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

  10. 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. These are amazing.

  11. Thank you for these memories of my father. He would have been thrilled to know that his work touched so many and after so long. Even after so many years I still miss his joy of life and his efforts to allow others to discover, for themselves, inner peace and joy. I weish you could have met him!

    To Vidhata - yes, I am the one who was at Scindia!

    Apa Pant's books may be obtained from Orient Blackswan http://www.orientblackswan.com/

    I have many pictures from Lhasa of the 1957 - 1958 when we visited the Dalai Lama there - this was before he left for India. I would be glad to share.

    Aniket Pant

    I was in Sikkim as a young boy when Khentze Rimpoche passed into the next world and yes, I do recall the amazing yellow skies at the moment that he passed.

    1. dear Aniket
      Thank you for your comment! I had been trying to reach any relatives of your father a few years back. Would you please contact me directly? Simply leave an other comment with your email address. I will not publish it on the blog. Thank you

    2. I am happy and delighted to find out all this about Apa Pant, his father, the Aundh Experiment and all.
      In 1972 I lived in Freiburg, Germany. A friend from England introduced me to the Surya Namaskar. I did not want to forget these precious excises that felt so right and I was lucky to find "Das Sonnengebet" (Louisa Morgan's edition) in a book store. I am 65 and have practiced the Surya Namaskar according to the book ever since.... with interruptions but did always return to a regular practice.
      After I moved to the US, I took yoga lessons. I never found a teacher that could tell me more about the Rajah of Aundh and his Surya Namaskar until I turned to the Internet.
      I consicer the Surya Namaskar one of the great gifts in my life, and I am thankful to Apa Pant and his father, my friend from England and Louise Morgan to have appered in my early life.

    3. Dear Mr. Pant,
      I hope you don't mind that I'm writing to you here, but I am a research scholar at the University of Washington, currently researching a book about yoga which will be published by Columbia University Press. I would love to be in contact with you about the work of your father and grandfather, whose contributions to yoga have not yet received the attention that they merit.

      My full name is Sunila S. Kale, and my email address is kale@uw.edu

      Sunila Kale

    4. Dear Mr. Pant,

      I would like to be in touch with you to learn more about the work of your father and grandfather in conjunction with a book that I am writing on yoga, which will be published by Columbia University Press. If it's convenient for you, please do send me an email either at sskale2@gmail.com, or kale@uw.edu.

      Thank you,
      Sunila Kale

    5. Dear Mr. Aniket and Mr. Volker,

      Greetings for the day!

      Let me first introduced myself. I am Abhiroop Chakraborty working in the Copyrights and Permissions division of Orient Blackswan, a publishing house based in Hyderabad. I seek Mr. Aniket's contact information to discuss matters concerning to publication business between us. I would request Mr. Volker to provide us with his contact information if possible, and I would request Mr. Aniket to get in touch with us. Below please see my contact information:
      Email: abhiroop.chakraborty@orientblackswan.com
      Phone: (+91) 7680889111

  12. My mother was born in Kenya and my grand father worked for the law firm that defended Kenyan leader Jomo Kenyatta in his Mao-Mao movement trial.

    I was told by my grand father that Apa Pant enjoyed great respect in Kenya. Once Apa Pant went to London where he was India's Hicom via Nairobi where he wished to meet and catch up with his old friend Jomo Kenyatta who had become the President of Republic of Kenya. Because of some flight delays or connection issues he was unable to leave the Nairobi airport. To his pleasant surprise the Kenyan President himself drove to the airport to meet Apa Pant.

    In 1965 India sent a journalist Prem Bhatia as India's High Commissioner to Kenya. He unfortunately couldn't continue the good work of Apa Pant had initiated there.

    Prem Bhatia spent more time organizing cricket matches between Indian High Commission XI and British High Commission XI. After 4 years he was transferred to Singapore as High Commissioner and then withdrawn. Kenya and India drifted as friends after that.

  13. Delighted to see this article on Apa Pant ..It was my search for tracing the origin of doing practise of Surya Namskars which brougt me to this link.Though I have not met him but was lucky to learn Surya Namskar from his youngest daughter Avlokita in Pune in 2002 the way she learnt from him .Many thanks to Raja BHAVAN RAO SHRINIVAS 'BALA SAHIB', Pant his son Apa Pant and her daughter Avlokita for sharing and teaching the wisdom and proper way of doing surya namskars to so many ...May the Sun keeps shining in their life....