his works, which serve to widen our horizons on the history of Ladakh.

The event closed with votes of thanks by Tashi Rabgias’s son, Sonam Gyatso Tukchoopa, the translator of History of Maryul Ladakh and byTsewang Rigzin, IALS Ladakh Liaison Officer.

Screenshot of the Webinar.

The webinar provided the viewers and all those who attended it, with an opportunity to honour Tashi Rabgias’s legacy, to express our gratitude for his efforts and contributions, and to inspire us to continue building on his legacy through research and writing in his special fields of interest.