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Places of Buddhist Pilgrimage

Hieun Tsang speaks of the Thathagata's visit to Kiu-lo-to, the ancient kingdom of Kullu. No material evidence proves this statement. But archaeological evidences point towards institutional Buddhism at Tikka, Tambarhar (Pathiyar), Uparali Dari (Kanhiara), Lakhamandal and Chetru in the upper Kangra region since the second century B.C.

The most sacred site of Buddhism in Himachal Pradesh is Rewalsar, located about 20 km south-west of Mandi town. The place possesses a pristine beauty characterised by an emerald green lake, and surrounded by thick woods on all sides. Legend has it that the spirit of Guru Padmasambhava dwells on the islands floating in the lake. An awesome pagoda-type monastery enshrining a huge stucco image of Padmasambhava looms on the lake shores. The interior is embellished with murals in mixed Indo-Chinese style. Local Padmasambhava dwells on the islands floating in the lake. An awesome pagoda-type monastery enshrining a huge stucco image of Padmasambhava looms on the lake shores. The interior is embellished with murals in mixed Indo-Chinese style. Local folklore says that it was from this site that Padmasambhava proceeded to Tibet on the invitation of King Sron Btsan Sgampo, to spread dharma on the very roof of the world. This region later, came to be known as Lamaism. Rewalsar holds the same reverance for Buddhist as Mecca does for the Muslims.

Beyond Rohtang Pass in Lahaul valley, the Guru Ghantal monastery, located on the confluence of the Chandra and the Bhaga rivers, may be the oldest centre of Buddhist pilgrimage. Downstream, on the left bank of the Chandrabhaga is Tunde village, site of another ancient Buddhist shrine. This shrine is popularly known as Trilokinath and enshrines an image of Boddhisatva Avalokiteshwara. The archaeological evidence found at this site indicate that it had been a significant Buddhist as well as Hindu pilgrimage site in the distant past. Further below at the confluence of the Chandrabagha river and the Miyar stream, is an ancient temple of Marichi Vajravarahi at Udaipur, the earliest surviving relic of Indian Buddhism in the valley. It now enshrines a brass image of Mahishasurmardani. The Buddhists continue to regard this site as a temple of Marichi Vajravarahi.

Located at around a distance of 4 km from Keylong, the district headquarters of Lahaul and Spiti, perched on the edge of a steep precipice is the Lardang monastery, on the left bank of the Bhaga. A multi-storeyed structure, with white-washed walls and fluttering flags, it houses a series of enormous prayer-wheels which revolve on the slightest touch. At a distance of around 1.5 km from Keylong is the Shashur monastery. It was founded by Lama Dewa Gyasatshe of Ladakh in the 17th century. This monastery is famous for its ritual-plays which are enacted by the lamas while donning masks and exotic costumes. This three-storey tall structure is significant in architectural terms. Due to the narrowness of the site, the complex has been planned vertically, yet it conforms to the ancient mandala concept.

Paonta Sahib

Founded by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, the historic town of Paonta Sahib lies on the banks of the Yamuna river, encircled by a thick sal forest. At the invitation of Raja Maidini Prakash of Sirmour, the sikh Guru left Anandpur Sahib when he was 16 and lived here for around 4 yeas. 'Paonta' literally means 'space for a foothold'. The Paonta Sahib Gurdwara, is a tribute to the stay of the great Guru. It is said that the waters of the Yamuna rush by silently through this spot, at the Guru's requesting them to do so.


The trans Himalayan tracts of Spiti, Lahaul and Ladakh have been surrounded in the air of a grand mystic aura for centuries. In this area, veiled in geographical isolation and mystery, lie wonders that are unfathomable even today.

In the insurmountable heights of Spiti, lies the Buddhist gompa, monastery of Tabo, established in 996 A.D. It was the Tibetan year of the Fire Ape and the founder was the great teacher Rinchensang Po, also known as Mahaguru Ratnabhadra. With its beautiful murals and stucco images, Tabo is often called 'The Ajanta of the Himalayas'.

Spiti (locally pronounced 'Piti') or the 'middle country', has its sub divisional headquarters at Kaza. The river Spiti originates at the base of the Kunzam range and flows eastward to join the Sutlej at Khab in Kinnaur. In practical isolation for centuries, Spiti has an intensely introvertive culture centred around its several monasteries- Dhankar, Ki, Tabo, Mud, Gungri, Lidang, Hikim, Sagnam, Mane Gogma and Giu to name a few. Spiti was loosely ruled for many centuries by a hereditary wazir, styled Nono. The majority of the people are Buddhists, followers of the Geluk-pa sect. The repetition of the mantra "Om mani padme hum" (literally, 'Behold, the jewel is in the lotus'), is constant; it is believed to bring good fortune and wash away all sins. Spiti possesses a haunting beauty, which overshadows it's seeming bleakness, The elusive snow leopard and ibex also live in the Pin valley.

Tabo Monastery The rough-hewn hills around Tabo house a tiny hamlet that is home to some 350 people. The Tabo monastery (also referred to as Tabo Chos-hKhor - 'doctrinal circle' or 'doctrinal enclave') is a complex that holds nine temples, 23 chortens, a monks' chamber and an extension that houses the nuns' chamber. On the sheer cliff-face above the enclave are a series of caves which were used as dwellings by the monks and includes an 'assembly hall'. Faint traces of the paintings that once embellished the rock face can be seen. Even today, Tabo holds the distinction of being the largest monastic complex in Spiti. Constructed in 996 AD, Tabo was the brainchild of the great translator and teacher, Rinchensang Po.

The Temple of the Enlightened Gods (Tsug Lha-khang) - Also known as the Assembly Hall (du-khang), this temple forms the core of the complex. It houses a vestibule, an assembly hall and a sanctum. The four fold Vairocana is the central figure in the assembly hall. In Vajrayana Buddhism, he is regaraded as one of the five spiritual sons of the Adibuddha, who was the self creative primordial Buddha. He is portrayed here in a posture "turning the wheel of law". On brackets arrayed along the walls and with stylised flaming circles around them, are life size stucco images of what are commonly known as the Vajradhatu Mandala. There are thrity three images in all and are the other dieties of the pantheon. The sanctum, with five Bodhisattvas of the Good Age, is immediately behind the Assembly hall. The walls around the stuccoes are elaborately adorned with wall paintings that show the life of the Buddha.

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