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Home >> Buddhist Monasteries in India >> Jammu Kashmir Buddhist Monasteries

Jammu Kashmir Buddhist Monasteries

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is divided into three regions on the basis of topographical and cultural difference - Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The last one, Ladakh, is a cold desert and has population that is majorly Buddhist. A number of monasteries in this region make for a good visit for all those of you who intend to undertake a Buddhist tourism in the state.

These historic monasteries are known as gompas and are a place for Buddhist nuns and monks to stay, study and practice Buddhism. The location of these monasteries, on hills and mountains, are awesome. Some of them are also located on plains but even then, there is no lack of charm. Within each of these monasteries, you will come across a rich collection of thangka paintings and many other Buddhist art and artifacts. Also, the architecture of the monasteries on the whole will give you a better understanding of Buddhism.

While visiting these monasteries, it is better to keep certain things in mind. Firstly, dress up decently, preferably in the way locals do and never forget to take off your shoes before entering a prayer area. Monks at prayer should be left undisturbed and permission must be taken before clicking snaps. Smoking, drinking, taking drugs, talking loudly within is an absolute no-no. Many a times, women are not allowed within the main prayer room, so do not enter without permission.

The number of monasteries in Ladakh is a bit too much for any Buddhist tourist to cover in one single trip, more so if the stay is short. But, you can definitely plan and visit a lot of them if you have proper information in hand. This section tries to do exactly that. Information on each individual monasteries clubbed with monasteries around will help you plan out your trip in much better manner. Also, information on festivals celebrated in each of these monasteries will further help you to figure out which monastery makes for more interesting visit during your trip.

Hemis Monastery
Situated around 45 km south of Leh, the Hemis Monastery is the most important monastery belonging to the Drupka order. The history of the monastery states that it was founded by Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso in 1630. He was invited by the king of Ladakh, Sengye Namgyal who offered him a religious estate throughout the region. The king also accepted him as his principal guru.

Monks of the Ka-gyu-pa or the Red Hat sect reside in this monastery. The number of monks actually residing in this monastery is only around a dozen, nonetheless, there are hundreds of lamas staying in the monasteries attached to Hemis.

The courtyard is entered from the northeast side. The stone steps in the right of the main courtyard leads upto two huge temples - the Tshogs-khang and the Dukhang. The Du-khang, or the main assembly hall has the throne of the Rimpoche and seats for the lamas. The walls are adorned with paintings of Sakyamuni or the Historical Buddha. Paintings of other Buddha figures and Tantric deities like Hevajra and Samvara are also seen on the walls of the Du-khang.

The Tshogs-khang houses a huge gilded image of the Sakyamuni Buddha with blue hair. The image has numerous silver chortens embellished with semi-precious stones all around. Right in front of this image is a lacquered wood throne whereas on the right side is a stock of Buddhist canonical volumes. The throne was was gifted to an earlier Incarnate Lama of Hemis by the Maharaja of Hemis.

Following the stone steps besides the Tshogs-khang, Tsom-khang temple is reached. A huge statue of Stagshang Raspa, the founder of the monastery along with a large gold and silver chorten possessing his relics are found. The private apartments of the head lama and a small chapel are located at the top.

Alchi Monastery
Around 67 km from Leh, a small village by the name of Alchi is home to one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh region. Standing on the banks of river Indus, the monastery, Alchi Monastery, is also known by the name of Alchi Choskhor. Though traditionally, the credit for the construction of the monastery goes to the great translator Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055), the oldest monuments preserved here date back to the middle of the 12th century. The significance of the monastery also lies in the fact that it is the only one that has been built on a flat ground.

The monastery complex houses two main temples - Alchi Du-khang and the Sum-tsek. Apart from these, other smaller structures of the monastery complex include The Temple of Manjushri, Lotsawa Lha-khang, Lha-khang Soma and 3 Ka-ka-ni (entrance) chortens.

Today, the monastery is managed by monks of Likir Monastery. For tourists visiting the monastery complex, it is essential to carry a flashlight since there is no electricty inside. Also, photography is prohibited inside the monastery.

Thiksey Monastery
At a distance of 17 km south of Leh is one one of the most beautiful monastery of Ladakh region - the Thiksey Monastery. Initially, the gompa was constructed by Sherab Zangpo at Stakmo, however, later, his nephew, Paldan Sherab, established the monastery atop a hill to the north of Indus River. The monastery, belonging to the Gelukpa order, spreads over 12 storeys with a private abode of incarnate lama at the top.

Steps on the right side in the main courtyard leads to the new temple that houses a huge statue of Buddha. The statue was built at the behest of His Highness, the Holy Dalai Lama, when he visited the monastery in 1980. The staue, 15 m tall, is the largest Buddha figure in the Ladakh and took around four years to build. Local craftsmen used clay and gold paint to make this image of Maitreya Buddha or the Future Buddha.

Directly above this temple, there is a small room where lamas impart education to local boys. Some of these boys are later chosen to become lama.

Coming back to the main courtyard, the steps directly across the new temple will lead upto a wall with murals of two Tibetan calander with Wheel of Life. To the right of this wall is the main prayer room consisting of many handwritten and painted books. A small room right behind the main prayer room houses a huge image of Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha). Two smaller image of Bodhisattava are placed on its side. To the left side is the eleven headed Avalokitesvara.

The Lamokhang temple on the rooftop is the place where only males are allowed to enter. The Thiksey library, a repository of numerous volumes, including Kangyur and Stangyur, is also on the top.

Currently, the monastery, home to around 80 monks, is the main monastery for atleast ten other significant monasteries of Ladakh. Prominent amongst these are Diskit, Spituk, Likir, and Stok.

Cave Monastery
A small village by name of Shergol, that lies around 40 km from the Kargil, houses an old Cave Monastery. The location of the monastery in the middle of the mounatin gives it an impression of being hanging out of the mountain. The monastery is small, yet it has some interesting and beautiful frescoes to keep its visitors occupied during their visit to the monastery.

Stakna Monastery
In the era (1580), when Ladakh was ruled by king Jamyang Namgyal, a small monastery consisiting of few Du-khangs was constructed on the top of a 60 meter high rock in the middle of the Indus Valley. The monastery, 25 km from Leh, was built by a renowned saint Chosje Jamyang Palkhar. The rock on which it stood was shaped like a tiger's nose, hence the name of the monastery became Stakna, meaning tiger's nose.

Though the monastery is small and houses only around 35 lamas of the red hat sect, there are many other lamas residing in its branch monastery like the one in Sani, Bardan and Stakrimo in Zanskar. Moreover, having been painted quiet recently (1982), it is also the most colourful gompa in the Ladakh region.

What immediately attracts visitors attention in the central courtyard is the small stuffed Lhasa Apso. This was the favourite pet of the one of the earlier lama of the monastery.

The Du-khang, right above the courtyard has a seven feet tall silver gilded chorten which was erected by the current head lama in the 1950s. The chorten consists of a statue of the Buddha along with various Buddhist texts. Among the paintings that adorn the walls inside are three new paintings of the Tsephakmad (a Buddhist deity), Shakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) and Amchi (the Medical Buddha). Apart from it, the wall facing the entrance of the Du-khang too has three more new paintings - a Bodhisattva, Padma Sambhava and Tshong-san-gompo, an early king of Tibet. Three statues of the Past, Present and Future Buddhas with Buddhist canonical volumes on both side are also seen.

The room behind the Dukhang on the left exhibits a large standing figure of Dorje Phakma, a Bodhisattva in a wooden cupboard. Also to be seen here are eight Sashan Gyat (the 8 positions of Buddha) and a small central statue of Avalokitesvara.

The room of the head lama lies above the Du-khang and has been recently embellished in Tibetan style. The library closeby is yet another striking room in the monastery with colurful paintings and gilded statue of the previous Rimpoche of Stakna.

Takthok Monastery
At a distance of 50 km from Leh and ten km from the Chemera monastery lies the Takthok monastery. The monastery is the only one of its kind in the Ladakh region given the fact that it belongs to the Nying-ma-pa sect of Buddhism, also known as the "Old Order". No other monastery in Ladakh is associated with this order. The name of the monastry Tak Thok in the local language means "Rock Roof" and indicates to the presence of a cave chapel found in this monastery.

The first thing that catches the attention of the visitors after entering the main courtyard is the rock outcroppings around the gompa. On the left side is the cave chapel infront of which are statues of Padma Sambhava and Avalokitesvara. At the back of the images is a door that opens into the cave. This cave is believed to be the one where Padmasambhava stayed and meditated. Visitors are not allowed inside this cave.

A flight of steps from the courtyard leads upto a temple, Kandshur Lhakhang. This temple preserves the 108 volumes of Buddha's teachings along with two statue of Shakyamuni. Images of the two follower of Shakyamuni stand on both sides. On the walls are painted murals of guardian divinites. On the opposite side of this temple, there is a small chapel with religious books and four Buddha statues.

On the right side of the main courtyard is Du-khang with a verandah entrance. This verandah has wonderful murals of guardian divinities, however, they are kept under cover throughout and uncovered only during the annual festival of the monastery. Visitors can lift the cloth and have a glimpse of the excellent skill that the workmen have presented through these murals.

Within the Du-khang, apart from the low row of seats for lama and a throne meant specially for the Dalai Lama, there are a wall painting of Padmasambhava, Shakyamuni and of guardian divinities; three huge statues of Maitreya (the Future Buddha), Padmasambhava and Dorje Takposal (a manifestation of Padme Sambhava) and glass fronted cases displaying small but attractive sculptures made of a mixture of butter and barley flour.

Matho Monastery
Sitting atop a ridge on the other bank of Indus river, right across Thiksey, is Matho Monastery. It is around 20 km south of Leh and was established in the first half of the sixteenth century by Tungpa Dorje post his journey to Tibet. The significance of this monastery lies in it being the only one that belongs to the Sakya order of Tibetan Buddhism in Ladakh. Also, the monastery is centred on the Saskya monastery of Tibet. Presently, the gompa houses nearly 60 lamas and 30 novices from the larger gompas in Ladakh.

Upon entering the central courtyard of the gompa, what instantly catches attention is a tall flagpole at the centre and another one at the far end. On the left wall next to the entrance, portraits of Matho's founder along with an idealised portrait of the current head lama of the Sakya sect can be seen. The right wall is occupied by portraits of white Mahakala (the fearsome protecting deity) and four headed Sarvavid (guardian aspect of Vairocana or the Teaching Buddha).

A few steps up from the entrance leads upto the Lhakhang Soma or New Temple which was built in the year 1974. The verandah of the new temple is adorned with new mural paintings of the Guardians of the Four Directions. An exquisitely decorated doorway opens inside the Lhakhang which has tremendously colourful murals all over the walls. The murals on the left wall are those of lamas of the Sakya sect whereas different manifestations of Sakyamuni dominate the right wall. Also, on the central panel of the right wall, murals of Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Mila Ras-pa can be seen.

A throne with an image of Sakyamuni behind it occupies the portion in front of the Lhakhang. Several smaller statues of Buddha surround the statue. The throne belongs to the head lama of Sakya sect who is currently staying in Dehradun.

The Du-khang or the main assembly hall of the monastery is towards the right of the courtyard. A verandah with painted murals leads inside the hall which has two rows of seats for the lamas and a throne particularly reserved for the head lama of Matho. Four statues - the thousand-armed form of Avalokitesvara, Maitreya, Sakyamuni and a blessing Buddha - stand right behind the throne. The wall on the left and right side of Du-khang shows murals of different Sakya lamas, the four headed Sarvavid, the four-armed manifestation of Avalokitesvara and a blue Sakyamuni. On the entrance wall is the Mahakala, the fiercest Buddhist guardian divinity on the left and other protecting deities on the right.

The flights of steps on the right of du-khang, through a passageway and a small courtyard, leads up two small rooms - the Gonkhang on the left and the gompa museum on the right. The Gonkhang is the meditation and prayer room where women are not allowed. Even photography is prohibited in this room. Within the room, the possessions include the oracle's special clothing, old weapons, thankas, masks and statues. Right opposite the entrance is the seat of the head lama with a table placed in front. As per a tradition, a representative from every family of Matho village offers a small bowl of maize grain out of the first harvest to this room.

The museum opposite the Gonkhang exhibits numerous items like thankas, stuffed yak and snow leopard, masks, stucco statuettes, phurbas (ceremonial daggers) and other ritual objects.

Towards the right of the smaller courtyard is the Lamdre, a shrine dedicated to the Lamdre lineage of lamas. This room houses a number of statues of various Sakya lamas, old thankas, small Buddha and Mahakala.

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