The Ajanta of the Himalayas 



It is called the Ajanta of the Himalayas for a reason. The walls of the Tabo Monastery, are adorned with statues, paintings, thangka art, murals, frescoes and manuscripts representing multiple strains of influences from across the Buddhist centres of Kashmir, Bengal and Nepal, almost as though all roads led to this Monastery in Spiti, a thousand years ago!

A wall painting of Bodhisattva from the 11 century CE in the Tabo monastery, Spiti
A wall painting of Bodhisattva from the 11 century CE in the Tabo monastery, Spiti|Wikimedia Commons

The Tabo Monastery or Tabo Chos-Khor, on the foothills of the Himalayas, is located in the Tabo Village of Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh. It was built in 996 CE by the King Ye-she-o belonging to the Purang-Guge Kingdom of Western Tibet whose kingdom extended from Ladakh to Mustang (in present day Nepal). The King did a lot to revive Tibetan Buddhism in the area and it was during this period that the faith spread across the Himalayan region.



The Tabo Monastery complex has nine temples, four stupas and cave shrines
The Tabo Monastery complex has nine temples, four stupas and cave shrines |Wikimedia Commons

The Tabo Monastery or Tabo Chos-Khor was built in 996 CE by the King Ye-she-o of the Purang-Guge Kingdom of Western Tibet

The Tabo Monastery also has an interesting story behind it. Legend has it, that King Ye-she-o sent twenty-one local youngsters to study and learn the Tantras from Indian masters in the Vikramshila university of Bengal. This was the most renowned centre of Tantric learning at the time. Sadly unable to bear the heat of the plains, nineteen of the twenty-one men died. The two who survived were Rinchen Sangpo and Lhekpai Sherap.

Rinchen Sangpo, went on to become a prolific traveler and renowned scholar. He is said to have translated many Indian works into Tibetan and visited many Buddhist centres in Central India and Kashmir. The Tabo Monastery is said to have been attributed to Rinchen Sangpo and has two images of him. An inscription in the monastery suggests that it was repaired by Chang Chu-po- the grandnephew of Ye-she-o, 46 years after its construction.

The Tabo Monastery complex has nine temples, four stupas and cave shrines which were used by monks for meditation.

The walls of the Tabo Monastery are adorned with various forms of Buddhist art
The walls of the Tabo Monastery are adorned with various forms of Buddhist art|Wikimedia Commons

Its unique location, at the crossroads, connecting Kashmir and Tibet to the rest of India, made Tabo a great centre of learning and a meeting place for scholars from Tibet, Nepal, Kashmir, Bengal and Odisha. These multiple strains are also visible in the art of the monastery, giving it a unique flavour and adding to the charm of this sacred space - where monks continue to chant their prayers even today.

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