Tabo Monastery the Oldest Functioning Monastery

The gompa was founded in AD 996 by Ringchen Zangpo, the Great Translator, as Tibet’s Guge kingdom expanded into these outlying territories, and is reckoned to be the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist monastery in India. Bring a torch as lighting inside its shrines is dim at best. Five of the nine shrines date from the 10th and 11th centuries, when they were painted by some of the best Buddhist muralists of their era, blending Tibetan, Indian and Kashmiri styles. The other shrines mostly date from the 15th to 17th centuries.

The main assembly hall, the Tsuglkang, is straight ahead from the temple entrance. Inside, near-life-size clay sculptures of 32 bodhisattvas line the walls around a statue of a four-bodied Vairochana Buddha turning the wheel of law – a 3D representation of the Vajradhatu mandala, which has the Vairochana at its centre. Murals below the bodhisattvas depict 10th-century life.

You’ll probably have to ask a lama to open up other temples in the compound. The other highlight early temples are the Ser-Khang, second to the left from the Tsuglkang, with outstanding murals of the green Tara and the goddess Usnishavijaya; the Kyil-Khang, behind the Ser-Khang, with a huge Vairochana mural surrounded by eight bodhisattvas; and the Byams-Pa Chen-po Lha-Khang, immediately right of the Tsuglkang, with a 3m-high statue of the Bodhisattva Maitreya (future Buddha). The modern gompa outside the ancient compound has a sparkling gilded chorten and holds a well-attended puja at 6.30am (guests welcome).

Visit India, Epic India Route © Monika Newbound

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