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Monasteries in Himachal Pradesh
Since long, Himachal Pradesh has been under the influence of Buddhism. In the bygone era, a number of followers of Buddha came to this state in search of peace and a place where they could meditate.
Post Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, too, settled down in Himachal Pradesh. A trip to Himachal Pradesh, therefore, is of paramount importance during your Buddhist tourism to India.
While you explore the state on your Buddhist tour, monasteries will occupy a great deal of time and attention. Prominent amongst these monasteries are the Tabo, Kye, Namgyal, Rewalsar, Dhankar, Guru Ghantal, Shashur, Kardang, Tayul, Thang Yug, Kungri, Nako, Tashiganj and Lippa.
These monasteries of Himachal are held in respect by not only Buddhist community, but also by people of other religion. Moreover, quiet a few of these monasteries are recognised on international basis. Constructed primarily on bare mountain-sides, the monasteries appear as if they are a part of the Himalayan terrain. Within, a wealth of Buddhist art and artefacts, painted murals and elaborate thangkas will hold you in awe.
Namgyal is any Tibetan Buddhist institute that is associated with the Dalai Lama and his activities. The monastery was first founded in the 16th century by the 3rd Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso with an intention of effectively carrying out the ritual duties of the Dalai Lama in his religious role. At that point of time, the monastery was located in the Potala Palace of Tibet and had around 175 Namgyal monks to perform the religious duties.
However, the Chinese invasion of the1959 forced the 14th Dalai Lama to flee to India along with thousands Tibetans (among them 55 monks of the Namgyal Monastery). Here, he was granted asylum by the government of India in Mc Leodganj, upper Dharamshala in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Mc Leodganj now became the new centre for the Namgyal Monastery which stood close to the Dalai Lama's private residence.
A unique aspect of this monastery is its diversity of practice. It carries out prayers and rituals of all the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also an important centre of learning for Buddhist monks. Any monk gains an admission in this monastery only after clearing series of challenging entrance examinations. Thereafter, they need to undergo the traditional training. Also, since the monks frequently accompany the Dalai Lama to foreign locales, they are also taught the essentials of sutra and tantra.
In the year 1992, the !4th Dalai Lama chose six monks who travelled with him all the way to Ithaca, New York to set up a branch of the monastery there. This monastery has helped them to propogate their beliefs and teachings in the North America more conveniently.
At an altitude of 13,500 feet above sea level, the Kye Monastery has the distinction of being the oldest and the biggest monastery of the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh. Unfurling the history of the monastery, you will discover that it dates back to 1000 AD. Later, in its history, the monastery saw quiet a few attempts to destroy it. Like the Mongols, who, in the 17th century, attacked the monastery. The 19th century too witnessed three more intrusions by aggressive enemies.
Every time the monastery was attacked, it faced damages which required some patch up jobs. Because of this successive destruction and subsequent patch up work, the monastery lost what is commonly called as harmony of design and architecture. Rather, the monastery today, looks more of a box like structure or even a defensive fort.
The importance of the monastery lies in it being one of those few monasteries of the state that have completed 1000 years of existence. In the year 2000, when the monastery completed its 1000 years, the grand Kalchakra ceremony was organised. For Buddhists, Kalchakra implies 1000 years or wheel of time. His Highness, the Holy Dalai Lama was himself present to grace the auspicious event. The event was marked by pujas and religious congregation.
The significance of the monastery also lies in it being a reputed religious training center for the Lamas. Last but not the least, it is extremely significant for the western population of Spiti in the way that it serves their religious purpose.
Inside, there are low rooms, narrow corridors, gloomy passages, arduous staircases and tiny doors that lead up to prayer rooms. These prayer rooms themselves do not follow a single design.
However, give all the drawbacks, the monastery also has its own set of highlights. For example, the paintings and the murals of the walls promptly catch your attention. There is also an image of Dhyana Buddha inside.
The monastery houses an exquisite collection of thangkas, priceless manuscripts, stucco images, unique wind instruments and above all a collection of weapons. These weapons constantly remind you of the past when the monastery was frequently under attack. The wind instruments are still made use of during the performance of Chham in summers.
Dhankar means 'a place in the mountains unreachable for strangers'. This place houses a monastery associated with the Great Translator, Rinchen Zanggpo.
Located around 24 km from the town of Kaza, the Dhankar Monastery stands at an altitude of 12,774 feet. The 16th century old fort monastery has also served as a prison in the erstwhile era. A new monastery stands in the small village of Shichilling below the old monastery.
The old monastery complex comprises a number of multi-storeyed buildings perched together. This old complex, also known as the Lha-O-pa Gompa has five different halls including Kanjur, Lhakhang, and Dukhang. A huge life size silver image of Vajradhara, the Diamond Being, is kept in a glass altar adorned with scarves and flowers. A must visit in this monastery is the Lhakhang Gompa, a small chapel, situated on the uppermost peak above the main monastery. This chapel is beautified with depictions of Shakyamuni, Tsongkhapa and Lama Chodrag on the central wall.
The monastery is associated with Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism and has around 150 lamas residing in it. The highlight of the monastery is the a statue of Vairochana or Dhayan Buddha with 4 figures seated back to back. Apart from this, the monastery also houses Buddhist scriptures in Bhoti language, murals of Medicine Buddha, protector deities and Budhist thangkas.
Rewalsar lake is located in the district of Mandi, around 20 km from the town of Mandi. The place, boasts of a refreshing beauty with its emerald green lake and thick woods in the surroundings. Moreover, the place is sacred for three religious communities of India - Hindu, Sikh and Buddhists.
For Buddhist, the place is significant because of its association with Guru Padmasambhava. He was a yogi or a sage from Uddiyan (Swat of Pakistan) in the 8th and 9th century and skilled in tantric powers. Legends goes that he wished to train the daughter of the local raja in meditation but the raja was so infuriated that he had Padmasambhava thrown into flames. However, powerful as he was, Padmasambhava presented himself as a lotus flower surrounded by water. This did the trick as the raja was now mighty impressed and even allowed his daughter to be his disciple.
Later, Padmasambhava flew to Tibet on a tiger. There, he overpowered the local deities and converted them into the protector of Buddhism. Thereafter, he established Tibet's first monastery at Samye. The place from where he departed for Tibet in order to spread dharma (which came to be known as Lamaism) was ofcourse Rewalsar. Hence, the place attained a status of almost a pilgrim destination. It is believed that in the caves around the lake, Padmasambhava left his footprints.
Rewalsar is home to quiet a few monasteries that belong to Nyingmpa sect. Of special mention are Drikung Kagyud Gompa, Tso-Pema Ogyen Heru-kai Nyingmapa Gompa and the Zigar Gompa. The gompas, in red, yellow and white, have gold fringed pagodas. Other highlights of the monasteries include murals depicting a wonderful amalgamation of the Indo Chinese style and a huge stucco image of Guru Padmasambhava. The Tso-Pema Ogyen Heru-kai Nyingmapa Gompa has a museum with colourful murals.
The islands that float in the lake are believed to be inhabited by the spirit of Padmasambhava. It is famously said that the floating islands of reeds can be set into motion by both prayer and breeze.
Guru Ghantal Monastery
The hill above the Tunde village, in the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh, is home to around 800 year old monastery, Guru Ghantal Monastery. The monastery, also known by the name of the Trilokinath Temple, was founded by Guru Padmasambhava. The village and the hill stands at the meeting point of the Chandra and Bhagha river and is near Gondla in the Pin valley.
The monastery is associated with the Drukpa order and is made of wood. Within, an image of 'Boddhisatva Avalokiteshwara' dominates. The white marble head of the monastery was installed by Padmasambhava himself, however it is now kept in safe custody so that it is not stolen away. Also, to be seen in this monastery are idols of Guru Padma Sambhava, Brijeshwari Devi and several other lamas.
The walls are painted in stone colour, however, lack of proper preservation has resulted in the colours being washed away. This is attributed to the seepage of the monastery as well as the transfer of the valuables to the Tupchiling gompa.
Strange, but it is a fact that the monastery houses a black stone image of Hindu goddess Kali in its innermost chamber. This strengthens the belief that before being converted into a Buddhist religious place the monastery was a temple.
Kardang Monastery, established some 900 years back in the 12 century, is located on the left bank of the river Bhaga, just above the village of Kardang. The location of the monastery, with the stunning backdrop of the bare mountains of the Rangcha massif, ensures maximum sunlight during the winters.
The Kardang Monastery was in ruins, until Lama Norbu decided to renovate it in the year 1912. The architecture of the monastery reflects the style which typically belongs to Lahaul and Spiti. Within the monastery, the colourful frescoes and murals are excellent. Additionally, the monastery also a houses a huge repositery of some exquisite thangka paintings, old weapons and musical instruments like lutes, drums, horns etc.
Also to be seen in the monastery is a huge library and a huge drum. The former is stocked with Kangyur and Tangyur volumes of Buddhist scriptures in Bhoti while the latter contains strips of paper upon which the sacred mantra 'Om Mani Padme Hum' is written a million times.
The monastery is associated with the Red Hat sect and has a Narbo as its head Lama. Equal rights are granted to both nuns and monks and the lamas have the permission to marry. The lamas balance their worldly and religious life by staying with their family in the summers and returning to gompa in winter. While with their family, the lamas work on the field, however, once they return to the monastery, meditation becomes their prime focus.
A silver Chaitya/stupa dedicated to Lama Norbu¸ the founder who died in 1952 is preserved in this monastery. The stupa preserves the mortal remains of Lama Norbu.
At a mere distance of 3 km from Keylong in the Lahaul valley is yet another worth visiting monastery of Himachal Pradesh, Shashur Gompa. The monastery was erected in the 16th century by Lama Dewa Tyatsho of Ladakh who was an emissary of Nawang Namgyal, the king of Bhutan. Later, renovation work was done by Lama Dewa Gyatsho. The monastery is associated with the red hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism or Gelukpa order and have spiritual connection with the Lion Cave Temple of Bhutan.
As you make your way to the monastery through difficult tract, chortens and a beautiful mani wall (piles of prayer stoes) will catch your attention. Inscribed on these stones is the extremely sacred Buddhist ritual mantra or invocation - OM MANI PADME HUM - The Jewel in the Heart of the Lotus.
The three storeyed monastery is built at a narrow site 600 m above the valley on a hill. This narrowness has led to the monastery being constructed vertically. However, despite this the monastery conforms to the ancient mandala concept. Within, the attractions include a 5m thangka, beautiful paintings representing the history of 84 Buddha's and a statue of Namgyal. Infact, the thangka found here is famous in the entire Lahaul region and people come in large number just to see it.
At a distance of 6 km from Keylong, above the village of Satingri, stand one of the oldest monasteries of the Lahaul region, the Tayul Gompa. In Tibetan language Tayul translates into the chosen place.
An interesting anecdote associates itself with the construction and naming of the monastery. It is said that in the 17th century, lama Serzang Rinchen of Khan region of Tibet, while performing his circumambulation of the sacred peak Drilburi, noticed a small glade in the juniper forest above Kyor and Tashikyang villages on the opposite side of the valley. He pointed this out to his fellow pilgrims and concluded that the site was blessed for the construction of a monastery. Thus came up the monastery and its name, Tayul.
Expansion and renovation work on the monastery was carried out a century later by a Ladakhi, Tulku Tashi Tanphel who belonged to the Tagna monastery. He embellished the walls of the monastery with murals and stucco images and also added the Narthang edition of the Kangyur from Tibet to the library.
Apart from this, the monastery houses thankas depicting the life of Buddha and a 5 m tall image of Guru Padmasambhava along with his two manifestations - 'Sighmukha' and 'Vijravarashi'. However, the major attraction of the monastery was and still remains the hundred million mani wheel. By turning of wheel, perceptive beings are said to be blessed by the compassion of God. Also, the mani wheel is famous as the self turning one. This means that the wheel rotates all by itself on special and auspicious occasion. The last time when it turned all by itself was in 1986.
Thang Yug Gompa
At a distance of around 14 km from the Kaza, stands the famous Thang Yug Gompa which was constructed in the first half of the 14th century. The gompa is associated with the Sa-kya-pa sect and is known for its historical significance. As per history, a group of eminent Buddhist scholars of the monastery, quiet adept in tantra, successfully completed the task of revising the Tangyur. Tangyur is one class of the Tibetan scriptures consisting of 87 volumes.
The history of the gompa also states that it earlier stood at Hikkim village but a major earthquake of 1975 caused immense damage to the structure. The villagers, thereafter, shifted this monastery to its current site near Comic village. The remnants of the old monastery is still seen in Hikkim.
The head lama of the monastery belongs to Tibet.
Kungri gompa is located around 10 km from Attargo and 3 km from Gulling in Pin Valley. Attargo itself is located around 12 km from the subdivisional district headquarter of Spiti. The river Spiti has to be crossed in order to reach the Pin Valley, most of which has been declared a National Park.
The gompa does not merely holds the distinction of being the second oldest one in the Spiti valley, rather it also happens to be the only gompa following the Nyingmapa Buddhism in the valley. Nyingmapa is the oldest order of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Kungri gompa was erected in the first half of the 14th century, around 1330 and consists of three separate rectangular blocks, all of which stand facing the eastern direction. Recently, Kungri gompa ganied a lot of attention because of the foreign aid it received for its renovation work. However, despite renovation work, the gompa provides the strong impact of the tantric cult that held sway over the Pin valley in the bygone era.
Within the gompa, attractions include silk paintings of various Buddhist deities on the inner walls, huge statues and over 300 volumes of the sacred Tibetan texts, Kenjur and Tenjur preserved carefully in white muslin.
The monastery also has the buzhens performing a sword dance. The buzhens are wandering friars some of who live in the Mud village on the right bank of the Pin river.
At an altitude of 3660 m, Nako is the highest village in the valley of Hangrang surrounded by barren and dusty landscape.
The monastic complex in Nako is situated at the western edge of the town and comprises four temples apart from other buildings. From outside, the monastery exude a very simple appearance, but this is in contrast to what you will see inside.
Two temples are of utmost importance here, the Main temple and the Upper temple. Both these temples are considered the oldest amongst all the structures and still preserve their original clay sculptures, murals and ceiling panels. The largest temple or the main temple is also called the Translator's Temple. It also happens to be the oldest monument in the village.
The third structure in the complex is the Small White temple, which though not in a good state, is worth visiting for its wonderful wooden door-frame with scenes of the Life of the Buddha carved on the lintel.
The fourth structure is quiet the same size as the Upper Temple and is also situated besides it. The temple is today known as the Temple of Wide Proportions (rGya-dpag-pa'i lHa-khang).
The famous Tashigang Monastery stands at the confluence of river Sutlej and river Spiti in the Lahaul and Spiti ditrict of Himachal Pradesh. Despite its location in Lahaul and Spiti, the monastery is best accessed from Namgya in Kinnaur district. Namgya can be reached by taking a diversion from Khab at NH22. From Namgya trek to the Tashigang gompa. Namgya is not far off from Nako.
The monastery comprises two gompas- old and the new. The new gompa is extremely beautiful with exquisite wall paintings, small collection of Buddhist books, Buddhist statues and a big Tibetan drum. The old gompa stands few houses below the new gompa and houses a statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha.
Noteworthy is that the new gompa might remain closed when you visit it, however, the old gompa will have greater chances of being open. Here, you can also spot devotees coming in to offer prayers.
Lippa is situated close to the the bank of Taiti stream, 14 km from Jangi in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. It appears that it has been an important centre for Buddhism since a long time now. The monastery was initially founded by the revered astrologer, Lama Devarama, however, it took efforts from the side of his son to complete the monastery.
The monastery is home to three temple. Out of these three temples, two stock volumes of the sacred Kangyur and Tangyur scriptures. The third and the last temple is the 'Goldang Chakodar'.
A monastery that is next only to the Tholing Gompa in Tibet and is considered a historic treasure of India - that's Tabo Monastery. The monastery, established in 996 AD, The Year of the Fire Ape by the Tibetan Calendar, by great teacher and translator Lotsawa Rinchen Tsang Po, is today more than thousand years old. It was developed as an advanced centre for learning and till date it has managed to preserve the Buddhist legacy with the same steadfastness.
The location of the Tabo Monastery adds to its charm. The monastery stands at a secluded, flat, barren ground occupying an area of 6300 sq km. High boundary wall of mud bricks surround it.
The monastery complex comprises 9 temples, 23 chortens, a monk's chamber and an extension that houses the nuns chamber.
A group of temples is regarded as earlier construction while yet another group belongs to a later period. The temples belonging to the first group are The Temple of the Enlightened Gods, The Golden Temple, The Mystic Mandala Temple / Initiation Temple, The Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple and The Temple of Dromton.
Those included in the second group are The Chamber of Picture Treasures, The Large Temple of Dromton, The Mahakala Vajra Bhairava Temple and The White Temple.
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