Karsha Gompa, Monastery, Zanskar, Ladakh

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Karsha Gompa is the biggest monastery in Zanskar situated in scenic surroundings few kilometers from main Zanskar town, Padum , is an imposing complex of neatly white washed building blocks comprising several chapels, besides residential cells for its nearly 150 lamas, who belong to the Geluks-pa sect. Built picturesquely along the steeply rising mountainside above Karsha village,  It was established by Lama Phagspa Sherab in the 11th century above the Stod river.

 

Karsha Gompa, Monastery, Zanskar, Ladakh

Karsha is the largest and most important monastery in Zanskar. It is didicated to Padmasambhava, and there are ancient rock-carvings at the site. The oldest remaining structure, an Avalokiteshvara temple, Chuk-shik-jal, contains wall paintings which belongs to the era of Rinchen Zangpo , The bone relics of Dorje Rinchenare is a part of this collection at Karsha Gompa.

 The Karsha area include an old nunnery called Dorje Dzong,  occupying a hilltop to the west of the main monastery. The ruins around this nunnery are believed to be the original monastic foundation of Karsha ,  the monasteries of Khagsar, Purang and Phagspa , two Temples – the ‘Thugsjechhenpoi Lhakhang’ and the ‘Lhakhang Karpo’ the present monastery was founded during the 14th century. An old stupa surviving among the ruins is still adorned with the original murals, which reflect Indian artistic influence. Nearby is the ancient temple of ‘Chukshik-jal’, which houses an exquisite figure of Avalokitesvara as the main image.

View from Karsha Gompa , Chortens in Zanskar Valley, Ladakh

Mons of the Khesa race became Buddhist in Kushan period under the King Kaniska are the dominant population in the Zanskar their features do not match with that of the local tribes or with the Mongolians, Mons are credited with building Kursha Monastery in the main Zanskar valley along with other 30 monasteries, chortens and temples .  Kursha monastery houses the mummified body of an incarnate lama called the Rinchen Zangpo and sealed in a wooden box with silver lining.

The most important festival, known as the Karsha Gustor, is held with masked cham dances on the 26th to the 29th day of the 11th Tibetan month, which is usually in January.

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Sani Gompa, Monastery , Zanskar,Ladakh

Sani Gompa Monastery of Ladakh also known as Turtot Gyat situated on the road to Kargil, at a distance of approximately 6 km to the west of Padum. belongs to the Drukpa Kagyupa School,  it is believed that the monastery was associated with Kanishka, Kushan ruler of 2nd century AD because of  the Kanika Stupa in the back yard and construction like a fort,  the gompa is not built on a hill or mountain but on flat land. It is in the form of a castle and the Kanishka chorten is in the backyard of the enclosing stone walls with chortens mounted at intervals. Next to the Kanishka chorten are ten standing stones with engravings of deities in a pre-Tibetan style.  The entire Sani Monastery of Ladakh has been constructed in parts, each dating back to a different century. The chorten inside the oldest part of Sani Monastery is believed to be erected in the 2nd century AD. On the other hand, the Dukhang (assembly hall) of the monastery is said to be constructed in the early 17th century.

Sani Gompa , Monastery

the famous Indian Yogi Naropa. It is believed that the Yogi meditated under the Kanishka Stupa, situated in the backyard of the monastery. The same spot, where the Yogi sat in meditation, now houses a small room with a veiled bronze statue of the Yogi. It is on displayed on the eve of the Naro-Nasjal Festival every year in late July  or  in the first week of August, between the 15th and the 20th of the sixth Tibetan month. It takes place during the blooming of the  Guru Neropa Flower, the Lamas from Bardan Monastery perform masked dances as ritual offering. a magnificent plantation of huge old poplars adjoining the gompa is unusual as this region is mostly treeless

Stupa at Sani Gompa back yard

The Dukhang (assembly hall) of the monastery is said to be constructed in the early 17th century. The central praying hall is situated in the main building of the monastery and stands ornamented with a rich collection of the statues of popular Buddhist divinities and Kargud-pa high lamas ,the walls of the praying hall are decorated with frescoes and Thangkas. The Assembly Hall or Dukhang has 16 columns and houses images of Chamba, Chenren and Padmasambhava as well as others. Behind the altar is the Gongkhang, a small room containing an ancient figure of Cho Rinpoche

This place is also among the  eight most important cremation grounds of Tibetan Buddhists is outside the monastery complex and the cemetery is ringed with ancient rock-carvings which show Indian influences there is also a  two metre high boulder with a painting of Maitrya on it  the pilgrims pour the sacrificial oil over it .

Drukpa  Kargyu school  is the only one of this order in Zanskar which has nuns, A group of Kargyu nuns established a small retreat centre at Starkhugnza in the 1990s ,  It is a site above Sani which was founded by Ngawang Tsering (1657-1732), a famous Zanskar meditator.

One can see the white opening to a cave in a cliff across the river from the monastery where Padmasambhava is also said to have meditated for several years and it is still used as a meditation cell

Every year in the winters a Great Prayer Festival is held in which the  firewood provided by villagers of the surrounding villages in which prayers from the Tibetan holy books are chanted.

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Tak Thok Gompa, Monastery, Shakti, Ladakh

Tak Thok Gompa Monastery is located at about 46 km from Leh in Shakti village ,  The name Tak Thok in Ladakhi means “Rock Roof” . The monastery was founded around the mid-16th century during the reign of Tshewang Namgyal on a mountainside around a cave in which Padmasambhava is said to have meditated in the 8th century.  Inside the Dukhang, are the statues of Maitreya (the Future Buddha or Buddha of Compassion), Padmasambhava and Dorje Takposal (a manifestation of Padmasambhava). Takthok Monastery also houses the Kandshur, the 108 volumes of Buddha’s teachings.  Behind this image is a small locked door leading to the small cave where Padme Sambhava is supposed to have lived and meditated for three years. This cave is not open to the public. The low roof of the Gompa is the stone of the cliff.

Tak Thok gompa, Monastery, Shakti village, Leh Ladakh

Most of the gompa consists of rooms hollowed out of the stone cliff by nature or man,  the wooden front of the gompa is only a front for the cave , called Duphug ( Tu-Phuk) Lhakhang, is a popular pilgrimage. Buddhists visit to be blessed by dubchu, the sacred water that drips from its ceiling even in winter, when the valley freezes over. The main treasure is an incomplete set of 29 volumes – the title pages lettered in solid silver of excellent craftsmanship and text in pure gold.  Tak-Thok’s Lamas  have developed texts to ward off evil spirits, epidemics and curses. They perform birth and death rites, recite prayers for longevity and wealth, even make astrological predictions.

One of the images in Tak Thok gompa Shakti, Leh Ladakh

The Rimpoche or head lama of Tak Thok is from Tibet and is extremely highly regarded by Ladakhis.

Mystic dances are performed by the lamas in the guise of various divinities and legendary characters. They perform the mystic dances as prescribes the protocol, consecrating and destroying the votive offerings ‘Stor-ma‘ in closing of the propitious performance , on the 9th and 10th day of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar.

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Thikse Gompa, Leh , Ladakh

Thikse Gompa ( Monastery) is 19 km from Leh at an altitude 3600 meters from Sea , it is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastry establised in early 15th Centenary of Gelugpa School . It has a resemblance of Potala   Palace in Lahsa . It is a Twelve Story structure , built as a Fort Monastery it is the largest structure in Ladakh , its position is such that is gives excellent East and West view of Indus plains , Matho Gompa in the East, Royal Palace of Stok across the Indus and Shey Palace to the West have excellent views

Thikse Monastery Ladakh

The main attraction is fifteen meter tall Maitreya Buddha statue largest in Ladakh besides Buddhist art stupas, Thangkas, wall paintings and arms.  Sherab Sangpo one of the Six disciples of  Tsongkhapa founder of Gelugpa school carried bone powder and drop of blood of his Guru Tsongkhpa and a small statue of  Amitayus as a gift for king of  Ladakh in early 15th Centenary in 1433 with the help from King a small monastery in a village of Stagmo, to the north of the Indus river was shifted to this place , legend is when Sangpo  after the prayers, offering kept in a plate  were taken away by two  crows, later it was found the offerings with plate were lying at a stone   in an undisturbed condition , it was taken as a divine directive to build a monastery here . Thikse became prominent second to Hemis Monastery in Ladakh . Around 1770 the Lama of Hanle dictated that the elder son will be the King of Ladakh while the younger brothers will serve as Lamas at Thikse and Spituk Monasteries

Thikse , Beautifull roof

The main attractions are the Bhavachakra the wheal of Life  has insignia images of a snake, a bird and a pig that signify ignorance, attachment, and aversion . Next to this is the main assembly hall for prayers , a number of old manuscripts and hand painted collection of books along with 225 volumes of  Tangyur warped in silk are kept , it also have a Eleven headed Avalokitesvara with Padmasambhava . There are murals of Mahakal and Dukar  In the center of hall is a seat for His Holiness The Dalai Lama and on right is the seat of head of the monastery .

Two stories tall Maitreaya Budhha Statue at Thikse

A temple dedicated to Tara with 21 images , a small shrine of protector  deity of Thikse the Cham-spring ,  an image of the Buddha with two of his disciples and the deity Yamantaka can be seen. In the courtyard murals of   Tsong Khapa, the Buddha , the Padmasambhava , Palden Lahmo and Mahakal are there.

Only men are allowed to enter the top floor of the monastery  the Lamokhang temple above the temple  local boys from the villages near by are students , among them few are chosen as Lamas , there is also an Nunnery  located within the precincts of the monastery  is managed by the Monastery Administration. In Ladakh, nunneries were held in a grossly inferior status ,  In the 1990s, awareness was raised on the status of the nuns  to ensure a shift in their functional role of servitude and to one of true spiritual practice the Chief Lama, Thiksey Rinpoche of this Monastery was  important in the positive developments in the betterment of nuns.

Gustor Ritual is celebrated every year from 17th to 19th day of Ninth month of Tibetan calander which falls in October/November . Scared Mask Dance or Cham Dance is performed as a part of the ritual . Morning prayers are followed by chanting of Buddhist sutras , people from far villages gather and meet the other villagers, a trade fair is also held where locals barter trade items .

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