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Meet the Kung Fu Nuns of the Himalayas


In the quaint rocky mountains of Ladakh where the time appears to have stood still, the chants of the age-old Buddhist monks can be heard from the distance. Combined with these chants you can also hear the energetic shrieks of scores of young women clad in sweatpants and trainers. Fanned out in front of a majestic white temple-like structure, they stretch, lunge, jump, kick and punch on the orders of nuns. 

“Most people think nuns just sit and pray, but we do more.”

Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo (19-year-old Kung Fu Trainer)

Image by @budismodrukparecife, Instagram

Drukpa Nuns wear a unique hat. A Dakini (Skywalker) offered the hat to the First Gyalwang Drukpa to wear on his foot. But the First Gyalwang Drukpa thought it was too precious to wear on his foot, so he wore it as a hat. The red represents emptiness while the blue represents skillful means. There are 13 pleats representing the 13 bhumis. There is a specific sewing process that requires exacting precision. Finally, the hat needs to be blessed by the guru. 

The nuns of the Drukpa lineage, a thousand-year-old Buddhist tradition that began in the Himalayas when the founder – the Gyalwang Drukpa, witnessed the miraculous flight of nine dragons into the sky. Originally nuns are put in stereotypical roles of cooking and cleaning but not the Kung Fu Nuns. These extraordinary women believe in returning to their true spiritual roots by championing gender equality, physical fitness, environment-friendly ways of living and respect for all living beings. 

A small glimpse into the lives of the Kung Fu Nuns. Great Big Story, Youtube

Most of these nuns are from the Himalayas. More than half of them come from the “The Crown Jewel of India”, Ladakh. These days most of them stay and train at Druk Amitabha Mountain Nunnery in Nepal. But many of them also live in Ladakh, Delhi and beyond. Recently, these Kung Fu nuns travelled all the way to New York where they were presented with Asia Society’s Game-changer Award for the transformative impact they are making in Asia through their diverse efforts.

Image by @kungfununs, Instagram
Many critics tell us to just pray and housekeep. Well, this is how we keep house – we climb up on scaffolding and fix our own electrical problems.

Each year the nuns travel over 400 miles in the “Eco-Pad Yatras” on foot to pick up plastic litter and educate locals on environment-friendly ways of living. They also began doing Bicycle Yatras across all of India and Nepal to promote world peace and green transportation. 

During the Nepal Earthquake in 2015, these resilient women denied the evacuation and instead went on to help the most affected yet neglected villages in Nepal. In the later stages, they were also able to do a medical helicopter rescue, truck rescues, food and medicine distribution, provide solar power and more. They also helped build 201 homes for the victims of the earthquake.

Image by @kungfununs, Instagram

The Indian monk Bodhidharma discovered that his monks lacked the physical and mental strength for meditation. Drawing from movements based in Hatha and Raja Yoga, he coupled his practice with 18 different animal movements to create Kung Fu.

Today, this is practised by the Kung Fu Nuns to build stamina for meditation.

The daily routine of these nuns involves regular practice of Kung Fu between their meditation and chanting sessions. Kung Fu not only helps them to build strength but also improve meditation focus and inspires them to work hard for others. Their fight for gender equality and their fight against rape and human trafficking is just a glimpse of what the nuns are doing to make this world a better place.

Image by @kungfununs, Instagram

Meet “Odi” – a dog the nuns adopted from one of their cycle yatras in Odisha. Odi likes to patrol the nunnery, protect the nuns and particularly likes red hoodies.

The nuns also enjoy composing their own kind of spiritual music and play the piano and guitar. A life filled with purpose and also different interests!

“Women should be bold in a positive way. Earlier I was a weak-minded person, ready to give up easily. Now as a Kung Fu nun even if I fail, I bounce and fight back,” says Jigme Migyur Palmo Migyur.

“Be who you want to be, don’t feel weak and stifled,” adds Jigme Rupa Lhamo.

Interestingly, all the nuns have the prefix Jigme attached to their names. In Tibetan Jigme means ‘fearless’. And Jigme they are. The Kung Fu Nuns are an important part of a larger narrative about women’s empowerment in South Asian cultures and countries. The meaning of religion is being expanded by the Kung Fu Nuns who now aim towards gender equality.