Tabo Monastery, established by a great scholar known as Richen Zangpo during 996 AD in the Spiti Valley, is popular among tourists as well as Buddhists. This religious centre was founded with the intention of establishing an institute of advanced learning.
In the 11th and 20th centuries, this monastery saw an incredible success and growth in Tibetan art. The monastery is also one of the oldest working monasteries in the Himalayan Ranges. Travellers from all over come here to see the beautiful paintings, sculptures and ancient texts and inscriptions written on the monastery’s wall.
The Temple of the Enlightened Gods, also known by the name Tug-Lha-khang, is characterised by its large assembly hall, a sanctum and a vestibule. This temple is one of the many temples of the Tabo Monastery complex. A four-fold figure of the Vairocana, one of the five spiritual sons of Adibuddha or the primordial Buddha, is placed centrally in the assembly hall.
The statue is 2 m long and is shown rotating the Dharma-chakra (the wheel of law). Life-size stucco images, commonly known as the Vajradhatu Mandala, have stylised flaming circles around them and are placed on brackets along the walls.
Five Bodhisattvas or enlightened beings sit in the sanctum which is placed behind the assembly hall. The walls are adorned with paintings showcasing the life of the Buddha. It is believed that artists were brought in from Kashmir to work on the paintings.
The Golden Temple, one of the famous temples of the Tabo Monastery complex, gets its name from the legend. It is believed that the entire temple was made using pure gold. In the 16th century, the temple was renovated by Sengge Namgyal, a king of Ladakh. It is now popular for its beautiful murals that cover its walls and ceilings.
The Mystic Mandala Temple, also known as the Initiation Temple or the dKyil-hKhor-khang, is adorned by ‘Mystic Mandalas’. A large painting of the Vairocana, a spiritual son of Adibuddha or the primordial Buddha, covers the wall facing the door. The image of the Vairocana is encircled by eight Bodhisattvas or enlightened beings.
The Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple, also known as the Byams-Pa Chen-po Lha-khang, is divided into a hall, a sanctum and a vestibule. A 20 ft tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha, also known as the ‘Laughing Buddha’ or the ‘Buddha of the Future’, is the centre of attraction of this temple.
Murals, including the ones that depict the monastery of Tashi-Chunpo and Lhasa's Potala Palace, add to the attraction of the temple.
The Temple of Dromton, also known as Brom-ston Lha-khang, is a popular temple located inside the Tabo Monastery complex. It was founded by Dromton, a devoted disciple of Atisha, during the period between 1008 and 1064 A.D. Located at the north of the complex, this temple has exquisitely carved doorways and walls decorated by beautiful murals. A pass through a portico, with a long passage, leads visitors to the temple.
The Chamber of Picture Treasures, also known as Z'al-ma, is located within the Tabo Monastery complex. This art gallery, counted as one among the later additions to the temple complex, exhibits a unique collection of Tibetan style paintings. This chamber acts as an outer room to the Temple of the Enlightened Gods.
The Large Temple of Dromton is the second largest temple in the complex of the Tabo Monastery. Famous as the Brom-ston Lha-khang, this temple is among the later additions to the complex and occupies an area of over 70 sq m. The portico along with the niche expands the area by 42 sq m.
The front wall of the temple displays a figure of Sakyamuni or Gautama Buddha, flanked by his chief disciples, namely Sariputra and Maha Maugdalayana. The outer wall is adorned with images of eight Medicine Buddhas and Guardian Kings.
The Mahakala Vajra-bhairava Temple, located in the complex of the Tabo Monastery, houses numerous idols of protective gods of the Gelukpa sect of Buddhism. Besides Gon-Khang, this temple is commonly called the ‘Temple of Horror’ because of the ferocity of the deities whose idols are present in the room. Visitors are advised to enter the temple only after protective meditation.
The White Temple, also known as the dKar-abyum Lha-khang, is a temple within the Tabo Monastery complex. It has beautifully adorned walls with a low dado that monks and nuns can lean against.