Tabo (The Ajanta of the Himalayas)

For centuries the trans Himalayan tracts of Spiti, Lahaul and Ladakh have been enveloped by a grand mystic aura. Behind this veil of geographical isolation and mystery lay wonders, that are unfathomable even today. 

In the insurmountable heights of Spiti, lies the Buddhist gompa, monastery of Tabo, established in 996 A.D. It was the Tibetan year of the Fire Ape and the founder was the great teacher Rinchensang Po, also known as Mahaguru Ratnabhadra. With its exquisite murals and stucco images, Tabo is often called 'The Ajanta of the Himalayas'.  

Spiti 

Spiti (locally pronounced 'Piti') or the 'middle country', has its sub divisional headquarters at Kaza. The river Spiti originates at the base of the Kunzam range and flows eastward to join the Sutlej at Khab in Kinnaur. In practical isolation for centuries, Spiti has an intensely introvertive culture centred around its several monasteries- Dhankar, Ki, Tabo, Mud, Gungri, Lidang, Hikim, Sagnam, Mane Gogma and Giu to name a few. Spiti was loosely ruled for many centuries by a hereditary wazir, styled Nono. The majority of the people are Buddhists, followers of the Geluk-pa sect. The repetition of the mantra "Om mani padme hum" (literally, 'Behold, the jewel is in the lotus'), is constant; it is believed to bring good fortune and wash away all sins. For all the seeming bleakness, Spiti possesses a haunting beauty. The wildlife in the region includes the elusive snow leopard and ibex, found in the Pin valley.

Tabo Monastery 

The rugged hills around Tabo house a tiny hamlet that is home to some 350 people. The Tabo monastery (also referred to as Tabo Chos-hKhor - 'doctrinal circle' or 'doctrinal enclave') is a complex that holds nine temples, 23 chortens, a monks' chamber and an extension that houses the nuns' chamber. On the sheer cliff-face above the enclave are a series of caves which were used as dwellings by the monks and includes an 'assembly hall'. Faint traces of the paintings that once embellished the rock face can be discerned. Even today, Tabo holds the distinction of being the largest monastic complex in Spiti. Constructed in 996 AD, Tabo was the brainchild of the great translator and teacher, Rinchensang Po. 

The temples of the complex 

The Temple of the Enlightened Gods (gTsug Lha-khang) - This is also known as the Assembly Hall (du-khang) and forms the core of the complex. It houses a vestibule, an assembly hall and a sanctum. The central figure in the assembly hall is the four fold Vairocana. In Vajrayana Buddhism, he is regarded as one of the five spiritual sons of the Adibuddha, who was the self-creative primordial Buddha. He is portrayed here in a posture "turning the wheel of law". On brackets arrayed along the walls and with stylised flaming circles around them, are life size stucco images of what are commonly known as the Vajradhatu Mandala. These images number thirty three in all, and are the other deities of the pantheon. With five Bodhisattvas of the Good Age placed within, the sanctum is immediately behind the assembly hall. The walls around the stuccoes are elaborately adorned with wall paintings that depict the life of the Buddha.  

The Golden Temple (gSer -Khang)-

Once believed to have been layered with gold, this shrine was exhaustively renovated in the 16th century by Senge Namgyal, ruler of Ladakh. The walls and ceiling are covered with murals. 

The Mystic Mandala Temple or Initiation Temple 

(dKyil-hKhor-khang) -

The wall facing the door is embellished by a massive painting of Vairocana, who is surrounded by the eight Bodhisattvas. Mystic mandalas cover the other areas. It is here, that the initiation to monkhood takes place.

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

This shrine houses the image of the Bodhisattva Maitreya that is more than six meters high. The temple has a hall, vestibule and sanctum. The array of murals within, also depict the monastery of Tashi-Chunpo and Lhasa's Potala palace.

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

The temple lies on the northern edge of the complex and is said to have been founded by Dromton (1008-1064 AD), an important disciple of Atisha. The doorway is intricately carved and the inner walls are covered by murals.

The above shrines are said to be the earliest in the Tabo complex and the following are later additions.

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

This is an ante room of sorts attached to 'the temple of enlightened gods'. It too is covered with paintings which are in the Tibetan style.

The Large Temple of Drom ton (Brom-ston Lha-khang) -

The second largest temple in the complex, this has a floor area of over seventy square meters, while the portico and niche add another forty two square meters. The front wall sports the figure of the Sakyamuni, flanked by Sariputra and Maha Maugdalayana. The other 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 temple enshrines the protective deity of the Geluk-pa sect. Fierce deities people the room and it is only entered after protective meditation. Often it is also called known as 'the temple of horror'.

The White Temple (dKar-abyum Lha-khang) -

The walls of this shrine are also intricately adorned leaving a low dado for the monks and nuns to lean against. 

Important heights at a glance

Place

Height

Tabo

3050 mts 

Kaza

3660 mts 

Rohtang Pass

3980 mts 
Kunzam Pass 4590 mts 

Shimla

2200 mts

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