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Tawang Monastery

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 Districts.

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 monastery.

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 warrior’s 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.

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