Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Prince and I - The Story of Apa Pant

When the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan delegation crossed the Sikkim border in November 1956, they were welcomed by the Chogyal of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal and the Indian representative in Sikkim, Apa Pant. For the following three months Apa Pant was in charge of organizing the Dalai Lama's journey through India, visiting pilgrimage places, but also enabling the Tibetan leader to solicit foreign support for his people under siege.

HH Dalai Lama together with Chogyal Tashi Namgyal
in Gangtok 1957

Some thirty years later my mother presented me with a little book entitled ‘Das Sonnengebet’ (Sun Prayer). I was just about to develop an interest for all things exotic, so I decided to give the seemingly simple yoga exercises a try. For several months I continued to practice the Surya Namaskars and then I must have moved on to something else that was equally exciting and new, but the flavors of discipline and sanity that came with performing a regular exercise stayed with me for much longer.

Just recently, when researching Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s students in Sikkim, I found that Apa Pant had not only been the highest Indian political officer in Sikkim at the time, but also that he was an ardent practitioner of the Surya Namaskar. This stirred my memory and I phoned my mother to send me the book. Unbelievably she still found it sitting on some dusty shelf.

Sure enough the same Apa Pant who had requested Jamyang Khyentse again and again for the ultimate instruction on how to meditate (as described in chapter 5 of Sogyal Rinpoche's Tibetan Book of Living and Dying) was the author whose instructions for yogic exercise I had followed with great curiosity many years before I even knew anything about Tibetan Buddhism.
Parshuram Rao Pant 'Apa Sahib', Padma Shri [1912-1991]

Apa Pant was born in 1912 as the eldest son of the Raja of Aundh. He took his M.A. at Oxford, and was called to the Bar before his return to India in 1937. For the next ten years he was involved in an unusual constitutional experiment by which his father Bala Sahib, aided by Mahatma Gandhi and Maurice Frydman, handed over power to the people of Aundh as an early test of village-level self government in British India. [see also Aundh Experiment]

HH Meherban Shrimant Raja BHAVAN RAO SHRINIVAS 'BALA SAHIB', Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh [1868-1951]

Many credit the Raja, Apa Pant's father, for popularizing Surya Namaskars as a simple physical exercise by introducing it to schools as a form of education for the all-round development of an individual. He was not only a benevolent ruler, but also an avid painter know for his beautiful illustrations of the Ramayana

Rishyashringa Lured into Ayodhya by Dancing Girls
Detail from 1911 painting by Bala Sahib

In 1948, Apa Pant was chosen by the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to be India’s Commissioner in British East Africa. From 1951 to 1961 he was made political officer in Sikkim and Bhutan with control over Indian Missions in Tibet.

Apa Pant with Indira Gandhi (center) and the Queen of Bhutan (right) at Dzong in September 1958 [PDI]

In 1956 Apa Pant helped facilitate the Indian invitation to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to by way of the Sikkim Crown Prince Thondup Namgyal.
monks lining up in Gangtok in January 1957
for the return of the Dalai Lama from his tour of India

Jamyang Kyentse returned from his pilgrimage to India and Nepal around Losar 1957, just after HH Dalai Lama had returned to Lhasa via Gangtok. It was probably during this time that Apa Pant became a student of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. As Sogyal Rinpoche recounts in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:
“Apa Pant told me this story. One day our master Jamyang Khyentse was watching a "Lama Dance" in front of the Palace Temple in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, and he was chuckling at the antics of the atsara, the clown who provides light relief between dances. Apa Pant kept pestering him, asking him again and again how to meditate, so this time when my master replied, it was in such a way as to let him know that he was telling him once and for all: "Look, it's like this: When the past thought has ceased, and the future thought has not yet risen, isn't there a gap?"
"Yes," said Apa Pant.
"Well, prolong it: That is meditation."
In the colophon to his teaching "Opening the Dharma" Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö writes:
"This 'Opening the Dharma' was written at the request of the Governor of Sikkim, Apa Sahib, by a Tibetan holding the name of Jamyang Khyentse's emanation (from Dzongsar), stupid Chökyi Lodrö, who, with an extremely good heart, wrote uninterruptedly. May this virtue bring benefit to the Holy Dharma and to all those wandering in Samsara."
It was this very teaching that HH Sakya Trizin's sister Jetsün Kushok Chimey Luding happened to hear on radio while playing with her transistor in Sakya.

When, just after Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö had passed away, all of Gangtok was suddenly lit up by a strange, unearthly light, hours after dark, Apa Pant was the first to call and inquire what on earth it could be. (See also the recollections of HH Sakya Trizin in the film: A Tribute to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö)

Later Apa Pant held diplomatic appointments in Indonesia, Norway, the UAR and as High Commissioner in London from 1969 to 72. As the Indian ambassador to Italy he welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama once again who, visiting Europe for the first time, had made it his priority to meet Pope John Paul VI.

He authored several books some of which contain several references to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, to whom he refers as the 'Great Khentse Rimpoche':
• Surya Namaskars: An Ancient Indian Excercise
• An Unusual Raja: Mahatma Gandhi and the Aundh Experiment
• An Extended Family, or Fellow Pilgrims
• A Moment in Time (his autobiography)
• Undiplomatic Incidents
Apa Pant passed away in 1992


  1. nice info...i had heard about apa pant but to know this aspect of him was interesting....do carry on...

  2. I stumbled on this article through Google. Apa and Nalini Pant were close friends of my parents. He presented me to the Dalai Lama when I was eight, as well as my brothers. The Panchen Lama was also present. It must have been in 1956 during the journey you describe. We stayed with the Pants in Sikhim when I was thirteen and he would wake us early to see the sun rise over Kanchenjanga. It was an unforgettable sight and, although that may have been the last time I saw him, he was an unforgettable intellectual presence and such a dignified and kind man.

  3. Dear.. Thank you for your lovely comment. You confirm my impressions that are merely based on second hand accounts.
    In the next few weeks I will be traveling in India, Sikkim and Nepal to continue my research. If you reside in any of these parts I would very like to meet you. You can contact me via my profile in this blog.

  4. Thanks for this respectfully written aspect of Apa Pants life...

  5. excellent research, wonderfull, will u plz tell me how do i get books by appa.......plz

  6. would anybody know about the family of Apa Pant, I think his son, Aniket, studied in Scindia School Gwalior.
    Am i talking of the same 'Apa Pant"?

  7. I am so grateful to you for posting this synopsis of Apa Pant's life. I had the good fortune to become a student of his, to study Surya Namaskar from him when he was in his 80's and to stay with Nalini and their family in Poona, travel with him in Maharastra visiting his father's palace and museum and the temple where he daily worshipped. I have many videos taken at that time. He was an amazing presence and would welcome the chance to speak with you (or anyone else who has any experience of Sri Apa Pant and his family) as I am doing more research into Surya Namaskar. Please do contact me at my website www.cayugasunrise.com with any info you might have. THANK YOU

  8. It's been three decades since I taught yoga classes in my native England; of course, I taught Surya Namaskar to all my students.

    In the present, at 65, I'm realizing it would have been a lot easier to have continued with yoga asana, rather than attempt to replicate my earlier performance by starting again! But start I have, and when I thought of Surya Namaskar, I thought of Apa Pant. By the modern miracle of the Internet, here's a great article about him.

    It's a great pity that in Western schools (i.e., English, American, etc) children are not introduced to yoga asana as part of the curriculum.
    I'm certain we'd all be a lot healthier (and happier) and less reliant on our Western methodology for easing aches and pains, tight muscles, and depression - prescription drugs, booze, etc.

    Long may the spirit of Apa Pant, and the practice of Surya Namaskar, continue!

    {Sorry, not web-minded enough to know what 'Select a profile' means, so I clicked on 'anonymous'}
    Robert Render Harrison
    (also named Urgyen Samten by Sogyal Rimpoche, about 35 years ago in London)

  9. Fuad Rachid (Lebanon)26 August 2013
    can somebody kindly send to my e mail an e copy of Apa Pant book Surya Namaskars: An Ancient Indian Excercise