‘Gunga Galunga’: Was Bill Murray’s Dalai Lama Story in the ‘Caddyshack’ Script?

When Bill Murray arrived on the set of Caddyshack (1980), writer-director Harold Ramis knew he wouldn’t have the actor for long. Since he only had a small part in the film, producers had booked Murray for one week. But Ramis and Murray made every day count.

More than four decades later, you still hear people quoting lines Murray delivered as out-there groundskeeper Carl Spackler. Considering Murray came up with most of those lines on the spot, that stands as quite a feat.

As Ramis pointed out in Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella (2018), Murray’s previous work had prepared him well . “He’d done so much improv at the [National] Lampoon, he could just go,” Ramis said. “He would just turn up and do weird stuff.”

The story Spackler (Murray) tells about caddying for the Dalai Lama (“Gunga galunga” and so forth) certainly falls under the “weird” banner. And it wasn’t in the Caddyshack script.

Bill Murray improvised his Dalai Lama speech in ‘Caddyshack’

Bill Murray holds a hose and reaches toward a gopher puppet in the movie 'Caddyshack'
Bill Murray eye to eye with a gopher in a scene from the film ‘Caddyshack’ | Orion Pictures/Getty Images

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In Caddyshack, Murray’s Spackler, with pitchfork in hand, corners a young caddy to tell him a story about a job he worked on the other side of the world. “I jump ship in Hong Kong and I make my way over to Tibet,” Spackler says. “I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas.”

The story only gets more bizarre from there. Spackler tells the dumbfounded caddy that the golfer he worked for on that Himalayan course was none other than the Dalai Lama. (“Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald … striking.”)

Spackler didn’t have time to sweat this pairing; there was golfing to be done. “He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, into a 10,000-foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier,” he continues. “Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga … gunga, gunga lagunga.”

As with nearly everything else he said in the movie, Murray improvised that speech. “I was good back in those days,” he said in Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella. “I could do something when they turned the camera on — I was wired into what I was talking about. Improvising about golf was easy for me. And it was fun.”

Murray struck gold with ‘gunga galunga’ and ‘gunga lagunga’

Cindy Morgan and Bill Murray with black paint smeared on his face; the two actors stand with their faces close together under a tree
Cindy Morgan and Bill Murray nestle behind a tree in ‘Caddyshack,’ 1980. | Orion Pictures/Getty Images

Even if you don’t like Caddyshack, you have to admit Murray’s improvisations were inspired. After he tries to quote the Dalai Lama as saying “Gunga galunga,” he pauses for a moment. “Gunga lagunga,” he corrects himself.

Neither Ramis nor Murray mentions those words being in the script. So you can assume it was all part of his improvisations. “Everything we shot with Bill in the movie was just him riffing,” Ramis said in The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella.

It’s possible Murray began with the title of the 1939 adventure film Gunga Din (set in India) and ran with it. Either way, Ramis faced another type of challenge during the six days Murray spent on the Caddyshack set. The director was laughing so hard during Murray’s scenes he ran the risk of ruining the takes.