Tawang Monastery - The Fountainhead of Spiritual Life
A visit to Arunachal Pradesh would not be complete
unless one visits the historic Tawang Monastery. Covering the peak
of a hillock at a height of about 10000 feet, this monastery (gompa)
is located in the picturesque Tawang chu Valley in Tawang District of
Arunachal Pradesh, the birth place of the sixth Dalai Lama.
Although not steeped in
antiquity, being about 350 years old, the monastery is the largest of
its kind in the country and controls 17 gompas in this region. It is
the fountainhead of spiritual life of the followers of the Gelugpa
Sect of the Mahayana School Sherdukpens of Tawangand West Kameng
The monastery was founded
by Lodre Gyatso, also known as Mera Lama. He was a contemporary of
the fifth Dalai Lama, Nagwang Lobjang Gyatso, who gave him the
mandate to establish this monastery. It was constructed in 1680-81.
As the legend goes he
went out in search of the perfect site for the monastery. One day he
went into a cave, leaving behind his horse, to pray for divine
guidance. When he came out after his prayers, he found that his
horse, who had never strayed away before, missing. After a frantic
search he finally located the horse which was standing quietly on the
top of a hill. He immediately realized that divinity had guided him
through the horse to the hallowed spot where he decided to construct
the monastery. He called it Tawanga (ta horse; wang
chosen). The monastery was constructed with the help of
volunteers from each village. Even today, the respective villages
are responsible the maintenance of different sections of the
The monastery occupies a
commanding position on the top of a hill and is built like a
fortress. The monastery covers a huge area. It ahs dormitories for
the Lamas, a meeting hall, school, community kitchen, monuments and
the main building housing the temple Dukkang. With its narrow
cobbled streets, numerous buildings and the enormous area it
occupies, the complex is like a mini city.
The main temple building
is being reconstructed as the original one was made of wood and had
almost collapsed. The interiors of the new building, which is in the
traditional Buddhist architectural style, are exquisitely decorated
with paintings, murals, carvings, sculptures etc. The temple is
going to house the gigantic idol of Lord Buddha made of brass rising
to a height of more than 27 feet. Te hollow arms and torso of the
statue contain antique and priceless scrolls of Buddhist scriptures.
The library in the gompa houses ancient scriptures written in gold.
On special occasions a special room is opened to the public which
contains antique statues made of gold and studded with precious
stones. The most fascinating feature of the gompas is the fact that
the presiding deity of the monastery is Devi or Sri Devi so selected
by the then Dalai Lama. On auspicious occasions a massive cloth
painting of the presiding deity is unfurled down the façade of
the main temple building so that devotees can be blessed.
According to tradition
every Buddhist family with more than three sons has to send one son
to the monastery to become a monk. Every family also contributes its
share of food grains and other items for the 500 or more Lamas housed
in the monastery. At a distance, on another hill, is another
monastery which houses women monks a rare phenomena in India.
After spending a couple
of hours in the monastery, lighting the small prayer lamps and
incense sticks, turning the giant prayer wheels and getting the
vibrations of the prayer chants, the al pervading solitude creates an
ambience which kindles the spiritualism lying dormant in all of us.
The Tawang Monastery is
associated with the famous Torgya Festival which is held in the
eleventh Monpa month called the Dawa Chukchipah (Dec-Jan). special
dance parties perform ritual dances for three days during this
festival bearing beautifully designed costumes and colourful masks.
This festival is celebrated to drive away evil spirits so that the
people may enjoy a happy prosperous life in the coming year. In the
courtyard of the monastery a variety of dances are performed like the
Pha Cham, Loshker Chungiye Cham where the dancers dress up as
cows, tigers, sheep, monkeys etc. Each dance is associated with some
myth or legend. Dances like Losker Chungiye Cham are performed by
the monks themselves.
The monks worship in the
temple for three days and prepare the torgya which is a
pyramidal structure about three feet high and made of millet flour.
On the last day of the
festival, the torgya is taken out in procession and is followed by
the monks in full warriors dress with helmets, swords and
shields, to a fire lit outside the walls of the monastery and then
thrown into the fire by the abbot (Rimpoche) of the monastery.
The burning of the torgya is symbolic of the destruction of evil and
ensures that the people have a peaceful and happy life, free form
disease, death, hunger and other calamities.
The Monpa tribals come
from far and wide wearing their traditional costumes to participate
in the festival. A spirit of bonhomie and gaiety pervades the
atmosphere. Many of them set up shops inside as well as outside the
monastery compound selling a wide variety of items like clothes, yak
butter and handicrafts produced at home.