The Tabo Monastery is located in Tabo Village in the Spiti Valley. The Tabo Chos-Khor Monastery was established more than a millennium back, in 996 A.D., the Year of the Fire Ape by the Tibetan Calendar.
Tabo Monastery lies on the barren, snow covered, cold desert of the Tabo Valley at high altitude of 3050 m. Unscathed by any modern curses, it is a heaven in its own sense. It has preserved the magnificent heritage, traditions and culture of Buddhism through the passage of centuries, withholding its sanctity.
The Tabo Gompa, in the entire Himalayan region, is second in importance only to the Tholing Gompa in Tibet. The King of western Himalayan Kingdom of Guge, Lotsawa Rinchen Tsang Po developed the monastery as an advanced centre for learning. For a significant period, many great scholars and translators in the Buddhist history studies were hosted here. Till date, Tabo Monastery is known as the preserver of the Buddhist Legacy. It still remains one of the most important Gompa of the entire Tibetan Buddhist world.
The Tabo monastery temples preserves a priceless collection of manuscripts and thangkas (Buddhist scroll paintings), beautiful statues in stuccos, frescos and murals illustrating tales from the Mahayana Buddhist Pantheon. Every inch of wall is covered with fine paintings in well-preserved condition.
Tabo Monastery is also given the sobriquet of the "Ajanta of the Himalayas". Traces of rock paintings and sculptures are unearthed. The temple complex is a historic treasure of India, protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. 36 almost life-size clay statues adorn the walls of the assembly hall. Above the monastic enclave are a series of caves which were used as dwelling units by the monks.
The monastery complex holds 9 temples, 23 chortens, a monk's chamber and an extension that houses the nuns’ chamber.
The Nine Temples are:
The Temple of the Enlightened Gods (gTug-Lha-khang)
This temple has a central figure is the four-fold figure of Vairocana. In Vajrayana Buddhism, he is regarded as one of the five spiritual sons of Adibuddha- who was the self-created elemental Buddha. A larger than life idol about two meters above the floor is depicted in a posture turning the wheel of law. Beautiful Kashmiri paintings of Buddha’s life grace the interiors.
The Golden Temple (gSer-khang)
Once layered with gold, this temple was exhaustively renovated in the 16th century by Senge Namgyal, ruler of Ladakh. The walls and ceilings are covered with outstanding murals.
The Mystic Mandala Temple (dKyil-kHor- khang)
This temple also goes by the name of Initiation Temple as the initiation to monkhood takes place here. A huge painting of Vairocana surrounded by eight Bodhisattvasare worshipped.
The Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple (Byams-Pa Chen-po Lha-khang)
An image Bodhisattva Maitreya that is over six meters high dominates the temple. The beautiful display of murals adoring the inner walls depicts the monastery of Tashi-Chunpo and Lhasa's Potala palace.
The Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang)
Founded by Dromton (1008-1064 AD), an important disciple of Atisha, it is one of the earliest temples of Tabo. Intricate carvings and murals decorates every surface of the temple.
The Chamber of Picture Treasures (Z'al-ma)
A kind of an ante room attached to the Enlightened Gods temple, The Chamber of Picture Treasures is covered with beautiful paintings of the Tibetan style.
The Large Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang)
The second largest temple in the complex, covering over 70 sq m, has the figure of Sakyamuni flanked by Sariputra and Maha Maugdalayana. The outer walls depict the revered eight Medicine Buddhas and Guardian Kings.
The Mahakala Vajra Bhairava Temple (Gon-khang)
Dedicated to the protective deity of the Galuk-pa sect, fierce deities fill the room. The temple also goes by the name of 'temple of horror' and can only be entered after protective meditation.
The White Temple (dKar-abyum Lha-Khang)
Beautiful murals and paintings decorate the walls of the temple. An ornate low dado is erected for the monks or nuns to lean against when mediating.
Since the founding of Tabo Monastery, not much has changed. The lamas still perform tantric rites in the temples. Chanting starts at 6 a.m. sharp. Many festivals are held in the environs of the monastery. The Tibetan monks perform traditional Buddhist songs and masked dances.
A tour of Spiti Valley remains incomplete if you have not explored the Tabo Monastery.