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Lamayuru Monastery

At a distance of 120 km west of Leh lies one of the earliest existing monastery of Ladakh, the Lamayuru Monastery. It is situated on a high promontory overlooking the village and valley. Also known as the Yung-drung (swastika), the monastery has an interesting legend associated with it. As per this legend, the place where the monastery stands today was covered with lakewater during the era of Shakyamuni Buddha. However, Naropa, an 11th century Indian Buddhist scholar, meditated here for years in a cave and then caused the water of the lake to recede, thereby paving way for the construction of the monastery. Later, Rinchen Tsangpo not only enlarged the monastery but also adorned it.

In the sixteenth century, the status of the monastery was raised to that of a holy site. Now, even the criminals could seek shelter here without fearing apprehension. Because of this, the monastery came to be known as 'Tharpa Ling', or the 'place of freedom' amidst the Ladakhis.

Today, most of the monastery is in ruins barring the main assembly hall, Dukhang and few more buildings. The monastery is a part of the Drikung Kagyu, a subsect of the Kagyu School.

The Du-khang lies to the right of the courtyard with the entrance verandah painted with a colourful depiction of the Guardians of the Four Directions. Murals on the left wall guides the lama as to the correct way in which they should lead their life. The wall on the right side has a small cave known as Naropa's cave. This is the same place where Naropa meditated for a number of years. Hence, his statue occupies a prominent position in the cave. Along with him, his student Marpa and his student's student Mila Ras-pa also have their statues placed in the cave.

Within the Du-khang, on the right side glass-fronted bookcases preserve three complete sets of the Kandshur, the 108 volumes of Buddha's teachings. The showcases themselves are quiet interesting with elaborate painted decorations above and below the shelves. A statue of Shakyamuni, sans his usual blue hair, occupy the central position of the right side wall.

Out of the Du-khang, right in the centre of the opposite side is a throne meant specially for Lamayuru's head lama. On the right side of the throne, there is a chorten along with statues of Padma Sambhava and Tungdup Tshogs-gyal, one of the earlier head lama of the monastery. On the back of it, thangkas representing Buddha's incarnation can be seen. To the left of the throne stand five statues of different red hat lamas. Infront of these statues, images of Amitabha, Padma Sambhava and Sakyamuni are erected.

The Gonkhang is situated behind the Du-khang. It is a temple dedicated to the guardian divinities of Buddhism. Glass fronted cases in the temple exhibits images of Mahakala, the fiercest guardian divinity; Apshi, a guardian of the gompa; Radha Shree, a founder of the religious sect to which Lamayuru is associated; three guardian divinities and lastly another Apshi riding a horse. In front of the cases is Tara, the consort of Avalokitesvara reflecting her twenty-one manifestations. In front of Gonkhang are three chortens with the larger one in the centre.

A small temple devoted to Avalokitesvara stands apart from the main building housing Du-khang. A recess on the side facing the entrance holds an immensely old eight foot high image of Avalokitesvara with 1,000 arms and eyes (symbolising his tremendous strength) and eleven heads (nine Bodhisattva heads, one head angry at the suffering in the world and a Buddha head on top).

Along with the image of Avalokitesvara, the recess also contains images of Padme Sambhava and smaller statues of 8 Bodhisattvas. The walls on the right and left of the recess have paintings of Avalokitesvara, again with 1,000 arms and eleven heads and Buddha's incarnations respectively. The right side wall also has a mural of the various divinities a Buddhist will see after his death.

The significance of the Singhe Ghang Temple is immense. It is believed that when Naropa emptied the lake, he discovered a dead lion. It was on this spot that he built the first temple of the monastery and named it Singhe Ghang or the Lion Mound. The temple has an image of Vairocana or the Teaching Buddha as its highlight. The image of Vairocana is seated on a lion serving as a throne and a garuda (mythical bird) and sea monsters surround his head. Behind it, the wall has displays of stucco images of the Buddhas of the Four Directions. The left wall has a mural of an 11-headed Avalokitesvara along with a mandala painting of Vairocana but the murals on the right wall have been almost totally washed away by water.

The annual festival of Yuru Kabgyat is celebrated for two days and presents a terrific spectacle for onlookers. Mask dance is performed with masks representing the guardian divinities from the Dringungpa pantheon. And as in the mask dance of all monasteries, evil is brought to an end and goodness emerge victorious. The festival takes place in summers on the 28th and 29th days of the 2nd Tibetan month. The festival will next be celebrated on 2nd and 3rd July 2007.

Leh - The Base To Lamayuru Monastery
Leh is most important town of the Ladakh region and has the Sengye Namgyal's nine-storey palace as its prime attractions. The Tibetan architecture of the palace was appreciated so much that even after half a century later, it managed to inspire the famous Potala in Lhasa. Apart from the palace, a walk along the main bazaar of the Leh is high on the list of tourists.

Other Attractions

Wanla Monastery : Situated pretty close to Lamayuru monastery, the Wanla monastery was built in 1000 AD. The small monastery houses a famous image of the 11 headed Mahakaruna (Avalokitesvara). The statue is more than two storeys tall. The walls of the monastery is adorned with paintings of Buddhas, Boddhisattvas, the Mandala and so forth. An immensely revered image of Chovo-je-Paldan Atisha can also be seen in the monastery.

Alchi Monastery : Located around 70 km west of Leh, the Alchi Monastery is one of the most impressive Buddhist structures in the Ladakh region. It was constructed around 1000 years back and has two main temples Alchi du-khang and Sum-tsek as its prime attractions. Apart from it, the other structures of the monastery include the Temple of Manjushri, the New temple and three chortens or stupas.

Rizong Monastery : At a distance of 73 km from Leh, the Rizong monastery is a pretty recent construction. It was built by the great Lama Tsultim Nima in the 17th century and stands at an isolated place. Just 2 km below the monastery, there is a nunnery by the name of Chulichan (Chomoling). The nunnery has around 20 nuns as its denizens while the monastery itself is home to around 40 monks.

Bagso Monastery : This monastery stands around 40 km west of Leh and has the distinction of being the only place where the original sixteenth century murals still exist. The presiding image here is that of Maitreya Buddha.

How to get there
By Air - Daily Jet Airwyas and Alliance Air flights connect Leh to Delhi. Alliance also operates flights to Srinagar, Jammu and Chandigarh on specific days.
By Rail - Jammu Tawi is the nearest railhead to reach Leh. It is at a distance of 680 km from Leh and 434 km from Srinagar.
By Road - By road, Lamayuru monastery can be visited from either Leh (120 km) or Kargil (107 km). Buses plying daily between Leh- Srinagar (5 am) and Leh-Kargil (5.30 am) take tourists to Lamyuru. Tourists can also take a ride on a truck that run between Leh and Kargil. It takes around 6 hours to reach Lamayuru by road.


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