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About Tabo Monastery

 

The temples at the Tabo Monastery"Ajanta 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.

 

It 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 purity.

 

The 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.

 

The 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.

 

The 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.

 

Nearly 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.

 

Not 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.

 

The Nine Temples:

 

The Temple of the Enlightened Gods (gTug-Lha-khang)

 

This 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 thunderbolt.'

 

With 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.

 

The Golden Temple (gSer-khang)

Once 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.

 

The Mystic Mandala Temple / Initiation Temple (dKyil-kHor- khang)

The 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.

 

The Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple (Byams-Pa Chen-po Lha-khang)

This 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.

 

The Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang)

A 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 Atisha.

 

The above are accepted as the earliest temples of the Tabo complex and the following are later additions.

 

The Chamber of Picture Treasures (Z'al-ma)

This is a kind of an ante room attached to the Enlightened Gods temple. It is covered with beautiful paintings of the Tibetan style.

 

The Large Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang)

The 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 also painted.

 

The Mahakala Vajra Bhairava Temple (Gon-khang)

This 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'.

 

The White Temple (dKar-abyum Lha-Khang)

The walls of this temple are also adorned leaving a low dado for the monks or nuns to lean against.