Tawang Monastery Overview
One of the most important Buddhist sites in the world, Tawang Monastery is the tourist gem of Arunachal Pradesh. It is India’s largest monastery and Asia’s second largest, built in 1680-1681. Tawang Monastery gets its name from the town where it is located. At an altitude of more than 3000 meters, Tawang Monastery is the centre of the Gelug school (Yellow Hat) of Mahayana Buddhism. The monastery complex has a 282-meter long compound wall and has a total of 65 residential buildings.
Address: Cona, Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh 790104
Location: 180 km From Bomdila, Tawang District, Arunachal Pradesh
State: Arunachal Pradesh
Best Time to Travel: October to April
Significance: Tawang Monastery – the largest monastery In India.
How to Reach Tawang Monastery
By Air: The nearest airport to Tawang Monastery is in Tezpur (Assam). The airport is 365 kilometres away and is connected to the capital of West Bengal, Kolkata, by two weekly flights. One can also take a flight to Guwahati (Assam), which is 555 kilometres away. Guwahati is connected to various parts of India by daily flights.
By Rail: To reach Tawang by rail, visitors will have to reach the nearest convenient railhead in Guwahati (555km). Guwahati railway station is linked to almost all the major Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
By Road: Reach Tawang by a state transport or private bus, or a jeep that can be taken from either Bomdila (185 km), Tezpur (365 km) or Guwahati (555 km) via Sila Pass.
History of Tawang Monastery
There are several legends associated with Tawang Monastery, which literally means ‘Horse Chosen.’ The monastery was founded in the 17th century by Mera Lama Lodre Gyatso, fulfilling the dream of the fifth Dalai Lama, Nagwang Lobsang Gyatso. If the legends are to be believed, Mera Lama decided to build a monastery, but could not find a suitable place for it. Finding no other way, he sought divine intervention and prayed in a cave, keeping his horse outside it.
As Mera Lama came out of his prayers, he saw that his horse was missing. After searching for long, he spotted his horse standing on a hilltop. Mera Lama took this as a clue from the gods and decided to build the monastery there. This is how the wonderful monastery came into existence, and since then has been an important Buddhist centre. The full name of the monastery is Tawang Galdan Namgye Lhatse – “The site chosen by the horse is the divine celestial paradise.” Some parts of the monastery were destroyed during Indo-China war. Today, it is under the threat of landslide as the foothill is being eroded by the river.
Structure of Tawang Monastery
Tawang Monastery is built like a fortification since other major Buddhist sects in the 17th century were against Merak Lama’s idea to construct a monastery. Therefore, the wall of the complex was built to protect the main structure.
The Tawang Monastery complex has several buildings used by monks and other people. The most important building in the complex is Dukhang or the assembly hall. The most magnificent aspect of this hall is the 18-foot tall gilded statue of Buddha seated in the lotus position. The statue is one-of-its-kind and is so big that its top reaches the upper floor. In the same hall, there is also a Tibetan Buddhist style painting, also called a Thangka, of Palden Lhamo, the guardian deity of the monastery. The painting was gifted by the 5th Dalai Lama. In addition to the statue and the painting, the hall has exquisite carvings, murals, and paintings in Buddhist architectural style.
In addition to the big assembly hall, the three-story monastery has a centre of Buddhist studies, a school, and its own printing press. There is also a huge library that houses ancient manuscripts along with handwritten and printed texts. Once you enter the complex, you’ll also find residential huts of monks, or Shas as they are known, that can accommodate 700 monks and lamas. All the halls are brightly coloured and splendidly decorated.
The residents and the young monks in Tawang Monastery are taught English, Hindi, Math, and Buddhist teachings at the school. Most of the monks who joined the monastery are boys from the Monpa community. During the 1962 Indo-China war, the monastery was occupied by China. And before that, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, took refuge in the monastery in 1959, when he escaped Tibet after a rebellion against the Chinese government failed.
Festivals in Tawang Monastery
There are several festivals celebrated in the huge courtyard of Tawang Monastery, including Losar (Tibetan New Year), Torgya, Ajilamu, Dungyur, and Choksar. Buddha Mahotsav Tawang is the main festival that is celebrated in the town, while Tawang-Torgya is a festival celebrated only in the monastery. This annual festival celebrates the life of the Monpa people and the community.
The celebrations of the Torgya festival last for three days and is held to keep evil forces away and protect people from natural disasters. The festival is known for its vibrant costume dances, including Losjker Chungiye and Pha Chan. The dances illustrate famous Buddhist myths and legends, in which the beautifully masked figures represent various animals like sheep, monkeys, cows, etc.
Visited by thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year, Tawang monastery is a unique and spell-binding place that cannot be found anywhere in the country.After experiencing the spiritual and serene atmosphere of the monastery, head to several other beautiful places in the town, including Tawang War Memorial and crystal clear lakes like Banggachang, Shonga-tser, Madhuri, and Pangang Teng Tso.
Other Attractions In Tawang
Another monastery located only five kilometres away from Tawang is the Urgelling monastery, the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama. This monastery is one of the main religious and cultural centres of Arunachal Pradesh. Urgelling Monastery was established by the Lama Urgen Sangpo in the 15th century CE and is the perfect place for meditation.
Another Monastery to visit in Tawang is the Rigyalling Monastery. The monastery is a major centre of Buddhist learning in Arunachal Pradesh and is situated amidst the panoramic view of the lush green forest.
Taktsang Monastery is 45km from Tawang and is popularly known as the ‘tiger’s den.’ Surrounded by a dense coniferous forest amid snowy mountains, this monastery offers a serene view of the place that is ideal for meditation. It is believed that Guru Padmasambhava visited the Taktsang monastery in the 8th century.
Tawang War Memorial is a 40-foot multi-hued chorten like structure that commemorates the Indian soldiers who fought the 1962 war between India and China. The memorial is in front of the beautiful Tawang-Chu valley and has an inscription that praises the bravery of soldiers:
“How can a Man die Better than facing Fearful Odds, For the Ashes of His Fathers and the Temples of His Gods. To the sacred memory of the Heroes of Rezang La, 24 Martyrs of the 13 Kumaon who fought to the Last Man, Last Round, Against Hordes of Chinese on 18 November 1962.”
The Pangang-Tang-Tso lake is situated 17 km away from Tawang and lies amid colourful flower bed and the sloppy Himalayan ranges. The place offers picture-perfect postcard views that attract hundreds of tourists every year. The lake is also home to some of the migratory animals and birds.
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