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Timings : 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM

Time Required : 1-2 hrs

Entry Fee : No entry fee

Tawang Monastery, Tawang Overview

Located amidst the picturesque surroundings, the Tawang Monastery also known as the Golden Namgyal Lhatse is one of the gems in Arunachal Pradesh. Perched at the height of 3,000 metres above sea level, it has been recognised as the second largest monastery in the world, the first one being Lhasa. The monastery is believed to be 400 years old and has control over 17 gompas in the region. Built as a large mansion, it is an abode for over 300 monks. Lying amidst the Himalayan ranges, it offers a breathtaking view of the Tawang-Chu valley. One of the most prominent attractions in the monastery houses is the massive statue of Lord Buddha which is 8 meters in height.

The three-storeyed building was founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyamtso to complete the wish of Nagwang Lobsang Gyatso, the 5th Dalai Lama in 1860-61. It belonged to the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism and had a religious association with Drepung Monastery of Lhasa, which continued during the period of British rule. The main temple, Dukhang, boasts of magnificent interiors with beautiful artwork while the inner walls contain sketches and paintings of Bodhisattvas. The library is stocked with valuable old scriptures like Kangyur and Tengyur. All other primary structures have the traditional style of Buddhist architecture which will make you swoon. The vibrant festivals celebrated in the monastery are an icing on the cake.

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Legend of Tawang Monastery

According to one legend, the location of the Tawang Monastery was selected by the horse of Merad Lama Lodre Gyatso. He was on a mission which was given to him by the 5th Dalai Lama to establish a monastery. Nevertheless, he was unable to select a location and tired he went into a cave to seek blessings of the Almighty and show him the way. When he came out of the cave, he could not find his horse and after rigorous searching, finally found it grazing on top of the Tana Mandekhang Mountain. He considered this a sign and decided to build the monastery in that particular location with the help of local people in 1681.

As per another legend, a white horse of the Prince of Lhasa had wandered into Monpa region. People searched for the horse and found it grazing at the present location of the monastery. They started to worship the horse and the place where it was found. Eventually, to honour the sacred site, the Tawang Monastery was built.

History of Tawang Monastery

The Tawang Monastery was founded by Merek Lama Lodre Gyamsto, with the help of the local people, in 1680-81 at the request of the 5th Dalai Lama. According to Pandit Nain Singh, who visited the monastery in 1874-75, the monastery had a parliamentary form of administration, known as the Kato, with the Chief Lamas of the monastery as its members.

Under the Shimla Agreement of 1913-14, the whole of Tawang and the monastery which earlier belonged to Tibet was given to the Britishers. After this, China invaded India On 20 October 1962 and occupied Tawang including the monastery for six months. In 1959, Dalai Lama escaped Tibet, and after an arduous journey, he reached the monastery. He stayed there for few days before leaving for Tezpur. On 8 November 2009, despite loud protests from the Chinese, the Dalai Lama's visit to the monastery was a crucial moment for the local people.

Structure of Tawang Monastery

1. Entrance and outer walls: The colourful entrance of Tawang monastery, built in the shape of a hut is known as the Kakaling. The roof of the Kakaling features mandalas, while murals of divinities and saints have been painted on the interior walls. Ahead of the main gate of the Kakaling, towards its south, is another entry, an open gate. The main entrance, to the south of the open gate, has massive doors fitted on the northern wall which is 925 feet in length and has a height varying between 10–20 feet. Apart from the main gate, the southern side of the monastery has another entry gate with a massive door. According to a legend, Dalai Lama had given a roll of thread to be bound by the walls of the monastery to denote the extent to which it should be built.

2. Main buildings: The triple storeyed monastery has a large assembly hall, ten other functional structures and 65 residential quarters for students, Lamas and monks. It also has a school, its water supply facility and a centre for Buddhist cultural studies. The ground floor of the monastery is where ritual dances are performed. Even the curtains are painted with beautiful Buddhist symbols. Apart from the residential buildings, the abbot of the monastery resides in a house located near the gate at the south-eastern corner. A striking feature of the front porch's wall on the ground floor is a footprint on a stone slab. It is believed that this footprint belonged to Chitenpa, a resident of the monastery who was a water carrier. This step is venerated as a miracle because of the belief among the local people that such an imprint on a stone slab could only be created by a divine person.

3. Main temple or Dukhang: To the west of the entry gate, there is the main temple of the monastery known as the Dukhang ('Du' means "assembly" and 'Khang' means "building). Built in 1860-61, it houses a huge 18 feet image of Buddha in a lotus position, elegantly decorated and adorned. Constructed over a platform, its height extends up to the first floor. Next to the Buddha image there is a silver casket that holds a special thangka of the goddess Sro Devi (Palden Lhamo), the guardian deity of the monastery. This thangka image, also known as Dri Devi, was donated to the monastery by the 5th Dalai Lama. After being dilapidated, the main temple was renovated in traditional Buddhist style.

4. Library: The Tawang monastery also has a huge library on the second floor which consists of translated Buddhist scriptures and books on Buddhist teachings. The books are used mostly by the literate Monpa Lamas who refer to it for conducting religious rituals. There is also a printing press which uses locally made paper for printing religious books.

Festivals Celebrated in Tawang Monastery

The major festivals held in the Tawang monastery are Choksar, Losar, Ajilamu, and Torgya. Choksar is the festival in which the Lamas recite religious scriptures. The villagers carry the scriptures on their back and walk around their agricultural land and pray for a good yield. The Losar festival is celebrated to mark the beginning of the Tibetan New Year.

Torgya, also known as Tawang-Torgya, is an annual festival held mainly in the monastery. The objective of the festival is to seek protection from evil spirits and pray for the prosperity and happiness of the people in the next year. During the three-day festival, dance performances, by artists in colourful costumes and masks are held in the courtyard. Losjer Chungiye, the famous dance style is performed by the monks of the monastery.

Read more about Losar - Tibetan New Year

Best Time To Visit Tawang Monastery

The ideal time to visit Tawang Monastery is from March to September. In summers, the weather is pleasant with no blistering sun. The temperature lingers between 10 to 21 degrees Celsius which is perfect for outdoor activities. Monsoons, which start from July and last until September, also provide fantastic opportunity to explore Tawang. Winters season, however, is not apt for sightseeing since the weather is extremely harsh. The temperature drops below 0 degrees and snowfall can interrupt your plans.

How To Reach Tawang Monastery

Tawang Monastery is located in Cona, in the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh. It can be reached by booking a taxi for half a day. Alternatively, you can also explore the place on foot.

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