of the Himalayas", as the Tabo Chos-Khor Monastery is
popularly known, was founded more than a millennium back in 996
A.D., The Year of the Fire Ape by the Tibetan Calendar.
stands on the barren, arid, snow covered, cold and rocky desert of
the Tabo valley at a dizzying height of 3050 m. Untouched by the tribulations
of humanity, a heaven in its own sense, it has preserved the
glorious heritage, traditions and culture of Buddhism through the
passage of centuries, withholding its institution with utter
Tabo Gompa, or Buddhist monastery, is second in importance only to
the Tholing Gompa in Tibet in the entire Himalayan region. It was
developed as an advanced centre for learning by the great teacher
and translator Lotsawa Rinchen Tsang Po, the king of western
Himalayan Kingdom of Guge -- also known as Lha Lama Yeshe O'd or
Mahaguru Ratnabhadra. The Chos-Khor at Tabo remained one of the
most important Buddhist establishments during the time of Lotsawa
after the Chos-Khor at Tholing, the capital town of Guge. It is
known that the Chos-Khor at Tabo commanded great importance, and
hosted for a considerable period, many great scholars and
translators in the Buddhist history studies. To date, it is the
preserver of the Buddhist Legacy and is one of the most important
Gompa of the entire Tibetan Buddhist world.
Tabo Monastery located on desolate, flat ground with an area of 6300
sq m, enclosed by a high boundary wall built with mud brick.
During 1981-83, a new Du-khang (assembly hall) was built on the south -east of
Chos-Khor for the Kalachakra teachings (a process of initiation
and rejuvenation) from His Holiness the XIV th
Dalai Lama of Tibet in 1983 and 1996. Venerable Geshe Sonam
Wangduai, the abbot of the monastery and patron Serkong Tsanshap
Chhogtul Rinpoche have the coveted distinction of being responsible
for extensive developmental work at Tabo and re-introduction of
religio- spiritual and academic activities.
monastery temples house a priceless collection of manuscripts and
thangkas (Buddhist scroll paintings), historical, exquisite
statues in stuccos, frescos and murals depicting tales from the
Mahayana Buddhist Pantheon. Every inch of wall is covered with
fine paintings in astonishingly well preserved condition.
36 almost life-size clay statues perch on the walls of the assembly
hall. On the sheer cliff face above the monastic enclave are a
series of caves which were used as dwelling units by the monks. Here again, dim traces of the paintings
that once adorned the rock face are visible. Hence the name
"Ajanta of the Himalayas". The temple complex is a
national historic treasure of India and protected as such by the
Archaeological Survey of India.
much has changed since 996 AD at the Tabo Monastery. The lamas
still perform tantric rites in the temples. They perform most of
their morning 'poojas', and also live in the 'new' temple.
Chanting starts at 6 a.m. sharp. The monastery complex holds 9
temples, 23 chortens, a monk's chamber and an extension that houses
the nuns chamber.
Temple of the Enlightened Gods (gTug-Lha-khang)
is also known as the assembly hall (du-khang) and is quite the
core of the complex. This has a vestibule, an assembly hall and a
sanctum. The central figure of this hall is the four-fold figure
of Vairocana. In Vajrayana Buddhism, he is regarded as one of the
five spiritual sons of Adibuddha- who was the self-created
primordial Buddha. With awesome majesty he sits larger than life
about two meters above the floor. He is depicted in a posture
turning the wheel of law. On brackets arrayed along the walls and
with stylized flaming circles around them are life sized stucco
images of what are commonly called the Vajradhatu Mandala.
Thirty-three in all these are other deities of the pantheon, for
example Vajrasattva (rDo-re-dSems-pa) the 'soul of the
five Bodhisattvas of the Good Age placed within, the sanctum is
immediately behind the assembly hall. The walls around the
stuccoes are richly adorned with wall paintings that depict the
life of the Buddha. These have a purely Indian artistic style as
it is said that the artists were specially summoned from Kashmir.
Golden Temple (gSer-khang)
said to have been layered with gold, this temple was exhaustively
renovated in the 16th century by Senge Namgyal, ruler of Ladakh.
The walls and ceilings are covered with outstanding murals.
Mystic Mandala Temple / Initiation Temple (dKyil-kHor- khang)
wall facing the door has a huge painting of Vairocana who is
surrounded by eight Bodhisattvas. Mystic Mandalas cover the other
areas. Here the initiation to monkhood takes place.
Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple (Byams-Pa Chen-po Lha-khang)
has an image of the Bodhisattva Maitreya that is over six meters
high. The temple has a hall, vestibule and sanctum. The array of
murals within also depicts the monastery of Tashi-Chunpo and
Lhasa's Potala palace.
Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang)
small portico and long passage leads to its hall. The doorway is
intricately carved and the inner walls are covered with murals. It
lies on the northern edge of the complex and is regarded to have
been founded by Dromton (1008-1064 AD) an important disciple of
above are accepted as the earliest temples of the Tabo complex and
the following are later additions.
Chamber of Picture Treasures (Z'al-ma)
is a kind of an ante room attached to the Enlightened Gods temple.
It is covered with beautiful paintings of the Tibetan style.
Large Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang)
second largest temple in the complex, this has a floor area of
over 70 sq m, while the portico and niche add another 42 sq m. The
front wall has the figure of Sakyamuni flanked by Sariputra and
Maha Maugdalayana. The outer walls depict the eight Medicine
Buddhas and Guardian Kings. The wooden planks of the ceiling are
Mahakala Vajra Bhairava Temple (Gon-khang)
enshrines the protective deity of the Galuk-pa sect. Fierce
deities fill the room and it is only entered after protective
meditation. At times it is called the 'temple of horror'.
White Temple (dKar-abyum Lha-Khang)
walls of this temple are also adorned leaving a low dado for the
monks or nuns to lean against.