Tawang Monastery

Tawang Monastery
Tawang Monastery is located in Arunachal Pradesh
Tawang Monastery
Tawang Monastery
Location within India
Monastery information
Location Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, India
Founded by Mera Lama Lodre Gyasto
Founded 17th century
Date renovated 1997 by the 14th Dalai Lama
Type Tibetan Buddhist
Sect Gelug
Colleges 17 gompas
Number of monks 450
Architecture 65 residential buildings

Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh is the largest monastery in India. It was founded near the small town of the same name in the northwestern part of Arunachal Pradesh, India by Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1680-1681[1] in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama. The monastery belongs to the Gelug school and has a religious association with Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, which continued during the period of British rule.[2] It is very close to the Tibetan border, in the valley of the Tawang-chu which flows down from Tibet.[3] The monastery is three stories high and occupies an area of 140 m². It is enclosed by a 610 m long compound wall. Within the complex there are 65 residential buildings and 10 other structures.

Tawang Monastery is one of the largest viharas in Asia. The monastery is also known in Tibetan as Galden Namgey Lhatse, which translates to 'celestial paradise in a clear night.' The library of the monastery has valuable old scriptures, mainly Kangyur and Tengyur, numbering 850 bundles.


The monastery is at an elevation of about 3,300 metres (10,000 ft)[4] in the district capital, Tawang Town. It has a capacity of about 700 monks and presently is home to more than 450 lamas.[1] It is said to be one of the biggest Buddhist monasteries in the world outside of Lhasa, Tibet.[5]

It also houses the three-storied Parkhang library: a collection of 400-year-old Kangyur scriptures in addition to many other invaluable manuscripts. Other large collections include the sutras, Tangym, Sungbhum, old books and other manuscripts, both handwritten and printed, many of them in gold. Dances and ceremonial celebrations are held in the courtyard, the most important of which is held on the night of Vesak.

Eight-metre statue of Gautama Buddha in Tawang Gompa
Sacred books in Tawang Monastery

It also houses a small printing press. The dukhang or "assembly hall" is a three-storied building housing the temple and the 8.3 m (27 ft) high Golden Buddha. To the left of the altar on the northern wall is a silver casket wrapped in silk containing thangkas of Palden Lhamo, the principal deity of the monastery and patroness of the Gelug school of Buddhism. It was given to Merag Lama by the 5th Dalai Lama and has come to be known as the Ja-Droi-Ma, which means it has the warmth of a bird, symbolizing that the thangka is living.[6]

There is also a Center for Buddhist cultural studies where young monks are taught arithmetic, English and Hindi as well as their traditional monastic education.[6]

The Tawang Monastery is three stories high and houses 65 residential buildings in addition to the library. It controls 17 gompas and a few nunneries in the region.[7] It was renovated in 1997 by the 14th Dalai Lama — with renovation meaning that the traditionally built structure was torn down and rebuilt with concrete.

The present Gyalsey Rinpochey, a famous incarnation of the Loseling College of Drepung Monastery and incarnate head of Tawang, lives and teaches at Tawang.[8] It is a designated 'Manuscript Conservation Centre' (MCC) under the National Mission for Manuscripts established in 2003.[9]


Tawang Monastery was founded by the Mera Lama Lodre Gyasto in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Nagwang Lobsang Gyatso. It belongs to the Gelugpa sect and is the largest Buddhist monastery in India.

The name Tawang (Tibetan: རྟ་དབང་Wylie: Rta-dbang) means Horse Chosen.[7] Its name (ta = horse, and wang = chosen) is the subject of an interesting legend. As the story goes, the site of the monastery was chosen by the horse of Merag Lama who had been unable to decide on a site to establish the monastery. One day he was praying in cave, seeking divine guidance. When he came out after the prayers, he found his horse missing. On searching, the horse was located standing quietly on a hilltop. Considering this as a sign of divine blessing, he decided to construct the monastery at the very spot. The monastery was built with the help of volunteers from the neighboring villages. It is also known by a Tibetan name, Galden Namgey Lhatse, which means 'celestial paradise in a clear night'.[7]

Most of the people are Monpa, Takpa and Tibetans, and are Tibetan Buddhist by religion. Pre-Buddhist Bön and Shamanist influence is also evident. Festivals that include Losar, Choskar, and Torgya are held annually. The Dungyur is celebrated in every three years of the Torgya. Both the Dungyur and Torgya festivals are celebrated at Tawang Monastery with traditional gaiety and enthusiasm.

The 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born at the nearby Urgelling Monastery, 5 km from the town of Tawang.[10]

In 1706, Lhazang Khan with the support of the Chinese Kang Xi Emperor deposed the 6th Dalai Lama, who died soon after, perhaps killed by Lhazang Khan. During Lhazang Khan's rule in Tibet, he sent an army in 1714 to invade Bhutan from Tawang. In the campaign, they destroyed the Dalai Lama's restored and enlarged monastery at Urgelling in an attempt to obliterate his memorials.

When the border known as the McMahon Line was drawn in 1914, Tibet gave up several hundred square miles of its territory, including the whole of the Tawang region and the monastery, to the British (see Simla Accord (1914)).[11] Tawang officials used to travel almost to the plains of Assam to collect monastic contributions.[12] The independence of India from Britain in 1947 separated Tawang from Tibet.

When the 14th Dalai Lama fled from Tibet, following the failure of a rebellion against the Chinese central government, he crossed into India on 30 March 1959 and spent some days resting at Tawang Monastery before reaching Tezpur in Assam on 18 April 1959.[13] Since then he has visited Tawang many times.

Chinese troops briefly occupied it during the 1962 Sino-Indian War, destroying portions of the monastery. For six months it was controlled by Chinese troops. After the retreat of the Chinese troops, Tawang came under Indian control once again.[7] Elections have taken place regularly and democratic state legislature elected peacefully.

In recent years, China has occasionally voiced its claims on Tawang and Chinese troop incursions continue to occur frequently. India has rebutted these claims by the Chinese government and the Indian prime minister has stated categorically that Tawang is an integral part of India. He repeated this to the Chinese prime minister when the two met in Thailand in October 2009.

China staked its claim over Tawang as it had a sizable Tibetan population and was previously a part of Tibet. India has rebutted these claims by the Chinese.

China objected to the visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang town and Tawang monastery in November 2009 though the Dalai Lama had visited Tawang several times since he left Tibet in 1959. India rejected Chinese objection and said that the Dalai Lama was an honoured guest in India and could visit any place in India. The Dalai Lama visited Tawang on 8 November 2009. He was received and welcomed by the democratically elected chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh and the people of Arunachal Pradesh. The residents of Tawang were elated to have the Dalai Lama among them.[14] They painted their houses afresh and spruced up the town which wore a festive look.

About 30,000 people, including those from neighbouring countries, Nepal and Bhutan, attended his religious discourse.[15]

Landslide risk

In November 2010 it was reported that the monastery is threatened by possible landslide risk, with The Times of India reporting "massive landslides around it".[16] Professor Dave Petley of Durham University in the UK, an acknowledged landslide expert, wrote in his blog: "the northern flank of the site appears to consist of a landslide scarp ... The reasons for this are clear – the river, which flows towards the south, is eroding the toe of the slope due to the site being on the outside of the bend. In the long term erosion at the toe will need to be prevented if the site is to be preserved."[17]


  1. ^ a b Tawang District: The Land of Monpas - mainpage
  2. ^ Richardson (1984), pp. 149-150.
  3. ^ Dorje (1999), p. 200.
  4. ^ Basic features of Tawang district
  5. ^ Young Buddhist monks lead insular lives in India
  6. ^ a b Tawang Monastery (Gonpa)
  7. ^ a b c d Tawang District: The Land of Monpas
  8. ^ Mullin (2006), pp. 159-160.
  9. ^ Manuscript Conservation Centres, National Mission for Manuscripts.
  10. ^ Tawang Monastery
  11. ^ Shakya (1999), p. 279.
  12. ^ Richardson (1984), p. 150.
  13. ^ Richardson (1984), p. 210.
  14. ^ "Frontier town venerates Dalai Lama"
  15. ^ Thousands flock to see Dalai Lama in Indian state.
  16. ^ TNN Nov 28, 2010, 04.54am IST (2010-11-28). "Landslides hit Tawang monastery". The Times of India. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  17. ^ Connect with Dave: (2010-11-28). "Acute landslide threats to the Tawang Monastery, northern India (post now complete) - The Landslide Blog - AGU Blogosphere". Blogs.agu.org. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 


  • Gyume Dorje. (1999). Footprint Tibet Handbook with Bhutan. Footprint Handbooks, Bath, England. ISBN 0-8442-2190-2.
  • Glenn H. Mullin (2006). The Practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa. 2nd edition. Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 978-1-55939-256-3.
  • Hugh E. Richardson (1984). Tibet & Its History. 1st edition 1962. 2nd edition, Revised and Updated. Shambhala Publications, Boston. ISBN 0-87773-376-7 (pbk).
  • Tsering Shakya. (1999). The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet since 1947. Columbia University Press. New York. ISBN 0-231-11814-7.

External links

  • Official Website of Tawang Monastery. [1]
  • "Trekkers’ paradise" The Tribune. Sunday, September 5, 2004 [2]
  • "The Lines nations draw." P. Stobdan. Indian Express. Tuesday, October 18, 2005. [3]
  • "Young Buddhist monks lead insular lives in India." Thomas Kent. Spero News (UCA News), May 15, 2006. [4]
  • Tourist information on Tawang Monastery. [5]

External links

  • "A Walk Around Tawang Monastery." [6]

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