The establishment of the Tawang Monastery by Merag Lama in the year 1681 A.D. and the birth of His Holiness the sixth Dalai Lama in Urgelling near Tawang in the year of the Water Pig (1683 A.D.) gave a further impetus to the spread of Buddhism in the region.

A thangka of His Holiness, the Sixth Dalai Lama Gyalwa Tsangyang Gyatso in Urgelling Gompa.
The mother of His Holiness, the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsewang Lhamo, daughter of Karma Dorjee of Bekhar village.

It was a matter of great pride for the people of Tawang that, not long after the passing of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, his reincarnation, the Sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso, took birth amidst them on the first day of the third month in the year of the Water Pig (1683 A.D.), to a Nyingmapa family living in Urgelling village. The father of the child, Lama Tashi Tenzin, was a descendent of the younger brother of Pema Lingpa, one of the great Nyingmapa Lamas of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and also someone who revealed the greatest treasure text in Tibetan history. His mother was Tsewang Lhamo, daughter of Karma Dorjee of Bekhar village.

There are many legends and miracles associated with his birth. It is said that when Tsangyang Gyatso was in his mother’s womb, she dreamed that she went to fetch water from the spring nearby. In it, she saw a big bubble in which there was a five-pointed golden vajra shining very brightly which fell upright into the palm of her hand when she stretched her arms forward. In another, she dreamt of holding the sun and moon in her hands, receiving teachings from many great lamas and seeing herself seated on a high throne. She also experienced a few other miracles at the time of her pregnancy. It is said that, one morning, when she had gone out to fetch water from the usual water-point, milk flowed down from the conduit instead of water. The spot is today known as Woma-tsikang, the milk water point. It is also said that, one day during her pregnancy, when she was husking paddy, she had a vision of twenty-one Taras in the stone mortar. This stone mortar can be seen even today by the side of the stairs leading to the first floor of the Urgelling Gompa. It is said that, at the time of his birth, there was an earthquake of mild intensity three times, followed by thunder from the sky. A rainbow was seen over the Gompa again and again. It is also said that the child did not drink his mother’s milk for three days after birth. His grandfather dreamed that the child was constantly being protected by heavenly beings.

Old stone slab at the house of Tsewang Lhamo (mother of His Holiness, the sixth Dalai Lama) which was used to tether horses and give them water.

There are many sacred places in Tawang associated with the Sixth Dalai Lama. About half a kilometre east of Urgelling Gompa, there is a spot known as Lamae Shungthri (Lama’s throne). Legend has it that Tsangyang Gyatso, as a child, used to sit on top of this thronelike rock pretending as if he was preaching dharma to his followers. It is said that the young Tsangyang was once playing with his playmates at a place near Lamae Shungthri; while playing, his sister grabbed him by the ribbon around his neck that had been blessed by the Panchen Lama and dragged him over a rock. As he was naked at that time, the impression of his body was miraculously imprinted on the rock. This rock can be seen even today and is known as Hroze-nyas. A few yards below is a spot known as Senge Gorpo (stone-lion) a lion-shaped rock, which is said to have actually moved to and fro when the young Tsangyang rode it.

The interior of Lamae Shabje.
Lama Khyenno: it is believed that His Holiness, the sixth Dalai Lama miraculously inscribed words on this rock with his bare index finger as a child.

Another legend has it that when the search party for the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama arrived at Urgelling, the young Tsangyang was playing with his playmates at Hroze-neng. When he heard his mother shouting from the compound of Urgelling temple for his immediate return, he exclaimed, “Lama Khyenno! (Oh My God! Or Oh Lord!)”, because he had an intuition that the search party from Tibet has come to take him with them. Simultaneously, he inscribed these words on a rock with his bare index finger which were miraculously inscribed on it. Hence forth, the site came to be known as Lama Khyenno, and can be seen even today. Another site associated with him is the Lamae Shabje (Lama’s footprint). It is said that when Tsangyang Gyatso and his parents were being moved to a safer place called Sha’uk by the two monks who had been sent by the regent to conduct the secret search for the new incarnation, the boy, on reaching the pass called Churned, below the Panggateng Lake, said, “Dismount me from the horse here. I want to have a last look at my country and home.” It is said that he rested there for a while, sipping a cup of milk. When the time came to move forward, gazing towards Tawang, he put his right foot on a slab of rock leaving the impression of his foot miraculously on it.

The idol of one thousand-handed Avilokiteshwara at the Brahmdungchung Ani Gompa.

Tsangyang Gyatso led an unconventional and colourful life. He was an erudite scholar, who composed wonderful poems and melodious songs, practiced archery, was a lover of wine and had a penchant for the company of women. He was revered and venerated by the people for his beautiful compositions and his simple lifestyle. He did not conform to the standards of his time and rejected the regalia associated with the position of the Dalai Lama. He preferred to wear clothes of the laity and chose to walk rather than ride a horse or use of the comforts of the state palanquin. He freely mixed with the commoners, lived in a tent in a park near the Potala and gave his numerous discourses there and at other public places. He was the only Dalai Lama ever who chose to give up his monastic vows. His unique lifestyle endeared him as much to the masses as it antagonised the establishment. It is said that his way of living evoked the wrath of the Mongol camp, which was determined to bring him down.

A stone slab painted with images of Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani, collectively known as Rigsum Gonpo.

The death of the Sixth Dalai Lama is shrouded in mystery. One version says that Lajang Khan, the king of the Kusot Mongols and an ally of the Chinese emperor, treacherously killed the Regent, Sangye Gyatso. The murder of his Regent upset the young Dalai Lama so much that he left his studies and renounced his vows before Lobsang Yeshi, the Fifth Panchen Lama. It is said that thereafter Lajang Khan kidnapped the Sixth Dalai Lama, who was later killed on his way to China at Gongganor, south of Kokonor, on 14 November 1706. (Though his followers, who revered and worshipped him, believed that he escaped and secretly resided for some year somewhere in Mongolia.). While being taken away by the Mongol soldiers, a desolate Tsangyang Gyatso wrote the following lines to his lady friend in Shol in 1706.

White crane;
Lend me your wings
I will not fly far
From Lithang, I shall return

Initially the hidden meaning of this poem was not clear to the masses and nor did anyone even suspect that the young Dalai Lama had decided to terminate his earthly manifestation. But when the tragic and shocking news of his ‘disappearance’ or more probably ‘murder’, spread amongst his grief-stricken and bewildered followers, the underlying meaning of these words became clear. It is believed that when he was being taken away to Tibet, he planted his walking stick on the premises of the Urgelling Monastery and had prophesied that he would once again visit Tawang when all three trunks that grew from the walking stick would be of the same height. By 1959, the trunks had no doubt grown to the same height, but much to the dismay and anxiety of the local people, one of the trunks broke due to strong wind. However, soon after, they saw the Dalai Lama indeed coming to Tawang once again, this time as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, on his way to India in exile.



The deep association of Tawang with the Dalai Lama did not end with the Sixth Dalai Lama. After the failed Tibetan uprising of March 1959, the fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso escaped Tibet into India along with his followers through the Himalayan Mountains. He entered India after crossing Khinzemane and was received at the Chu-thangmo post by the 5 Assam Rifles, on 31 March 1959.

Photographs showing HHDL XIV. in Tawang

After being welcomed, His Holiness wished the people in his own words:

“May your luck increase to the size of the mountain.
May your fame be such as to cover the whole universe.
May your knowledge become vast and deep as the sea.
May you live long and healthy.”

Later, he stayed for one night each at Gorzam, Shakti, Lumla and Thongleng. On reaching Tawang Headquarters, he was received by the then Abbot of the Tawang Monastery and government officials on 5 April 1959. Later, he was taken to Dzong-Tse, the present official bungalow of Deputy Commissioner, Tawang, where he stayed for three nights. He visited Tawang Monastery and offered his prayers and blessings to the local people. He left Tawang on 8 April 1959 and stayed for one night at Jang. Before reaching Bomdila on 12 April 1959, he halted for one night each at Senge-Dzong, Dirang and Rahung. He left Bomdila on the morning of 17 April and reached Tezpur on 18 April. Soon after, he met the Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru in Mussoorie on 20 April 1959, shortly after which the Tibetan Government in Exile was established in Dharamsala.

Due to his immense love for Tawang and its people, His Holiness revisited the area in the years 1983, 1997, 2003 and 2009.


Abhishek Dev & Tsewang Norbu (2015), Enchanting Tawang. Published by Zorba Books Pvt Ltd., Gurgaon – 122009, India. Copyright © The District Administration Tawang, Directorate of Research and the Department of Tourism, Government of Arunachal Pradesh.