Tabo is an ancient seat of Buddhist religion and culture in picturesque Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh in northern India. Tabo Monastery is situated at Tago village of Spiti village. Tabo Monastery is also called Ajanta of The Himalayas.
The monastery was built by the Buddhist king (also known as Royal Lama) Yeshe O’d in 996 A.D. It was renovated 46 years later by the royal priest Jangchub O’d, the grandnephew of Yeshe O’d. They were kings of the Purang-Guge kingdom whose ancestry is traced to the ancient Tibetan monarchy, and extended their kingdom from Ladakh to Mustang by building a large network of trade routes, and built temples along the route. Tabo was built as a ‘daughter’ monastery of the Tholing Monastery in Ngari, western Tibet.
It is made on a flat ground with the use of mud brick and covers around 6300 sq of area. The monastery temples accommodate a rare collection of manuscripts and thangka paintings, beautiful statues in stuccos, murals and frescos depicting the legends from the Mahayana Buddhist Pantheon. The paintings at every inch of wall are still astonishingly well preserved. The monastery complex holds 9 temples, 23 chortens, a monk’s chamber and an extension that accommodates the nun’s chamber.
The main temple has an entry hall (Go Khang), followed by an Assembly Hall (Du Khang). At the western end of the assembly hall there is a recessed area which has a shrine area (Ti Tsang Khang) with an ambulatory passage. The entry hall has pictures of Yeshe-O and his two sons Nagaraja and Devaraja, the founders of the temple, on its south wall. The temple has a new entry hall (Go Khang), which has paintings dated to the late 19th century or 20th century. The old entry hall, which originally formed the only part of the complex, has retained the paintings of 996 AD.
The monastery is known as “the Ajanta of the Himalayas” because of its frescoes and stucco paintings. The iconography of this period in the temples also supports the bond that existed between the two cultures of India and Tibet. There is a large and priceless collection of thankas (scroll paintings), manuscripts, well-preserved statues, frescos and extensive murals which cover almost every wall.
While in the earlier period, paintings in the interior of the main Tabo temple and its stupas represented the Nyingmapa, Kadampa and Sakyapa traditions, the later period represent paintings of the Gelugpa tradition.In the independent small chambers of the monastery, there are many paintings on the walls. The frescoes seen inside the gompa are in a fragile state. Some are of a bright cobalt colour. Prior to the 1975 earthquake, there were 32 raised medallions on the walls of the temple hall, and an image placed in front of each of them.
The monastery has been built like a fort with very strong walls. The walls of these structures are 3 feet (0.91 m) in thickness and it is the reason for its survival over the centuries of depredations and natural calamities. The high mud brick wall encloses some 6,300 square metres (68,000 sq ft). In addition to the temples, chortens, and monks’ residence, there is an extension that houses the nuns’ residence.
Tabo monastery was developed as an advance centre for attaining knowledge and to date, it is the preserver of the Buddhist legacy and is one of the most important monasteries of the entire Tibetan Buddhist world.