The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India

By Toni Huber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
The Allure of the Atsaras

The religion of the Lamas is either derived from that of the Hindus, or
improved by it. They retain, therefore, the greatest veneration for the
Ganges and the places held holy in Hindustan.

—George Bogle, 1775


Introduction

Premodern Tibetan pilgrims to India always had to face difficulties of one kind or another, although some were less fortunate than others. Sonam Rabgye, whose pioneering 1752 journey of rediscovery was investigated in the previous chapter, was unlucky enough not only to have had to pass through the Gorkha campaigns against Kathmandu but also to have been repeatedly the victim of the general lawlessness that prevailed in Bihar during the disintegration of the Mughal Empire. However, not long after Sonam Rabgye's difficult Indian journey, travel conditions began to change for the better in the Middle Ganges region. This was due to the rapid expansion of British colonial power throughout the region during the middle of the eighteenth century. These profound events, the breakdown of one Indian empire and its replacement by another, formed the context for a renewed period of Indo-Tibetan contacts which had their own new religious consequences on both sides of the Himalayas.

In 1757, the British began conducting a series of military campaigns in Bihar and Bengal. These campaigns resulted not only in the combined provinces being granted to the East India Company in 1765 but also in Benares (Vārāṇasī) being restored to the state of Oudh by the British during the same year. Within a short time, the new colonial power, whose dominant interests were extractive and commercial, took steps to greatly

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