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Monasteries in Sikkim
One of the beautiful northeastern states of India, Sikkim is home to around 200 Buddhist monasteries or gompas. A visit to these monasteries and gompas is a must during your Buddhist trip to the country.
The most important amongst all these monasteries is, perhaps, the Rumtek Monastery, the seat for the exiled Karmapa of Tibet. Apart from this, other worthvisiting monasteries of the state include Pemayangtse Monastery, Phensang Monastery, Phodang Monastery, Ralang Monastery, Enchey Monastery, Tashiding Monastery and Yoksum Monastery.
These monasteries present before you the Buddhist rituals and practice that have been carried out since ancient times. Life-like frescoes of hoary Buddhist legends, rare silk and brocade Thangkas, ancient Tibetan manuscripts, exquisitely carved wood work and icons of silver and gold are the prime attractions within the monastery. Moreover, you also get to meet and interact with devoted lamas robed in red attire. This interaction gives you a whole lot of knowledge about Buddhism on the whole and the history and significance of the monastery in general.
Here, in this section, you will find information about all these monasteries in detail. Go through it and pick the ones that you wish to visit during your Buddhist tour to the state.
After the Chinese occupied Tibet, the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was forced to flee to India. He arrived in Sikkim in 1959 and chose Rumtek, over all other sites, as his main seat in exile. Rumtek monastery was originally constructed by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje in 1740 and continued to be the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage in Sikkim for some time before being destroyed. However, with the arrival of the 16th Karmapa, Rumtek regained its lost glory. His Holiness, Gyalwa Karmapa began the construction work of the new monastery in 1961 and was assisted in his effort by the Sikkim Royal family as well as the Indian Government. Finally, on the Tibetan New Year's day (Losar) in 1966 , the inauguration of the new seat called, "The Dharmachakra Centre, a place of erudition and spiritual accomplishment, the seat of the glorious Karmapa." was officially accomplished by the 16th Karmapa.
The location of Rumtek, 5500 feet above sea level on a hill facing the city of Gangtok, was largely responsible for its selection as the main seat of exile for the 16th Karmapa. The Karmapa realised that the place blessed by flowing streams, mountains behind, a snow range in front and a river below was extremely auspicious for his new seat.
The main temple, surrounded by monk's quarter, is a four storey structure with a golden sculpture, the ghanzira, adorning the rooftop. The ghanzira is a combination of five distinct shape representing the five Tathagata (Buddha) families - Amithaba; the wheel, Vairochana; the bell, Amoghasiddhi; the vase, Akshobya; and the jewel, Ratnasambhava.
The main entrance of the temple is decorated with traditional colourful murals. Huge life size images of the Four Guardians of the universe - Virudaka, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra, and Vaishravana - stand guarding the four directions. Also, what is instantly noticeable here is the painting of a Hindu God, Lord Ganesha. He finds a place here because of the vision of the 16th Karmapa in which he saw the elephant headed deity aiding the construction work.
The Main Shrine Hall inside stands on strong red pillars with long, round silk banners and ancient thankas suspended from them. The walls of the hall are replete with paintings of the Kagyu lineage, the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, the Sixteen Arhats and the Genduk Chogngi. The holy throne of the Gyalwa Karmapa, together with thrones for his regents and other high incarnate tulkus is the highlight of the room. Behind the holy throne, ten feet large statue of Sakyamuni Buddha along with Shariputra and Mangalputra are positioned. Initially, this place was occupied by a large painting of Buddha, however, in 1989, the hall room was enlarged and the painting had to be shifted to another location.
Two rooms in the right and rear of the main shrine hall are dedicated to the Mahakal and Mahakali. The hall on the left side serve as the gonkhang of the female protector of the Kagyu sect, Tsering Che Nga and fierce manifestation of Guru Padmasambava, Dorje Drolo.
Within the monastery complex , behind the main monastery, are the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute of Buddhist Studies and the Golden Stupa. The former, constructed in the year 1984, is the most beautiful building in the complex. The institue attracts numerous students from around the world who spend atleast nine years studying here. Thereafter, an optional three year isolated meditation follows. A must see in this institute is the main hall on the thrid floor. The hall is embellished with awesome murals along with images of Sakyamuni Buddha and 16th Karmapa.
Opposite the entrance of the institute, a small hall houses the four metre high Golden Stupa which contains the ashes of the sixteenth Karmapa ( he died in 1981). Behind the stupa, the statue of Dorje Chang (Vajradhara) stands in the centre with four great Kagyu teacher - Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Milerapa - on his sides. The statues of the previous 16 Karmapa are also seen arranged on the sides of the hall.
This hall is not always open, hence make sure that you either knock loudly or take a monk along to get inside.
The second oldest monastery of Sikkim and the headquarters of the Nyingmapa order of the Tibetan Buddhism, Pemayangtse Monastery sits atop a ridge high above the Rangit river surrounded by the brilliant snow capped Himalayan peaks. The history of the monastery reads that it was founded in the 17th century by Lhatsun Chempo, one of the three lamas of the Yoksum and further expanded by his re-incarnate in the initial years of 18th century. The monastery draws its name from 'padma yang tse' which literally translates into the 'sublime perfect lotus'.
Unlike the other monasteries built during the same era, Pemayangtse Monastery was meant only for ta-sang' lamas or pure monks. The pure monks were defined by Lhatsun Chempo as one who were of pure Tibetan race, celibate and without any physical handicap. With time, the significance of the Pemayangtse Monastery enhanced multifold and it eventually became the one whose monks were entitled to anoint the reigning sovereign of the land with holy water.
Even today, the monastery is counted amonst the premier monasteries of Sikkim with tourists from all over pouring in to pay a visit. Moreover, till now the monks of this monastery are the only one who can claim the title of "ta-sang". The monastery derives its religious sustenance from the Mindoling Monastery which is situated in the central Tibet.
The main gompa of the Pemayangtse Monastery is simple but extremely attractive structure surrounded by pretty outhouses. The outhouses are adorned with beautiful woodwork on the beams, lattice, windows and doors. The main gompa is a three storey structure with a hall as its focus. The hall houses images of Guru Rimpoche and Lhatsun Chempo along with some beautiful thankas and murals.
The top floor displays the artistic brilliance of Dungzin Rinpoche, a former head of the monastery. In a period of just five years, he erected and painted magnificent wooden sculptures of Sang Thok Palri, the heavenly residence of the Guru Rimpoche rising above the realms of hell. The details of the intricate woodwork presents before you demons, animals, birds, Buddha, boddhisattvas, chortens and flying dragons.
The Phensang Monastery is located in the north Sikkim on the gentle slope that spreads from Kabi to Phodong. The landscape of the monastery is by every means one of the best in the entire region of Sikkim.
Tracing the history of the monastery, you will discover that it was built in the year 1721 during the era of Jigme Pawo. However, a catastrophic fire engulfed the monastery in 1947. A year later, the dedication and perseverence of the lamas resulted in the monastery being rebuilt completely.
Today, around 300 lamas of the Nyingmapa Buddhist Order reside in this monastery.
Counted amongst the six most important monasteries of Sikkim, Phodang Monastery is located in the town of Phodang, some 38 km away from Gangtok in the northern direction. The monastery stands on a ridge, a km away from the main road.
The history of the monastery states that it was first constructed by Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal in the first half of the eighteenth century. However, the structure that you will see today, is not the original one. The new structure is a pretty recent construction and hence does not give an appearance of being very old one. Infact, the monastery is rated as one of the most beautiful monastry of the state.
The history of the monastery also reveals that it was once the most important of three Kagyu monasteries in Sikkim. But when the 16th Karmapa settled at Rumtek, post his flight from Tibet, the significance of this monastery dwindled.
Currently, the Phodong Monastery, is one of the most visited monasteries of Sikkim. It houses around 260 monks of the Kagyu lineage. The monastery is a set of a simple square main temple and several outhouses as well as residential quarters. Inside, colourful murals will completely overwhelm you.
The Ralang Monastery is located around 6 km from Ravangla, in the southern portion of Sikkim. Starting off from the Main Bazaar road in Ravangla, cross past all the shops to follow the jeepable road for about 20 minutes. This road will ultimately lead you to the Ralang Monastery.
As per records, the monastery was constructed post the pilgrimage of the of the fourth Chogyal. After his return, the Karmapa performed the Rabney or blessing. The grains that he threw from the Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet (the main seat of Karmapa) fell on the ground of Ralang and was witnessed by devotees. As such it became the site for the Ralang Monastery. Reconstruction work was carried out in this monastery by the government between the period of 1975 -81. This old Ralang Monastery is one of the most important and sacred monasteries in Sikkim following the Kagyupa tradition.
A new monastery, "Palchen Choeling Monastic Institute", came up in the year 1995. It was constructed by the XIIth Gyaltsab Rimpoche who is counted amongst the four regents of the Kagyupa sect. Despite its recent construction, the monastery structure proves that meticulous care has been undertaken to maintain the authentic Tibetan architecture. Also, the paintings of the monastery is one of its huge highlights.
The monastery is home to around 100 monks.
In close proximity of Gangtok, stands the Enchey monastery (3 km away from the town centre) on a hill top. The site on which the monastery stands is believed to be blessed by the famous tantric master Druptob Karpo. It is said that this revered tantric, who had flying prowess, flew to this site from Maenam Hill in south Sikkim and built a small hermitage. Later, during the reign of Sikyong Tulku in the mid nineteenth century, the monastery was constructed in the shape of a Chinese Pagoda.
Enchey Monastery is an important seat of the Nyingmapa order of the Vajrayana school of Buddhism with around 90 monks. The building of the monastery is a small and simple two sotrey structure surrounded by tall pine trees. The highlight of the monastery are the murals depicting the protective deity and wheel of law on the porch. Also to be seen are the conch shells that are regarded propitious Buddhist symbols.
The three Gods revered in this monastery are Buddha, Loki Sharia and Guru Padmasambhava.
Tashiding Monastery stands atop the conical hill with deep forest and two rivers, the Ratong and Rangit all around. It is at a distance of 19 km south east of Yoksum. The site on which the monastery stands is believed to be blessed by the great Guru Padmasambhava. As per legends, he shot an arrow into the air and announced that he would meditate at the place where the arrow landed. The place, undoubtedly, was where the monastery, Tashiding, was later built by the Ngadak Sempa Chembo (one of the three wise men who consecrated ceremony of the first lama) during the reign of the third Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal in the early 18th century.
Post its construction, the significance of the monastery enhanced multifold, so much so that Buddhist from all over the world began to consider it their Mecca. Just a glimpse of it was enough to purify a soul. Today, the Tashiding Monastery is one of the premier pilgrim place for Buddhist and commands immense respect from them. Sikkimese yearn to die at this place
Following a wide path lined up with prayer flags, you will reach the monastery complex. Here, a simple main temple is surrounded by traditional buildings, chortens and impressive mani or stone plates. The main temple has been recently reconstructed. On the mani are sacred Buddhist inscription, om mani padme hum carved by the master crafts man Yanchong Lodil.
At the far end of the complex, chortens preserving the relics of Sikkim Choygal and lamas stand. The most famous amongst these is the'Thong-Wa-rang-Dol' which literally means 'Saviours by mere sight'. It was this chorten, a glimpse of which was believed to cleanse any soul.
The monastery is associated with the Nyingmapa order of the Tibetan Buddhism.
Yoksum is an immensely significant place for the Sikkimese since it was here that the first religious king of the state, the first Chogyal, Phuntsog Namgyal was enthroned in the year 1641. Three lamas, whose gathering was predicted by the Rimpoche some nine hundred years back, came down to carry out the coronation ceremony.
The Nyingma Dubdi Monastery, also known as the Hermit's Cell, was the first monastery that came up after this coronation ceremony and hence occupies a unique place for itself in the history of Sikkim. The monastery was constructed in the year 1701 by the followers of the Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. From the town itself, a prayer flag can be seen which marks out the site of the Nyingma Dubdi monastery.
The term Dubdi implies " The Retreat". Accordingly, the this monastery is the perfect place for lamas in quest of solitude for their meditation.
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