Tawang Monastery (Gonpa):
The Famous Galden Namgyal Lhatse, popularly known as Tawang Monastery was founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in the year 1680-81. The monastery stands on the spur of a hill, about 10,000 feet above sea level and has ravines in the south and west, narrow ridge on the north and gradual slope on the east. It offers a commanding and picturesque view of the Tawang-chu valley. From a distance it appears like a fort as if guarding the votaries in the wide valley below. Tawang monastery is the largest of its kind in the country and is one of the larges t monasteries in Asia. Though it has the capacity for housing about seven hundred monks, the actual number of resident lamas (monks) at present is a little more than 450. This monastery is the fountain-head of the spiritual life of the people of this region.
The approach to the monastery is from the north along the ridge. Just near the entrance to the monastery there is a building housing the dung-gyur mani from where the water is fetched for use in the monastery. To the south of its is the kakaling, the entrance gate. The kakaling is a hut-like structure with its two lateral walls made of staone. It serves as a gate. The ceiling of the kakaling is painted with Kying-khors (Mandalas). The inner walls are painted with mural of divinities and saints. After passing through the kakaling there is a big gate further south which is without any door.
Further south stand the main gate of the monastery, which is fitted with huge doors and is set in the northern wall of the monastery. It is about 925 feet long and the height varies from about ten to twenty feet. There is another gate near the southern and of this wall. It is fitted with a huge door. Near it there are two slits in the wall to see out through all along the outer side of the eastern wall connecting this gate with the kakaling. It is said that the yarn given by the Vth Dalai Lama to Merak Lama enclosed the area bounded by the four walls.
A paved path runs from the main gate toward rear of the monastery and leads to a stone slabs court. Religious dances and outdoor ceremonies are held in this court. The entire eastern half of the monastery is covered with sixty residential quarter’s called (Sha/Hut) for housing the resident monks. Each of these dormitories has been constructed by a group of villagers on voluntary basis. They also carry out the repairs and are responsible for its maintenance.
A three storied building stands on the western side of the court. It is the par-khang (Library). All the holly scriptures including. A long two-storied building flanks the southern side of the court. A part of this building is used as store for the provisions of the monks. The other part is occupied by the Dra-tsang buk and his entourage. A two storied building, on the eastern side of the court is called Rhum-Khang which is used for cooking the food-offerings for the rituals as well as refreshments for the monks on ritual days.
The most imposing building of the monastery is the assembly hall known as Dukhang. It is a three-storied building standing on thenorthern side of the court and houses the template and the Labrang (The establishment of the Abbot.) The inner walls of the Dukhang. are painted with murals of various divinities and saints. The altar occupies the entirenothern wall of th hall. On the left of the alter is the silver casket wrapped in silk containing the Thankas of Goddes Dri Devi (Palden Lhamo) the principle deity of the monastery, which was given to Merak Lama by the Vth Dalai Lama. The said painting came to be known as Ja-Droi-Ma, which means it had warmth of a bird, which symbolized that the Thanka was of a living type.
A colossal richly gilded statue of Lord Buddha occupies the middle of the northern side. It is seated on a platform and its body, rising up, terminates in a huge head above the first floor. It is the largest image of the monastery also has a Center for Buddhist Cultural Studies where young monks are taught Arithmetic, English and Hindi besides traditional monastic education.
In brief, this monastery is simply awe-inspiring and majestic in its appearance and grandeur. A visit of Tawang Monastery is most spiritually refreshing experience.
Lineage of Abbot:
The khenpo is the most important religious leader of the monastery and of the region.
Khenpos act not only as abbots but also as dPon-slobs (teachers). The line of khenpos follow in the list bellow :
1. Merag Lama Lodoe Gyatso
He died the year after he completed the construction of the monastery- on the eight day of the seventh month of Water Dog year (A.D.1682). The stupa sKu gdung ‘bum pa was built in his memory; and the day on which he died is commemorated by holding a sadhana puja of Deity Vajrabhairava.
2. Tsona Khanpo Nawang Tshultrim
O Tshona wa!
You illuminated the dark land of barbarians.
O Great Abbot, the Lord of the sun!
We pray to you.
This is taken from the prayer of the Khenpo line.
3. Kyormo-lung Khenpo Nawang Norbu
4. Chongye Khenpo Nawang Norbu
He put into written record the monastery’s discipline (bca’yig) approved by Desrid Sangye Gyatso and the sixth Dalai Lama; although the prayers and the other monastic routines the bca’yig commands had already been in place since the time of Lama Lodoe Gyatso.
5. Thonglen Kukye Lobsang Namgyal
6. Tsethang Khenpo Lobsang Tashi
7. Gomang Khenpo Lobsang Gyaltshen
8. Dechen Khenpo Jampa Deleg
9. Nedhong Zholpa Khenpo Khetsun Gyatso
10. Phyon-gye Khenpo Nawang Tobdhen
11. Tsethang Khenpo Sungrab Gyatso
12. Kyormo-Lung Khenpo Palzang Gyatso
13. Phyong-gye Khenpo Dragpa yarphel
14. Dagpo Chogtrul Kyabgon Kalsang Lhungrub Drakpa.
Due to his busy schedule, the fourteenth Khenpo, Dagpo Chogtrul Kyabgon Kalsang Lhungrub Drakpa, had to be away from the monastery. Thus, he appointed Shogtshan Yeshe Dragpa as the Vajra-acharya to teach the monks in his absence. From then on, the post of Vajra-acharya continued to exist; and thus each Khenpo has a Vajra acharya to assist him in the teaching activities. Na-med jinpa Dragpa, Lopon Nyima, Mangam Lopon Monlam Gyatso and so forth- a line of Vajra Acharya- came into being. Also, the list includes : Gelong Lek Sangye (still alive but retired), Gyamthong Rinchen Tshering, Mirba Phunshog ( still alive ), Paidar Gelong Tshultrim Ozer, Dharmagang Gelong Dam-Ngag, Lumla Gelong Yeshe Jinpa, Bomba Gelong Lungten Norbu, Khetpa Gelong, Lama Tsoknye and Lama Kelsang Norbu, (the present Vajra-charya).
After this Khenpo until 1950, the Abbots of this monastery were appointed from the Loseling Dratsang of Drepung monastery. Khen-Rinpoche Monlam Dragpa was the Abbot of this monastery in the year 1847; Gadhen Serkong Dorjee-chang in the year 1948; after him was a certain Gyalrong geshe from Loseling Dratsang. Aside from these three, I have not been able to find informations on the khenpos of the monastery in this period. If more information is found I will update this list.
Following the suggestions of the Indian leaders, the khenpos were appointed from Tawang monastery itself. Following is the line of the Khenpos;
1. Mirba Gelong Nawang Phuntshog
2. Phomang Gelong Gedun Rabgye
3. Muk to Gelong Lobsang Rabyang
4. Greng Khar Gelong Lobsang Sherab
In the year 1968, the people of Tawang requested the Dalai Lama through the Government of India to send a Lama with the “bla sprul “status to this monastery. The request was granted by sending Serje Rikya Rinpoche, who became the throne holder of this monastery on the seventh july of 1968. He introduced a regular course on Lamrim, and planned to open a school for the young monks, but he passed away suddenly on the fifth day of the tenth month or Fire Dragon year ie. 1976). After him, Loling Dhenma Gyalsey Tulku and Tengye Rinpoche (1997 to may 2008, from Sera jeh monastery) were appointed Khenpo of this monastery. Guru Tulku Rinpoche is the actual Abbot of Tawang monastery (since june 6, 2008).
Fairs & Festivals of Tawang Monastery:
Fairs and festivals have always been an integral part of the tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh so also is the Monpa tribe. Like other tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, the festivals of Monpas are also mostly associated with agriculture and religion. Monpas of Tawang celebrates number of festivals every year Some of them are as follows:
Losar : Losar the New Year festival is perhaps the most important festival of the Monpas. It generally falls during the last part of February or early part of March. It is celebrated with great solemnity and gaiety which last for I5 (fifteen) days. Various dances are performed during the festival. Every one is pressed to partake of delicious foods, beer and wine on the occasion.
Torgya : It is a Monastic festival being celebrated every year in the 28th day of the eleventh month of the lunar calendar which generally falls in the month of January every year. This festival is believed to be celebrated to chase out the evil spirits and usher in the prosperity and happiness both human being and crops. During the festival a ritual monastic masked dances in magnificent traditional attires are performed in cham-lang the courtyard of the Tawang Monastery
Dukpa Tse-She : On the fourth day of the seventh month i.e Dukpa Tse- Shi, the Lord Buddha delivered his maiden preaching on the Forth Novel Truths to his initial five disciples in the Deer Park at Sarnath. The day is commemorated by visiting religious shrines and offering prayers.
Gaden Ngamchoe : As per lunar calendar, this festival falls in the twenty fifth day of tenth month. This is observed to perpetuate the death anniversary of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of Gelukpa an order of the Tibetan Buddhism As a mark of devotion and to mourn His death, devotees can be seen drinking gruel of bit of flouring dumplings in the evening. Lamps are lighted in the evening on the house roofs and verandahs of the houses and Monasteries to commemorate the occasion.
Lhabab Duechen : The twenty second day of the ninth month of the Lunar calendar is celebrated as Lhabab Duechen- the day on which the Lord Buddha descended from Tushita, the realm of God. The day is devoted to religious activities like circumambulating shrines, lighting lamps and praying.
Saka Dawa: This festival is celebrated in the 4th month of the lunar calendar to mark the achievement of Nirvana by Gautom Buddha.
Temples & Branches of Tawang Monastery:
1.) Khromteng Gonpa
This small monastery was established as a meditation retreat for Lama Sonam Gyaltsen, who flourished at the time of His Holiness Sonam Gyatso, the third Dalai Lama. There is a very interesting biography about Lama Sonam Gyaltsen. This monastery is very sacred and holy since Padmasambhava, Indian Buddhist Tantric master and scholar, prophesizes this monastery in one of his works called The Book of Treasury. And also His Holiness the 6th Dalai Lama Tsanyang Gyatso praised this monastery.
2.) Sharmang Gonpa:
3.) Urgyen Ling Gonpa:
This monastery was the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsanyang Gyatso. There are nine stupas, which were built of earth in 1935, in the monastery.
4.) Tsanpu Gonpa: Lama Rigsum Gompo, a student of the Saint Thinthon, founded this monastery.
5.) Kyimney Gonpa:
This monastery is said to have been founded by Karmapa Rangjung Dorjee, and it has a statue of Padmasambhava.
6.) Bagajang Gonpa:
Since the location of this monastery is high in the mountain, during the winter all the roads to it are blocked by snowfalls. Therefore visitors, both tourists and pilgrims, come to the monastery during summer. Around the monastery, there are many strangely formed rocks and gorgeous lakes to be seen.
7.) Ayakdhung Gonpa:
Tsanton Rolpai Dorjee, who was a disciple of the first Dalai Lama, Gedun Drub, founded this monastery. Aryakdhung Monastery is clearly the first Gelukpa monastery established in the region of Monyul.
8.) Drakar Gonpa:
Nearby Tawang there is a village called Lhou. The mountain behind this village has a grey rocky summit. Since the monastery was established on this rock, it was named after it, Drakar means grey rock.
9.) Kharung Gonpa:
This monastery is said to have been founded during the time of Lama Thenbi Dolmi, who was a contemporary of the second Dalai Lama.
10.) Manshing Gonpa:
11.) Sanglong Manmang Gonpa:
12.) Shakti Gonpa:
A Lama called U-Po Thar founded this monastery.
13.) Itanagar Buddhist Garden:
This centre is in Itanager, which is the capital city of Arunachal Pradesh state of India. In 1983, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama laid foundation. Later slowly this Buddhist Garden was constructed, with stupas and hotels.
14.) Nehru Dolma Lhakhang:
This temple is in the middle of Tawang Town. As the name suggests, this Dolma Lhakang has become a symbolic commemoration of Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to this town in 1964, the first Indian prime minister. There are other temples for public use, but people always visit this temple.
15.) Thongmen Gonpa:
It is said that the Tibetan Lama Bodong Chogley Namgyal founded this monastery. There is a beautifully designed stupa made of wood in the monastery.
16.) Namshu Gonpa:
Lama Tenpai Dronmai also founded this monastery, which is now in the West Kameng Distt. There is a Maitreya statue of two storeys high in the monastery.
17.) Jang Chub Choeling Nunnery:
This Buddhist institute was built during the time of Merag Lama. There are around fifty nuns practicing mainly Vajra Yogini, and the mantra of Green Tara in the nunnery.
How to Reach:
From New Delhi (India) – Guwahati (Assam) – Tezpur (Assam) – Bhalukpong (Arunachal Pradesh) – Tawang Monastery
Guru Rinpoche takes charge of Tawang Monastery
TAWANG, June 6: I feel humbled and at the same time delighted to receive this magnificent opportunity to make use of my Buddhist philosophical knowledge that I have studied for many years” said the newly enthroned Abbot of Tawang Monastery Ven. Guru Tulku Rinpoche today while addressing a huge gathering of people in the premises of Tawang Monastery. The enthronement ceremony was conducted today at Tawang Monastery this morning amidst the gathering of religious Gurus and followers. To mark the day. Monastic dances were also performed by Monks of Tawang Monastery. Tawang Monastery is set in breathtakingly beautiful sight at over 3,000 m and is the second oldest Buddhist monastery in the world after Lhasa. This Monastery is known as “GALDEN NAMGYEL LHATSE” meaning ‘celestial paradise’. It is one of the largest Lamaseries of Mahayana sect in the world. “I will work at my better capacity to further develop and strengthen the Tawang Monastery and its administration, and will always work hard in propagating and preaching the Buddhism to a wider public living. I have strong feeling that it is the duty of the Monastery as well as personal responsibility to improve the level of the understanding of Buddhism in this Buddhist region” he asserted. Meanwhile the Abbot called for wholehearted support and co-operation from the public to serve at its best for Tawang Monastery, besides the blessings of the three jewels, the prayers of the Sanghas and support of the public. The Rinpoche also expressed his thanks to His Holiness and prayed for his long life. Ven. Guru Tulku is the 12th reincarnate of the Choeje Merag Lama Lodre Gyatso, the founder of Tawang Monastery. He hails from West Kameng and before enthronement as Abbot Tawang Monastery; he was Rinpoche at Bomdila Lower Gonpa. DIPRO.
Tawang Gaden Namgyal Lhatse Monastery
P.O & District: Tawang
Arunachal Pradesh-790104 (India)
Phone No.: +91-3794-222243
Registration No.: 64/SR/ITA/209
SBI Account No: 01190009971
Account Holder’s Name: Jampa Wangchu
E-Mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org