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Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan
About Taktsang Monastery

Taktsang Monastery is a famous Himalayan Buddhist religious place and shrine compound, situated in the Cliffside of the upper Paro valley, in Bhutan. The Gompa is situated about 11 kms from Paro and located on a precipitous cliff at 3,120 metres, about 900 metres over the Paro valley, on the right side of the Paro Chu.

A temple complex was initially constructed in the year 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave where Guru Padmasambhava is believed to have meditated for about 3 years in the eighth century. Padmasambhava introduce Buddhism to Bhutan. Today, Paro Taktsang is the well known as thirteen taktsang or "tiger lair" caves in which he meditated.

The Guru mTshan-brgyad Lhakhang, the shrine devoted to Padmasambhava is a graceful complex around the cave in 1692 by Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye; and has become the cultural sign of Bhutan. A famous festival, known as the Tsechu, celebrated in honor of Padmasambhava, takes place in the Paro valley sometime in the months of March or April.

History, Background and Myths

As per the myth associated with Taktsang which exactly means "Tiger's lair", it is considered that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) flew to this place from Tibet on the back of a tigress from Khenpajong. This site was sacred to tame the Tiger evil spirit.

Another myth states that a previous wife of the ruler, known as Yeshe Tsogyal, happily became a devotee of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambahva) in Tibet. She changed herself into a tigress and take the Guru on her back from Tibet to the site of Taktsang in Bhutan. Then, the Guru performed meditation in one of the caves and emerged in eight embodied shapes (manifestations) and the place became sacred. Afterwards, the place become famous by the name of “Tiger's Nest”.  

The popular myth of the Taktsang Kloster is further embroidered with the tale of Tenzin Rabgye, who constructed the shrine at this place in the year 1692. It is also believed that the 8th century guru Padmasmabhava had embodied again in the form of Tenzin Rabgye. The corroborative evidences mooted are: that Tenzin Rabgye was seen by his friends at that time inside and outside his cave; even a small quantity of food was sufficient to feed all visitors; no one was injured during worship; and the people of the Paro valley saw in the sky various animal forms and sacred symbols along with a shower of flowers that emerged and also disappeared in the air without touching the earth.

Establishment as a Meditation Site

The Gompa was constructed around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave, where Guru Padmasambahva meditated in the 8th century according to the traditions. He founded Buddhism and the Nyingmapa school of Mahayana Buddhism in Bhutan, and has been the “protector saint of Bhutan”.Afterwards, Padmasmbahva visited Bumthang district to subdue a powerful deity insulted by a local ruler. Padmasambhava's body imprint is imprinted on the wall of a cave near Kurje Lhakhang shrine. In 853, Langchen Pelkyi Singye came at this place to meditate and gave his name of Pelphug to the cave, "Pelkyi's cave". After his death, his body was amazingly taken to the Gompa by the elegance of the deity Dorje Legpa; it is now believed to be preserved in a Chorten in a room to the left at the summit of the entrance stairway. The chorten was renovated in 1982-83 and again in 2004.

From the 11th century, many Tibetan saints and famous personalities came to Taktsang to meditate. Lapa School was built in Paro in 12th century. Between 12th and 17th centuries, many Lamas who came from Tibet built their Gompas in Bhutan.

Structure of Takstang Monastery

Takstang Gompa complex is divided into 4 main shrines and residential shelters perfectly designed by adapting to the rock (granite) ledges, the caves and the rocky landscape. From the 8 caves, 4 caves are very easy to reach. The cave where Guru Padmasmabhava entered for the first time, riding the Tiger, is known as 'Tholu Phuk' and the cave where he live and did meditation is known as the 'Pel Phuk'.

He directed the religiously enlightened monks to construct the monastery at this place. The main cave of the monastery is reachable through a thin passage. The dark cave exhibits a number of images of Bodhisattvas and butter lamps sparkle in front of these statues.

A graceful image of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) is also sanctified at this place. In an adjacent small cell, the religious scripture is situated. It is also believed that the monks who do Vajrayana Buddhism (the formal State Religion of Bhutan) at this cave Gompa reside at this place for 3 years and rarely go down to the Paro valley.

All the complexes are connected with each other through steps and stairways made in rocks. There are few rocky wooden bridges along the paths and stairways to cross over. The shrine at the highest level has a wall painting of Buddha. Each building has a balcony, from which amazing views of the picturesque Paro valley can be seen.

Other structures within the monastery complex are Taktshang Zangdo Pari, Urgyan Tsemo situated near the temple has a tiny Mani Lakhang, prayer wheel. Above the Urgyan is the sacred cave shrine known as 'Phaphug Lakhang', which is the important temple of Taktshang. It is also the dwelling of the Head Lama, Karma Thupden Chokyi Nyenci.

Paintings Inside The Monastery

The “Copper-Colored Mountain heaven of Guru Padmasambahva is vibrantly exhibited in a heart shape on every thangkha and also painted on the walls of the Gompa as a constant reminder of the myth. The paintings are situated on a base that signifies the empire of the King of Nagas between Dakinis, and the summit in the painting symbolizes the domain of Brahma. The paintings also portrays Klu (Naga) demigods with a human head and the body of a serpent, which are believed to reside in lakes. Symbolically, they mean to symbolize the sacred writings. The paintings also depict what is termed as “Walkers in the Sky”.

The sacred hill is drawn in the surroundings with 4 faces painted with diverse colors – the east face with crystal white color, the west with red color, the south face with yellow color and the north with green color. The palace has 4 sides and 8 corners with its lower and upper tiers decorated with jewels. The courtyard with 4 enclosures is believed to symbolize 4 types of ways. The walls are made up of bricks, balconies have been bejewelled with sacred signs. The atmosphere is shown in the form of wishing trees, fountains of the water of life, rain bows in different colors with cloud formations and light originating from lotus flowers. The palace is also shown with a throne with 8 corners completely decorated with jewels. Padmasmbahva is shown sitting on a pure stalk of lotus emitting celestial energy appearing “divine, powerful and generous”.

Other paintings on the 4 faces and 8 corners, are five types of Buddhas suppressing the vicious devils performing 4 pious deeds and placed on thrones that are mounted over the stooping devils. The devils and Khadoms are represented decorated and seated on 4 petalled and 4 faced thrones “decorated with necromantic features” enjoying a good time; the Khadoms are seen on the 4 sided courtyard of the palace and also on all side walls.

The scene is further embroidered around the Guru admashambahava image and also in the palace, with gods and goddesses in the heavens, with gate keepers at the 4 gates with an army of servants; all trying to defeat the devils to dust. The helpful staff shown are signifying the Himalayan clans of pre-Buddhist era.



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