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  • the nickname of Paro Taktsang (pictured) in Bhutan, "The Tiger's Nest", derives from the legend which tells that Padmasambhava founded a meditation cave there after travelling on a tigress?

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Paro Taktsang
Tiger's Nest

Taktsang
Paro Taktsang is located in Bhutan
Paro Taktsang
Location within Bhutan
Coordinates: 27°29′30″N 89°21′48″E / 27.49167°N 89.36333°E / 27.49167; 89.36333
Monastery information
Location: Paro Valley, Paro District, Bhutan
Founded: 8th century as a meditation cave. Formally built as a monastery in 1692.
Date renovated: 1958 and 2005
Type: Tibetan Buddhist
Sect: Nyingma (The Red hat sect)
Lineage: Kathogpa Lama
Dedicated to: Guru Padmasambhava
Also known as a “Tiger’s Nest”

Paro Taktsang (spa phro stag tshang) / (spa gro stag tshang), also called The Tiger's Nest and locally known as the Taktsang Dzong is one of the most famous holy and religious monasteries in the upper Paro valley, Bhutan, built in 1692. It was built around the Taktsang Senge Samdup (stag tshang seng ge bsam grub) cave where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated in the 8th century for 3 months. He is credited with introducing Buddhism in Bhutan and he is considered the tutelary deity of the country. Today, it is the most well known of the thirteen taktsang or "tiger lair" caves he meditated.

The Guru mTshan-brgyad Lhakhang, the temple devoted to Padmasambhava (also known as Gu-ru mTshan-brgyad Lhakhang ‘The Temple of the Guru with Eight Names’) was built around the cave as an elegant structure in 1692 by Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye and has since become the cultural icon of Bhutan.[1][2][3][4]

A popular festival, known as the Tsechu, held in honour of Padmasambhava, who established the monastery is celebrated in the Paro valley sometime during March or April.

Contents

Geography

Cloud cover around the monastery

The monastery is located 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to the north of Paro and with a further tough climb up the approach track to the monastery. The mule track passes through pine forest that is colourfully festooned with moss and prayer flags. The temple hangs on a precipitous cliff at 3,120 metres (10,240 ft), about 900 metres (3,000 ft) above the Paro valley, on the right side of the Paro Chu (‘chu’ in Bhutanese language means ”river”). The rock slopes are very steep (almost vertical) and the monastery buildings are built into the rock face. Though looks formidable, the monastery complex has access from several directions such as the northwest path through the forest, from the south through the path used by the devotees, and from the north, the access over rocky plateau, is called the “Hundred Thousand Fairies” known as Bumda (hBum-brag). On many days, the clouds shroud the monastery and give an eerie feeling of remoteness.[5][6][7]

On the approach path to the Monastery, there is a Lakhang (village level monastery), a temple of Urgyan Tsemo (U-rgyan rTse-mo), which like the main monastery, is located on a rocky plateau with a precipitous projection of several hundred feet over the valley. From this location, the monastery’s buildings are on the opposite ravine, which is known by the name “Copper-Coloured Mountain Paradise of Padmasambhava”.[7] This is the view point for non-Buddhist visitors where there is a cafeteria to provide refreshments. The trek beyond this is through a series of stone steps and then fording a waterfall leading to the monastery.[8]

Legend

According to the legend related to this Taktsang (which in Tibetan language is spelt (stag tshang) which literally means "Tiger's lair", it is believed that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tiger from Khenpajong.[9] This place was consecrated to tame the Tiger demon.[1][7]

Guru Padmasambhava founder of the meditations cave. Wall painting on Paro Bridge.

Another interesting legend narrated is that a former wife of an emperor, known as Yeshe Tsogyal, willingly became a disciple of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambahva) in Tibet. She transformed herself into a tigress and carried the Guru on her back from Tibet to the present location of the Taktsang in Bhutan. In one of the caves here, the Guru then performed meditation and emerged in eight incarnated forms (manifestations) and the place became holy. Subsequently, the place came to be known as the “Tiger's Nest”.[8]

Wider view of the cliffside

Another story related to the construction of the four temples here is that flying Dakinis (in Tibetan language, dakini means Khandroma, which translates to 'she who traverses the sky' or 'she who moves in space'. Sometimes the term is translated poetically as 'sky dancer' or 'sky walker') carried building material on their backs for carrying out the construction.[8]

The popular legend of the Taktsang monastery is further embellished with the story of Tenzin Rabgye who built the temple here in 1692. It has been mentioned by authors that the 8th century guru Padmasmabhava had reincarnated again in the form of Tenzin Rabgye. The corroborative proof mooted are: that Tenzin Rabgye was seen (by his friends) concurrently inside and outside his cave; even a small quantity of food was adequate to feed all visitors; no one was injured during worship (in spite of the approach track to the monastery being dangerous and slippery); and the people of the Paro valley saw in the sky various animal forms and religious symbols including a shower of flowers that appeared and also vanished in the air without touching the earth.[2]

History

The monastery was built around the Taktsang Senge Samdup (stag tshang seng ge bsam grub) cave where the Indian Guru Padmasambahva, meditated here in the 8th century. He flew to this place from Tibet on the back of Yeshe Tsogyal, whom he transformed into a flying tigress for the purpose and landed at the cliff, which he "anointed" as the place for building a monastery. He established Buddhism and the Nyingmapa school of Mahayana Buddhism in Bhutan, and has been considered the “protector saint of Bhutan”. Later, Padmasmbahva visited Bumthang district to subdue a powerful deity offended by a local king. Padmasambhava's body imprint is stated to be imprinted on the wall of a cave near Kurje Lhakhang temple. In 853, Langchen Pelkyi Singye came to the cave to meditate and gave his name of Pelphug to the cave, "Pelkyi's cave".[9] After he died later in Nepal, his body was said to have been brought back miraculously by the grace of the deity Dorje Legpa and is now said to be sealed in a chorten in a room to the left at the top of the entrance stairway.[9] The chorten was restored in 1982-83 and again in 2004.[9]

From the 11th century, many Tibetan saints and eminent figures came to Taktsang to meditate, including Milarepa (1040–1123), Phadampa Sangye (died 1117), the Tibetan yogini Machig Labdoenma (1055–1145) and Thangton Gyelpo (1385–1464).[9] In the latter part of the 12th century, the Lapa School was established in Paro.[10] Between 12th and 17th centuries, many Lamas who came from Tibet established their monasteries in Bhutan.

Tsechu – Dance of the Black Hat monks initiated by Pema Ligpa of Bhumthang

The first sanctuary to be built in the area dates to the 14th century when Sonam Gyeltshen, a Nyingmapa lama of the Kathogpa branch came from Tibet.[9] The paintings he brought can still be faintly discerned on a rock above the principal building although there is no trace of the original one.[9] The Taktsang Ugyen Tsemo complex, which was rebuilt after a fire in 1958 is said to date back to 1408.[9] Taktsang remained under the authority of the Kathogpa lamas for centuries until the mid 17th century.[9]

In the 17th century the well known scholar Pema Ligpa of Bhumthang who founded many monasteries in various parts of Bhutan was also instrumental in creating religious and secular dance forms from his conception of the 'Zandog Pelri' (the Copper Coloured mountain), which was the abode of the Guru Padmasambahva (which is the same place as the Paro Taktsang or Tiger's nest). This dance is performed in Paro as the Tsche festival. But it was during the time of Ngawang Namgyal of the Drukpa sub sect who fled Tibet to escape persecution by the opposing sect of the Gelugpa order, which dominated Tibet under the Dalai Lamas, that an administrative mechanism was established in Bhutan. In due course of time, he established himself in Bhutan as a 'model of rulership' and was known as the "Shabdrung" with full authority. He wanted to establish an edifice at the Taktsang Pel Phuk site. It was during a Tibetan invasion of Bhutan in 1644-46 that Shabdrung and his Tibetan Nyingmapa teacher gTer-ston Rig-’dzin sNying-po had invoked Padmasambhava and the protective deities at Taktsang to give them success over the invaders. He performed the bka’ brgyad dgongs ’dus rituals associated with the celebrations of Tshechu. Bhutan won the war against Tibet However, Shabdrung was not able to build a temple at Takstsang to celebrate the event, even though he very much wanted to do so.[2][10][11][12]

The wish of Shabdrung to build a temple here, however, was fulfilled during the 4th Druk Desi Tenzin Rabgye (1638–96), the first, and only successor of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (Zhabs-drung Ngag-dbang rNam-rgyal), "a distant cousin from a collateral line descending from the 15th century ‘crazy saint’ Drukpa Kunley". During his visit to the sacred cave of Taktsang Pel Phuk during the Tshechu season of 1692 he laid the foundation for building the temple dedicated to Guru Rinpoche called the ‘Temple of the Guru with Eight Names’ (’gu ru mtshan brgyad lha-khang). It was a decision taken by Tenzin Rabgye while standing at the cave overlooking the Paro valley. At this time, he was leading the Tshechu festival of religious dances.[2] At that time the only temples reported to be in existence, at higher elevations, were the Zangdo Pelri (Zongs mdog dPalri) and Oxygen Tsemo (Urgyan rTse-mo).[2]

Structure

Tiger's Nest temples

The monastery buildings consist of four main temples and residential shelters ideally designed by adapting to the rock (granite) ledges, the caves and the rocky terrain. Out of the eight caves, four are comparatively easy to access. The cave where Padmasmabhava first entered, riding the Tiger, is known as 'Tholu Phuk' and the original cave where he resided and did meditation is known as the 'Pel Phuk'. He directed the spiritually enlightened monks to build the monastery here. The monastery is so precariously perched that it is said: "it clings to the side of the mountain like a gecko". The main cave is entered through a narrow passage. The dark cave houses a dozen images of Bodhisattvas and butter lamps flicker in front of these idols. An elegant image of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) is also deified here. In an adjoining small cell, the sacred scripture is placed; the importance of this scripture is that it has been scripted with gold dust and the crushed bone powder of a divine Lama. It is also said that the monks who practice Vajrayana Buddhism (the formal State Religion of Bhutan) at this cave monastery live here for three years and seldom go down to the Paro valley.[4][7][13][14]

All the buildings are interconnected through steps and stairways made in rocks. There are a few rickety wooden bridges along the paths and stairways also to cross over. The temple at the highest level has a frieze of Buddha. Each building has a balcony, which provides lovely views of the scenic Paro valley down below. The Monasteries have ancient history of occupation by monks, as hermitages.[4][7][13]

Paintings

The “Copper-Coloured Mountain Paradise of Padmasambahva” (Zangdopari) is vividly displayed in a heart shape on every thangkha and also painted on the walls of the monastery as a constant reminder of the legend. The paintings are set on a pedestal that represents the realm of the King of Nagas amidst Dakinis (mKha-hgro-ma), and the pinnacle in the painting denotes the domain of Brahma. The paintings also depict Klu (Naga) demi gods with a human head and the body of a serpent, which are said to reside in lakes (said to denote that they are guarding the hidden treasures). Allegorically, they mean to represent the spiritual holy writings. The paintings also show what is termed as “Walkers in the Sky” (mKha-hgro-ma).[7][8]

The holy hill is drawn in the backdrop with four faces painted with different colours – the east face is in crystal white colour, the south face is yellow, the west is in red colour and the north has green colour. The palace has four sides and eight corners with its lower and upper tiers adorned with jewels. The courtyard with four enclosures is said to represent four kinds of conduct. The walls are built with bricks, balconies have been bejewelled with religious symbols. The ambience is shown in the form of wishing trees, fountains of the water of life, rain bows in five colours with cloud formations and light emanating from lotus flowers. The palace is also shown with a throne with eight corners fully and curiously bejewelled. Padmasmbahva is shown sitting on a pure stalk of lotus emitting divine energy appearing “divine, charitable, powerful or fierce”.[7] .

Further detailing depicted on the four faces and eight corners, are five kinds of Buddhas suppressing the vicious demons (performing four pious deeds) and placed on thrones that are mounted over the stooping demons. The demons and Khadoms are depicted adorned and seated on four petalled and four faced thrones “adorned with necromantic attributes” enjoying a good time; the Khadoms are seen on the four sided courtyard of the palace and also on all side walls.[7]

The scene is further embellished around the Guru Rinpcohe (Padmashambahava) image and also in the palace, with gods and goddesses in the heavens, with gate keepers at the four gates with an army of messengers and servants; all trying to crush the demons to dust. The supporting staff shown are said to represent the Himalayan tribes of pre-Buddhist periods.[7]

This iconographic depiction (every representation has a specific meaning) is seen in every temple in the monastery complex.[7]

Other structures in the precincts

Taktshang Zangdo Pari is the place where Padmasmbahava’s wife, known as the “Fairy of Wisdom”, Yashe Tshogyal (Ye-shes mtsho-rgyal), the founder of the Mon, a convent, by the same name as Taktshang and also two other convents. The present caretaker of the place is said to be an old nun supported by a young trainee.[7]

Another important place near the shrine is the Urgyan Tsemo, the “Peak of Urgyan” which has a small Mani Lakhang. The prayer wheel, turned by an old monk, resounds with chimes that are heard every day at 4 AM in the morning. Above the Urgyan is the holy cave temple known as 'Phaphug Lakhang' (dPal-phug IHa-khang), which is the main shrine of the Taktshang. It is also the residence of the Head Lama, Karma Thupden Chokyi Nyenci.[7]

Destruction due to fire

On August 19, 1998, there was a fire in the main building of the monastery complex (built in the form of a fortress cum monastery as was common in Bhutan in the 17th century), which caused extensive damage to the temple which had valuable paintings, artefacts and statues, though the exact extent of damage could not be correctly assessed. The reasons for the fire are conjectured; it could have been due to electrical short-circuiting or due to the much common flickering butter lamps and the hanging tapestries of the monasteries (also stated to be a major reason for many fires destroying monasteries in Bhutan) or purposeful theft by an insider of the monastery in collusion with art brigands or "arsonists" who stole valuable artefacts to hide the exact damage caused by the fire. It was considered as the only serious crime in the "Year of the Tiger" (1985) as the caretaker Lama had also died in the fire. However, with the Government of Bhutan, under personal intervention of the then King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, providing full assistance, and after carrying out a detailed inventory of the type of artefacts damaged by referring back to ancient pictures and other testimonials, the renovation of the temples was completed in 2005.[8][15][16]

Festival

Left: Dance of the Black Hats with Drums. Right: Paro Tsechu festival of dances

The Tsechu (literal meaning “day ten”) is a festival that is held in Paro and also in Thimpu and in many other districts of Bhutan in honour of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava). It is held for 3–5 days on the 11-15 of the 2nd (Bhutanese month; the days are fixed as per Bhutanese calendar, which generally conforms to the Tibetan calendar and corresponds to some days in the month of March or April according to Gregorian calendar. On this occasion, holy idols are taken in a procession followed by traditional mask dances performed by monks conveying religious stories. On the last day of the festivities, a very large thangka of the Padmasambhava is unveiled for public viewing during specific early hours of the morning to keep to the tradition of not allowing sunlight to fall on it).[2][11][12]

References

  1. ^ a b "Paro Taktsang". http://rywiki.tsadra.org/index.php/Paro_Taktsang. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Ardussi, John A. (1999). "Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye and the Founding of Taktsang Lhakhang" (pdf). Journal of Bhutan Studies (Thimphu: Centre for Bhutan Studies) 1 (1): 28. http://www.bhutanstudies.org.bt/admin/pubFiles/2.taktshang.pdf. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  3. ^ Williamson, Teresa Rodriguez (2007). Fly Solo: The 50 Best Places on Earth for a Girl to Travel Alone. Perigee. p. 170. ISBN 0399533109. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=08M1qgxdhckC&pg=PA170&dq=Tiger's+Nest+Monastery&cd=1#v=onepage&q=Tiger's%20Nest%20Monastery&f=false. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  4. ^ a b c Yowell, Skip (2007). The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder and Other Mountains: How .... Thomas Nelson Inc. pp. 155–156. ISBN 1595558527. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=1A6PRCC5TlsC&pg=PT169&dq=Tiger's+Nest+Monastery&lr=&cd=15#v=onepage&q=Tiger's%20Nest%20Monastery&f=false. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  5. ^ "Druk Path Trek". http://www.infohub.com/vacation_packages/23610.html. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  6. ^ "In The Kingdom Of Bhutan". Global Sapiens. October 6, 2002. http://www.globosapiens.net/travel-information/Paro-393.html. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Singh, Nagendra Kr (2004). Buddhist Tāntricism. Global Vision Publishing Ho. pp. 142–145. ISBN 8182200040. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=QFcc_eiX5FcC&pg=PA142&dq=Taktshang+Gompa,Paro&cd=6#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Caves of Wonder located at 10,200 feet are Legendary Buddhist Caves called The Tigers Nest". http://zuzutop.com/2009/09/caves-of-wonder-located-at-10200-feet-are-legendary-buddhist-caves-called-the-tigers-nest/. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Pommaret, Francoise (2006). Bhutan Himlayan Mountains Kingdom (5th edition). Odyssey Books and Guides. pp. 136–7. 
  10. ^ a b Shaw, Brian (2003). The Far East and Australasia, 2003. Routledge. pp. 180–181. ISBN 1857431332. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=e5Az1lGCJwQC&pg=PA180&dq=Tiger's+Nest+Monastery&lr=&cd=35#v=onepage&q=&f=false. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  11. ^ a b "The Paro Tsechu". http://www.cs.unm.edu/~shapiro/BHUTAN/MIDSIZE/parofestival1.html. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  12. ^ a b "The Paro Tsechu – the Thondrol of Guru Rincpoche". http://www.cs.unm.edu/~shapiro/BHUTAN/MIDSIZE/parofestival4.html. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  13. ^ a b Rosner, Victor (198?). A quiver full of arrows. D.S.S. Publications. p. 155. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=GtK1AAAAIAAJ&q=Tiger's+Nest+Monastery&dq=Tiger's+Nest+Monastery&lr=&cd=34. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  14. ^ Parekh, Navin (1986). Himalayan memoirs. Popular Prakashan. p. 70. ISBN 086132126X. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=IDYDGrjqL1cC&pg=PA10&dq=Tiger%27s+Nest+Monastery&lr=&cd=31#v=onepage&q=Tiger%27s%20Nest%20Monastery&f=false. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  15. ^ Harrison, Peter (2004). Castles of God: fortified religious buildings of the world. Boydell Press. pp. 268–270. ISBN 1843830663. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=g6PqNavNEdgC&pg=PA270&dq=Tiger's+Nest+Monastery&cd=3#v=onepage&q=Tiger's%20Nest%20Monastery&f=false. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  16. ^ Monteath, Colin (2006). Climb Every Mountain: A Journey to the Earths Most Spectacular High Altitude Locations. Frances Lincoln ltd. pp. 118–119. ISBN 0711226741. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=kU6-YbTPOo4C&pg=PA118&dq=Tiger's+Nest+Monastery&cd=10#v=onepage&q=Tiger's%20Nest%20Monastery&f=false. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 

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