Home » Buddhist Tour » Buddhism in Sikkim

Buddhism in Sikkim

Sikkim was blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, the great Buddhist saint who visited Sikkim in the 8th century and consecrated the land, meditating at its four corners to rid it of all negativity. Here he is believed to have hidden many secret teachings, which he prophesized would be discovered in the future by those specially blessed by spiritual powers.

It was a realization of this prophecy when in the 17th century three learned lamas, Lhatsun Chenpo, Karthok Rikzin Chenpo and Ngadak Sempa Chenpo entered Sikkim from three different directions and met at Norbugang, Yuksom and decided to establish a Buddhist monarchy in the state. In 1642, the three monks crowned Phuntsog Namgyal the first monarch of Sikkim giving him the title of Chogyal [Dharma Raja].

While Phuntsog Namgyal worked on consolidating the kingdom, the three monks led by Lhatsun Chenpo concentrated on building monasteries and shrines all over Sikkim. The first monasteries built in Sikkim were the ones in Dubdi and Sanga Choling [both in West Sikkim], close to Yuksum. Soon nearly every village had its own monastery and these became not just places of worship but also educational centres.

Today Sikkim has nearly 200 monasteries and Lhakhangs and the influence of Buddhism is felt in nearly every corner of the state. From the fluttering prayer flags to the sacred caves, lakes and stupas, the images and symbols of Buddhism retain a freshness undimmed by the passage of time.

Sikkim paid homage to its patron saint by constructing the tallest statue of Guru Padmasambhava in the world atop the Samdruptse hill near Namchi in South Sikkim. The grand 138 ft statue was unveiled in February, 2004 and has been crafted according to details specified in religious texts. The statue is visible from as far away as the India-Nepal border and Darjeeling. It has already become a major pilgrimage site with both domestic and foreign tourists making it a part of their itinerary. A two-kilometre long ropeway will soon connect the Samdruptse hilltop with Namchi.

Major Buddhist Places in Sikkim

Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim
After the Chinese occupied Tibet, the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was forced to flee to India. He arrived in Sikkim in 1959 and chose Rumtek, over all other sites, as his main seat in exile. Rumtek monastery was originally constructed by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje in 1740 and continued to be the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage in Sikkim for some time before being destroyed. However, with the arrival of the 16th Karmapa, Rumtek regained its lost glory. His Holiness, Gyalwa Karmapa began the construction work of the new monastery in 1961 and was assisted in his effort by the Sikkim Royal family as well as the Indian Government. Finally, on the Tibetan New Year's day (Losar) in 1966 , the inauguration of the new seat called, "The Dharmachakra Centre, a place of erudition and spiritual accomplishment, the seat of the glorious Karmapa." was officially accomplished by the 16th Karmapa.

The location of Rumtek, 5500 feet above sea level on a hill facing the city of Gangtok, was largely responsible for its selection as the main seat of exile for the 16th Karmapa. The Karmapa realised that the place blessed by flowing streams, mountains behind, a snow range in front and a river below was extremely auspicious for his new seat.

The main temple, surrounded by monk's quarter, is a four storey structure with a golden sculpture, the ghanzira, adorning the rooftop. The ghanzira is a combination of five distinct shape representing the five Tathagata (Buddha) families - Amithaba; the wheel, Vairochana; the bell, Amoghasiddhi; the vase, Akshobya; and the jewel, Ratnasambhava.

The main entrance of the temple is decorated with traditional colourful murals. Huge life size images of the Four Guardians of the universe - Virudaka, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra, and Vaishravana - stand guarding the four directions. Also, what is instantly noticeable here is the painting of a Hindu God, Lord Ganesha. He finds a place here because of the vision of the 16th Karmapa in which he saw the elephant headed deity aiding the construction work.

The Main Shrine Hall inside stands on strong red pillars with long, round silk banners and ancient thankas suspended from them. The walls of the hall are replete with paintings of the Kagyu lineage, the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, the Sixteen Arhats and the Genduk Chogngi. The holy throne of the Gyalwa Karmapa, together with thrones for his regents and other high incarnate tulkus is the highlight of the room. Behind the holy throne, ten feet large statue of Sakyamuni Buddha along with Shariputra and Mangalputra are positioned. Initially, this place was occupied by a large painting of Buddha, however, in 1989, the hall room was enlarged and the painting had to be shifted to another location.

Two rooms in the right and rear of the main shrine hall are dedicated to the Mahakal and Mahakali. The hall on the left side serve as the gonkhang of the female protector of the Kagyu sect, Tsering Che Nga and fierce manifestation of Guru Padmasambava, Dorje Drolo.

Within the monastery complex , behind the main monastery, are the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute of Buddhist Studies and the Golden Stupa. The former, constructed in the year 1984, is the most beautiful building in the complex.

The institue attracts numerous students from around the world who spend atleast nine years studying here. Thereafter, an optional three year isolated meditation follows. A must see in this institute is the main hall on the third floor. The hall is embellished with awesome murals along with images of Sakyamuni Buddha and 16th Karmapa.

Opposite the entrance of the institute, a small hall houses the four metre high Golden Stupa which contains the ashes of the sixteenth Karmapa ( he died in 1981). Behind the stupa, the statue of Dorje Chang (Vajradhara) stands in the centre with four great Kagyu teacher - Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Milerapa - on his sides. The statues of the previous 16 Karmapa are also seen arranged on the sides of the hall.

This hall is not always open, hence make sure that you either knock loudly or take a monk along to get inside.

The Original Rumtek Gompa
The original Rumtek gompa which was constructed by the 9th Karmapa in 1740 stands half a kilometre further the new monastery. The old monastery is simple but attractive structure currently undergoing renovation work.The highlight of this monastery is the small shrine room devoted to the Karma Kagyu protector Mahakala. The image of the deity is so fierce that it is kept veiled.

At Rumtek, every month, there is a puja ceremony conducted for either one or two weeks. The Tibetan New Year day, Losar, is celebrated with much enthusiasm. Festivities continue for next two days with performances of lhamo. However, before the celebration of Losar, the monks of the monastery perform a week long puja in honour of Mahakal. Ritual dances take place on the last two days preeceding the eve of Losar. Recently, for the first time in the history of the monastery, the performances of dances were opened for public viewing.

The Dungdrub Puja, organised during the fourth Tibetan lunar month sees the recitation of one hundred million mantras by the monk community. The recitation begins on the fifteenth day and continues till the final conclusion. The puja is conducted for world peace and to assist people develop tranquility and compassion by embracing Buddha's teachings.

Every alternate year a week-long Vajrakilaya (dubchen) or Guru Padmasambhava tsechu puja together with traditional chham performances is oraganised during the fourth Tibetan month (May -June).
Apart from these cultural programmes are also performed to commemorate the birthday of the 17th Karmapa on June 26 every year.

Other Attractions
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology : Located in the town of Gangtok, the The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology is recognised all over the world as reputed centre for Buddhist philosophy and religion. The institute houses priceless collection of old Tibetan books and manuscripts on science, medicine and astrology. There is also a museum attached to the institute that stays open between 10 am to 4pm. It has on displays over 200 icons, old thankas and ritual vessels.

Enchey Monastery : One of the most significant monasteries of Sikkim, Enchey monastery is located at a distance of 5 km from Gangtok. The site where the monastery stands was blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a tantric master known for his flying powers. The monastery is one of the most important seat Nyingma order and preserves in its precincts  numerous images of god, goddesses and other religious objects. The 'Chaam' or religious masked dance is performed in this monastery every year for two days in the month of January.

How to get there
By Air - The airport at Bagdogra in West Bengal is the nearest one to reach Sikkim by air. The airport is at a distance of 124 km and flights form here connect to destinations like Kolkata, Delhi, Guwahati and Patna. Helicopter service to and from Gangtok and Bagdogra are available daily. From Bagdogra airport, taxis are also available to transfer you to Gangtok.
By Rail - New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railhead at a distance of 134 km. New Jalpaiguri is well connected to Delhi as well as Kolkata. From New Jalpaiguri, jeeps are available on hire.
By Road - NH 31 A connect Kolkata to Gangtok via Teesta Bazaar and Rangpo. Apart from this buses also run to and from Bagdogra, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Calcutta. From Gangtok, Rumtek is at a distance of 24 km in the south eastern direction. SNT (Sikkim National Transport) buses leave Gangtok everyday for Rumtek at 4 pm and return the next morning. Shared jeeps are also an alternative to reach Rumtek Monastery.

© 2012 Buddhisttour.com All Rights Reserved.
( A Unit of Frontiers Beyond Tours Pvt Ltd )