Located at 6B, Paddapukur Lane in Chakraberia area, at a short distance from the Belle Vue Clinic, the traditional Buddhist gate of the Calcutta Karma Gon Tibetan Monastery is flanked by high-rises. Although the present building of the monastery was constructed during the middle of the 1970s, very few people of Calcutta have even heard about it, except the locals.
While the building seems to be unimposing, at least the outside, the inside is the silent world of peace, typical of Buddhist monasteries, complete with exquisite artwork and bright colours. Karma Gon, the Tibetan name of the monastery, literally means the temple of Karma, the head of the Karma Kagyu or Black Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The Karma Kagyu sect, which again has various branches, was originally founded by Düsum Khyenpa, the 1st Karmapa Lama, in the 12th century in the Kham province of eastern Tibet.
In 1761 The Phodang Monastery in Sikkim shifted to Darjeeling on the Observatory Hill, which was completely ravaged during the Gorkha invasion in 1851. However, it was rebuilt in 1861 and was later relocated to its present location in Bhutia Busty in 1879. Although the monastery belongs to the Red Sect of Buddhism, it has links with the Kagyu and the Nyingma Sects as well. Much later, in the 1930s, a monk from the monastery named Akka Dorjee came to Calcutta and started to stay in the Alipore area, among some Buddhist settlers from the Himalayan region. After some time, he shifted to the present location of the monastery, and with the help of the local Buddhists started a small mud monastery on the site in 1937.
Initially, it was named Himalayan Buddhist Gomba, and a society was also registered under the same name. However, to tide up the financial crisis, the committee decided to hand over the monastery to the Rumtek Monastery of Sikkim, also known as the Dharmachakra Centre, in 1970, and in the following year, its name was changed to Karma Gon Monastery.
The present building of the Karma Gon Monastery in Calcutta, constructed in 1976-1977, is approachable by a narrow lane. There are two sets of prayer wheels at the entrance, whose gongs induce an unearthly sense of peace and tranquility in the body and mind of the visitors. Apart from serving as the centre of the spiritual purpose, the monastery also provides shelter for the members of the community.
While the ground floor of the building is used as a staying place for the community people, the prayer hall is located on the first floor. The prayer hall, covering an area of around 1500 square feet, is decorated with attractively painted pillars, a beautifully designed mosaic floor, and an aesthetically painted ceiling.
The prayer hall, equipped with a decorated altar, along with a Tibetan drum, has four north-facing deities, kept inside glass cabinets. The idol in the extreme right belongs to Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava, one of the founding fathers of Tibetan Buddhism. It is followed by Tara, known as Jetsun Dölma in Tibetan Buddhism and regarded as the mother of liberation, representing success and achievement; Sangay, Buddha himself; and lastly, Chenrezig, popularly known as Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of compassion. The room, adorned with several paintings depicting the myths and legends of Buddhism, also has a big statue of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa of the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim.
However, the rooftop with a beautiful stupa-like structure is perhaps the most interesting spot of the Karma Gon Monastery in Calcutta, decorated with colourful rectangular prayer flags horizontally stung from the top of the stupa and also tied around the walls. The rooftop also houses a statue of meditating Buddha, inside an inbuilt glass cabinet, along with an idol of Ganesha below it, the only Hindu god regarded as a Bodhisattva.
The Rooftop Buddha