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‘The earthquake shook the buildings but not our strength and energy’

Vishal Gulati | Kathmandu 23 May 2015, Vol 6 Issue 21

Trained in the ancient Chinese martial arts and second to none, these softhearted Buddhist nuns are fighting against all odds to help Nepal get back on its feet after last month's devastating quake and a series of aftershocks.

They are the 300 kung fu nuns from the Kathmandu-based Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery, established by the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas. They are using their skills to provide succour to the victims.

Kung fu nuns engaged in post-quake relief work in Nepal (Photo: IANS)

Every morning, after their routine prayers and meditation, the maroon-robed nuns, whose monastery and residential complexes were extensively damaged, leave for the villages located in Ramkot district to help in the reconstruction effort and the rehabilitation of the quake-hit people.

"They earlier helped the villagers removing the rubble, retrieving buried household goods and reconstructing the village pathways," the Gyalwang Drukpa, who is active in Nepal and India, told this visiting correspondent.

Now they are working to construct prefabricated community halls for the victims of the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 and three more severe shocks, besides a series of milder tremors, killing more than 8,000 people.

They also distribute rice and lentils and help pitch the night shelters.

Having survived in the quake, they refused to be evacuated and decided to help the victims from the very next day of the natural calamity.

"Many personal friends and governments were calling and offering me to get them evacuated. It was raining heavily, completely dark and shaky. Earthquakes were repeatedly occurring. The walls and the windows were falling. But the nuns refused to leave and volunteered to help the survivors," the spiritual leader said.

For the nuns, community service is part of their training. They have also been trained in driving, plumbing and electrical works, and can also work with gadgets such as computers and cameras.

The Gyalwang Drukpa's foundation 'Live to Love' on May 17 adopted nine devastated villages in Ramkot district for rehabilitation.

"Our priority now is to construct prefabricated community halls before the onset of monsoon," said Jigme Jamyang Sherab, a 25-year-old nun.

She said her parents, who are based in Himachal Pradesh in India, were worried when the quake struck.

"They asked me to leave this place immediately as earthquakes were reoccurring. I refused and preferred to stay to help the survivors who have witnessed the large-scale death and destruction," she said.

After the earthquake, the nuns pitched tents in the sprawling campus of the nunnery as their lodges developed cracks.

Pointing towards the partially damaged kung fu hall, another nun, Jigme Chosdon, said: "The earthquake shook the buildings but not our strength and energy. It's all due to intensive training of the martial art and meditation."

She said the nuns are also offering to help the villagers repair damaged electrical and sanitary fittings.

The Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery is a unique instance of gender reversal. Here the nuns run the administration, historically reserved for the monks.

The Gyalwang Drukpa is propagating gender neutrality.

The kung fu nuns, who are receiving modern education and spiritual training, are gaining worldwide recognition.

A BBC news documentary featured them and they have performed at London's Olympic Park and at the CERN in Geneva.

Once normalcy returns, it will be back to the routine for the nuns, with the day starting at 3 a.m. and ending at 10 pm.
A kung fu nun typically gets up at 3 a.m., meditates till 4.30 a.m. and takes part in the puja at 5 am. Breakfast is at 8 am. After half-an-hour, it's again time for meditation till 10 a.m.

Then there are classes to learn the Tibetan language. Lunch is served at 12.30 p.m. and it's a strict vegetarian diet. The nuns are allowed to rest for an hour before they are called for English class.
At 4 p.m., it's time for tea and recreation. Puja starts at 5 p.m., followed by dinner. Between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m the nuns again practise kung fu.

Going by the way things are, it'll be a while before this routine resumes. - IANS

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