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                      LESSER KNOWN   HIMACHAL

Tabo Monastary----- A Citadel of Budhist Art


LAHUL SPITI, the land of monasteries and mysteries of gods and deities is the divine gift of nature on earth. The snow capped Himalayas present a panoramic pageantry of exquisite creations of nature. Located in the dizzy height of the Himalayas with passes that remain closed for six months, Lahul and Spiti were till now a forbidden land. Now this area has been opened to the adventurous people who can have a glimpse of the magnificent valley.

The world  famous ancient monastery  located on the bank of river Spiti  offers a valuable window to Tibetan culture: Art and architecture here are as stupendous as in Ajanta caves, The monastic complex  consisting of nine Shrines was constructed and renovated between 10 th & l5th century and an inner chapel suggests its foundation in 996 AD. The most important amongst these  shrine is Dukhung. Here 33 stucco images of Buddha. Bodhisatvas  gods and goddess surround the central figure of Vairochana. Every inch of the wall is embellished with beautiful paintings which are as old as the monastery. The life of Sakyamuni Buddlha is also elegantly depicted here. The   gompa also contains   wooden images and a precious library of manuscripts. Tabo was built before Alchi monastery of LadaKh, nevertheless, both of them contain huge repository of contemporary Kashmiri art of the 11 th century. It also bridges missing links between artistic styles of India and Tibet. The soft and tender expression of the figures are the conspicuous influence of Ajanta.

Tabo is one of the few monuments where one can study continuous development of Western Tibetan art from 11th to 2Oth centuries.

It goes to the credit of the Archaeological Survey of India, which has been deputing its team of experts year after year to undertake the challenging task of conservation of the historical monument.

Some scholars are of the view that some of the murals of Tabo monastery are as old as the monastery itself. Others offering a conservating estimate date the wall paintings to 500 years back. The Tabo complex is surrounded on all the four sides by a high mud wall. Of nine structures, all single storied, the biggest the oldest and the finest is one called Duwang Lakhang. In this structure, the spacious chaitya (hall) is used by monks  for daily prayers. There is no window but a small image of the four-faced Buddha Vairochana is a magnificent idol and represents dharma: chakra-pravartan mudra. Behind the statue is a figure of Amitay Buddha seated in the innermost sanctum.

Of the stucco idols, one  very magnificent is of bodhisatva Maitreya  seated on a high lotus seat. The 5.21 metre high image represent future Buddha in paryanka sasana and in dharma-chakra-pravartan mudra . The curly hair on the head is an indication of the influence of the Gupta   period.

In the open courtyard around the built-up edifices, are seen a number of stupas, which have been raised to house the sacred ashes (mortal remains) of the Lamas who breathed their last while staying in this holy place.

The Tabo Monastery is a real trove of Buddhist Himalayan art and has happily escaped ravages of time and the onslaught of invaders and iconoclasts. It is a magnificent heritage with immense   potential awaiting   exposure in the the time  to come. By S. Bhardwaj

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