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Major Buddhist Monasteries in India

Buddhism, revolving around practices like spiritual development, meditation and inner peace, is one of the religions followed in Indian subcontinent, though percentage of people following it is small but considering India's population, it is still a considerable figure. Buddhism revolved Buddhism originated in ancient India between 4th and 6th century in Magadha region of India from where it spread through neighboring countries Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar along with much of Asia.

It was Siddhartha Gautama, popularly known as Lord Buddha who laid the foundation of this peace loving way of living. Lord Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal and grew up in Kapilavasthu, a town in the plains region of the modern Nepal-India border and spent his life in what is now known as modern day Bihar & Uttar Pradesh.

According to the Buddhist sutras, Siddhartha Gautama was moved by sufferings of humanity and its endless repetition due to rebirth and he decided to set out on a quest to end this repeated suffering. Early Buddhist canonical texts and early biographies of Gautama state that he first studied under Vedic teachers, namely Alara Kalama & and Uddaka Ramaputta learning meditation and ancient philosophies particularly the concept of "nothingness & emptiness" from the former, and "what is neither seen nor unseen" from the latter.

There are a number of Buddhist Monasteries in India located at the different corners of the country, Mahabodhi Temple in Gaya is one of the most famous Buddhist site in India and other major Buddhist pilgrimage sites include Sanchi, Sarnnath and Kushinagar.

Hemis Monastery, Ladakh
Hemis monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Drukpa lineage located in Hemis, in Ladakh region, about 45 kms from Leh. The monastery existed before the 11th century but was re-established in India in 1672 by Ladakhi King Sengge Namgyal. It houses a famous collection of ancient statues, sacred thangkas, and various other artifacts. There is annual Hemis festival honoring Padmasambhava that is held here in the month of June, every year.

The Hemis Festival is dedicated to Lord Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) venerated as the dance performance at Hemis Monastery representative reincarnation of Buddha.

Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh
Thiksey Gompa is affiliated with the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is located on top of a hill in Thiksey village, approximately 20 kilometres East of Leh in Ladakh. It is known for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet and is the largest gompa in Central Ladakh. Located at an altitude of 3,600 metres in the Indus Valley, it is a twelve-story complex and houses many artifacts of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings and swords installed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to this monastery in 1970, it contains a 15 metres high statue of Maitreya, the largest in Ladakh that covers two stories of the entire building.

The annual festival held in this monastery precincts is known as the Gustor ritual, which is held from the 17th to 19th day of the 9th month of the Tibetan calendar (October–November). Sacred dances such as the mask dance or Cham Dance are performed as a part of this ritual. Another special feature is the trade fair held at the base of the monastery in which villagers from all over Ladakh assemble to barter and trade items and socialize.

Phuktal Monastery, Zanskar
Phugtal Monastery is located in the remote Lungnak Valley in south-eastern Zanskar in Ladakh. It is one of the only Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh that can still be reached only by foot. The Phuktal Gompa owes its legacy to powerful and renowned scholars who resided in the cave around which the monastery has been built and has long been a place for retreat, meditation, learning, and teaching.

The Monastery is built around a natural cave, which is believed to have been visited by numerous sages, scholars, translators, and monks around 2,550 years ago. The remote location of the monastery was ideal for monks looking for peace and solitude to meditate. The present Phuktal Gompa, of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, was established in the early 15th century by Jangsem Sherap Zangpo, a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa. Tsongkhapa was the founder of Gelug, which is one of the newest schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Festivals are an important part of the Phuktal Gompa. There are set of different occasions for the monks to interact with the villagers and for villagers to visit the monastery.

Monasteries in Spiti Valley
There are 5 main Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Spiti namely Key, Tangyud, Dhankar, Kungri and Tabo.

Key Monastery is located at an altitude of 4166 metres, close to Spiti river in Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh. It is the biggest monastery of Spiti Valley and a religious training centre for Lamas and reportedly had 100 monks in the year 1855. It is believed to have been founded by Dromton, a disciple of the famous teacher, Atisha in the 11th century.

The walls of the monastery are covered with paintings and murals, an example of the 14th century monastic architecture, which developed as the result of Chinese influence. Kye monastery has a collection of ancient murals and books, including Buddha images. There are three floors, the first one is mainly underground and used for storage. One room, called the Tangyur is richly painted with murals. The ground floor has the beautifully decorated Assembly Hall and cells for many monks.

Tangyud Monastery is located in Komic village, 2 kms South East of Hikkim in Spiti valley. It is built like a fortified castle on the edge of a deep canyon with massive slanted mud walls and battlements with vertical red ochre and white vertical stripes that makes them look much taller than they really are. It is one of the highest altitude gompas in India, at an altitude of 4,520 metres, on the edge of a deep canyon and overlooking the town of Kaza, its location is on the periphery of Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary.

Dhankar Gompa is situated at an elevation of 3984 metres in Spiti valley above Dhankar village, in between towns of Kaza and Tabo. The complex is built on a 1000 foot high spur overlooking the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers - one of the world's most spectacular settings for a gompa. Dhang means cliff & Kar means fort, hence Dhangkar means fort on a cliff. It was reported to have had 90 monks in 1855. Below the Gompa lies the small village of Shichilling that contains the new Dhankar Monastery, home to about 150 monks belonging to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Kungri Monastery is a Buddhist monastery of the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the Pin Valley in Lahaul and Spiti. Kungri is Spiti's second oldest monastery, built around 1330. The gompa consists of three detached rectangular blocks facing east. It is noted for its sword dance by the buzhens of Mud village on the right bank of the Pin River.

Tabo is located in Tabo village of Spiti valley is located at altitude of 3050 metres and was founded in 996 in the Tibetan year of the Fire Ape by the Tibetan Buddhist lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo on behalf of the king of western Himalayan Kingdom of Guge, Yeshe-O. Tabo is noted for being the oldest continuously operating Buddhist enclave in both India and the Himalayas. There are a large number of frescoes displayed on its walls that depict tales from the Buddhist pantheon also there are many priceless collections of thankas (scroll paintings), manuscripts, well-preserved statues, frescos and extensive murals which cover almost every wall. It is here that the 14th Dalai Lama held the Kalachakra ceremonies in 1983 and 1996.

Tabo Monastery has nine temples, four decorated stupas, and cave shrines. The paintings date to the 10th to 11th centuries for main temple (Tsug la Khang), 13th to 14th centuries for the stupa & from 15th to 20th centuries for all the other temples.

Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh
Tawang Monastery is located at altitude of 3000 metres in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, it is the largest monastery in India and second largest in the world after the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. It is situated in the valley of Tawang River, in close proximity to the Tibetan and Bhutanese border.

Tawang Monastery is known in Tibetan as Galden Namgey Lhatse, which translates to "celestial paradise in a clear night." It was founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1680-1681 in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso. It belongs to the Gelug school of Mahayana Buddhism and had a religious association with Drepung Monastery of Lhasa, which continued during the period of British rule.

The monastery is three stories high. It is enclosed by a 925 feet long compound wall. Within the complex there are 65 residential buildings. The library of the monastery has valuable old scriptures, mainly Kangyur and Tengyur and of all the festivals celebrated in the monastery o ma variya

The main Monpa festivals held in the monastery are the Choksar, Losar, Ajilamu, and Torgya.

Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim
Rumtek Monastery, also known as Dharmachakra Centre is a gompa located in town Rumtek, about 24 kms from Gangtok at height of 1500 metres in Sikkim. It is a focal point for the sectarian tensions within the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism that characterize the Karmapa controversy.

Originally built under the direction of Changchub Dorje, 12th Karmapa Lama in the mid-1700's, Rumtek served as the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage in Sikkim for some time, however, when Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 16th Karmapa, arrived in Sikkim in 1959 after fleeing Tibet, the monastery was in ruins, despite being offered other sites, the Karmapa decided to rebuild Rumtek. According to him the site possessed many auspicious qualities and was surrounded by the most favorable attributes like flowing streams, mountains behind, a snow range in front, and a river below. With the generosity and help of the Sikkim royal family and the local folks of Sikkim, it was built by the 16th Karmapa as his main seat in exile.

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