Tabo Monastery, Himachal Pradesh
About Tabo Monastery
Located in the valley of Spiti at an altitude of 3050m, the Tabo Monastery is quiet often referred to as the Ajanta of the Himalayas. Founded by an eminent scholar Richen Zangpo in the 996 AD, as an advanced centre of learning, this is basically a complex that houses a number of small gompas, temples and monasteries. It spreads over an area of 6300 sq m and is surrounded by high boundary wall. The importance of this monastery can be judged from the fact that its significance is second only to the Tholing Gompa in Tibet in the entire Himalayan region. Even today, the monastery is keeping up its image of an efficient and effective learning centre by opening up schools to impart modern education to the newer generation.
Inside The Monastery Complex
The monastery complex houses a total of nine shrines that were constructed and reconstructed between the period of 10th to 15th century AD. Among these structure, there are few that are considered to be built earlier while the rest are considered to be later additions.
The Temple of the Enlightened Gods (Tug-Lha-khang)
This is the most important temple in the complex and occupies the central position. It is also called the assembly hall or du - khang. Within it, there is an assembly hall, a vestibula and a sanctum. Right in the centre of the temple is the four fold figure of Vairocana. He is regarded as one of the five spiritual sons of Adibuddha, a self-created primordial Buddha. The imposing figure is placed around 2 metres above the floor and is seen turning the wheel of law. Figures, popularly known as the Vajradhatu Mandala, surround the central image. The walls of the temple are full of paintings that depict the life of the Buddha in various stages. The paintings, it is believed, were done by the artists specially called all the way from Kashmir. The sanctum of the temple houses five Bodhisattvas of Good Age.
The Golden Temple (Ser-khang)
The temple was initially believed to be layered with gold. However, the 16th century saw extensive renovation work done on this temple at the orders of the Ladakhi ruler, Senge Namgyal. The walls and the ceilings of the temple are adorned with excellent mural works.
The Mystic Mandala Temple or the Initiation Temple (dKyil-kHor- khang)
This is the place where initiation of monkhood is done. The temple houses an impressive painting of Vairocana which is surrounded by eight Bodhisattvas. It adorns the wall that faces the door. Mystic Mandala occupies the rest of the portion.
The Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple (Byams-Pa Chen-po Lha-khang)
An imposing six meters high image of the Bodhisattva Maitreya dominates this temple. It is divided into a hall, vestibule and sanctum. Murals adorn the interiors of the temple. Of special significance are the murals depicting the monastery of Tashi-Chunpo and Lhasa's Potala palace.
The Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang)
Situated at the northern end of the complex, this temple is supposed to be founded by an eminent disciple of Atisha, Dromton. The doorway of the temple is finely carved and the inner walls are filled with murals. To reach the hall of the temple, a small portico and a long passage need to be crossed.
The Chamber of Picture Treasures (Z'al-ma)
Connected to the Enlightened Gods temple, this is a type of an ante room. Beautiful Tibetan style paintings are the highlights here.
The Large Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang)
This one is second largest temple in the complex with a floor area of 70 sq m. The 42 sq m of the portico and the niche also increase the total area. A figure of Sakyamuni along with images of Sariputra and Maha Maugdalayana can be seen on the front wall while the outer wall has eight Medicine Buddhas and Guardian Kings.
The Mahakala Vajra Bhairava Temple (Gon-khang)
This temple is sometimes referred to as the temple of horror. The reason behind it is the fierce deities that occupy the rooms inside. The protective deity of the Galuk-pa sect is the presiding deity here.
The White Temple (Kar-abyum Lha-Khang)
Noteworthy in the temple are the walls that are adorned and have a low dado for the monks or nuns to lean against.
For those desirous of visiting the Tabo Monastery, it is important
to know that the place is not open throughout the year. The reason for
this is the bad weather including snowfall that cuts it of from the
rest of the state for around three fourth of the year.
Within the limited period, there are quiet a few options to reach Tabo. The first one is to reach Shimla and then proceed to Tabo by road via Narkanda, Rampur, Jeori, Wangtu, Karcham, Powari, Jangi, Puh, Khab, Chango and Hurling. The entire journey covers 365 km with the option of overnight halts at places.
The second way to reach Tabo is to reach Kullu and then head towards it via Rohtang Pass, Gramphoo, Batal, Kunzam Pass and Kaza. The entire journey is of 295 km. Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti has the highest gas filling station in the world, and from here Tabo is just 33 km away. However, it takes around two hours to complete the journey by a bus because the route is more difficult.