Buddhism in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh can be followed back to the transmission of Buddhism in the early 8th century. Over the centuries this movement has become deeper rooted, specifically in the Lahaul, Spiti and Kinnaur valleys of Himachal Pradesh. After the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, rescue from Tibet with his believers in 1959 and took refuge in India, the focus on Tibetan Buddhism spread further and attracted immense international sympathy and support. The Dalai Lama found Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh as an optimal place to establish his “capital in exile” at McLeod Ganj in close proximity to Dharamshala, and labeled the Little Lhasa and also as Dhasa (a merger of Dharamshala and Lhasa in Tibet). This position has given the state a unique prominence in the global firmament of Buddhist traditions. It is now the cradle of Tibetan Buddhism, with its undeniable link to the past activities initiated in the 8th century (in 747 AD) by Guru Padmasambhava (who went to Tibet from Rewalsar in Himachal Pradesh in North India to throw light on Buddhism), who was known as the "Guru Rinpoche" and the “Second Buddha”.
Th influence of Buddhism is very energetic all the time in the Trans-Himalayan region or Western Himalayas, formed by the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh and bounded by the Indus River on the extreme west and the Tons-Yamuna River gorge on the east. With the influx of Tibetan refugees into India, in the last over 50 years (since 1959), reputation and practice of Tibetan Buddhism has been notable. Apart from the original practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism in ancient and medieval India, it is now vigorously pursued by Tibetans re-settled at Dharamshala (the nodal centre and the 'capital in exile' of the Dalai Lama were initially re-settled) in Himachal Pradesh, Dehradun (Uttar Pradesh), Kushalnagar (Karnataka), Darjeeling (West Bengal), Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Ladakh.
The primitive influence of Buddhism in Himachal Pradesh is drawn to the Ashokan period in the 3rd century BC. Archaeological evidence in Himachal Pradesh offers solid evidence of Buddhist influence. Numismatic evidence has established the presence of Buddhism in the Kuluta region (upper Beas region of the Kuluta Kingdom) of the state in the 1st century BC and 2nd century AD. Archaeological evidence also supports the influence of Vajrayana Buddhism influence prior to 8th century in the region east of Sutlej river. Cult powers of Padmasambhava, before he went to Tibet (before 747 AD), are also deciphered from legends at Nako in Kinnaur, Trilokinath and Gandhala in Lahaul, and Rewalsar in Mandi district. From mid 8th century (after 747 AD) evidence of Buddhist movements hover obscure till Tibetan Buddhism penetrated the region in the 10th century.
Thus, from the 14th century onwards, the monasteries had ratified a fort like design for its buildings from logistic considerations and constructed them as “religio-military strongholds”; many of them havevanished due to invasions but some have survived in Ladakh and Spiti valleys in India. Zangpo’s “Classical monasteries” in Western Tibet, in Lahaul, Spiti and Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh, and in Ladakh have survived and are moderately well preserved for posterity. However, instances of greed and neglect have been reported in some monasteries.
The 14th Dalai Lama established his "Government in exile", in 1960 at Mcleod Ganj in elevated part of the town of Dharamshala. Since it has became the nerve centre of Tibetan Buddhism with the Tibetan refugees establishing monasteries of their sects, such as the Gelukpa, Sakyapa, Kargyupa, Nyingmapa, Chonangpa and Dragung-Kargyupa; Non-Buddhist of Bön religion also have established their monastery here. Over 40 monasteries (unofficial records) of these sects have been reported.
In order to educate ethnic Tibetan youths in Dharamshala and the Himalayan border students of India, the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS) was established at Varanasi by Pt.Jawahar Lal Nehru in consultation with the Dalai Lama. The Institute, a Deemed University since 1988, is currently headed by Prof. Ngawang Samten, assisted by faculty members of the Institute. The institute’s primary goal is to accomplish excellence in streams of Tibetology, Buddhology and Himalayan Studies.
Rinchen Zangpo's monasteries
Rinchen Zangpo, the famous scholar-translator, established 108 monasteries his mission was undertaken in the 10th century to propagate Buddhist Dharma in the Trans-Himalayan region. A few of them, who has survived in Himachal Pradesh, present exquisite monasteries of artistic and architectural excellence in Lahaul, Spiti and Kinnaur valleys of the Sutlej River valley, such as the Tabo monastery, Lhalung monastery and Nako monastery.
Tabo Monastery (or Tabo Chos-Khor Monastery) was founded in 996 AD (and refurbished in 1042 AD) by Rinchen Zangpo; it is treated as the oldest monastery in Himachal Pradesh. It is located at the southern edge of the Trans Himalayan plateau in the Spiti Valley on the banks of the Spiti River, in the very arid, cold and rocky area at an altitude of 3,050 metres (10,010 ft). The sprawling monastery, spread over an area of 6,300 square metres (68,000 sq ft), has nine temples - the Temple of the Enlightened Gods (gTug-Lha-khang), the Golden Temple (gSer-khang), the Initiation Temple (dKyil-kHor- khang), the Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple (Byams-Pa Chen-po Lha-khang), the Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang), the Chamber of Picture Treasures (Z'al-ma), the Large Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang), the Mahakala Vajra Bhairava Temple (Gon-khang) and the White Temple (dKar-abyum Lha-Khang) (out of these nine, the first four are treated as the primeval temples while the others were formed earlier ). The year 1996 marked 1000 years of Tabo Monastery's existence. A number of caves carved into the cliff face are located above the monastery, which are used by monks for meditation.
Lhalung Monastery, Lhalun Monastery or Lalung Monastery (also known as the Sarkhang or Golden Temple), one of the earliest monasteries (considered second to Tabo monastery in priority) founded in Spiti valley, near the Lingti river. It is archaic to the late 10th century and credited to Rinchen Zangpo. Village of Lhalung ( stands for: 'land of the gods') in the vicinity of the monastery, at an altitude of 3,658 metres (12,001 ft), has 45 residencies. A few chortens are located on the way to the monastery. It is believed that the Lhalung Devta is head of all the Devtas of the valley and emerges from the Tangmar mountain beyond the village. It was a complex of nine shrines enclosed within a dilapidated wall with the main chapel richly decorated. The monastery is inferred as an ancient centre of learning and debate (local name: Choshore) on the basis of old ruins of several temples noticed around five buildings of the monastery, apart from an equally ancient sacred tree. Serkhang, the golden hall of the temple complex has is studded with images (most of them gilded) of idols (51 idols) - mounted on walls or erected on a central altar.
The Nako monastery is located at (3,660 metres (12,010 ft)) adjoining the India-China border in the trans-Himalayan region in Nako village in Kinnaur district at its western edge. The monastery complex in the village has four temples in an enclosure construction which is the mixture of mud. It is also archaic to the forthcoming of Buddhism to the region and is credited to Rinchen Zangpo. This place is well signified for the Nako Lake, which is formed as boundary of the village.
Though the monastery complex glimpse uncomplicated from farther, in the interiors of the complex, the wall canvas in the monastery are elegantly accomplished. Impact of the Ajanta style of painting, is recognizable “in the tonal variation of body hues to generate an effect of light and shade”. The elegant divine figures have placid expressions, a reflection of the finest classical art of India.
The four temples are well perpetuate; the main temple and the upper temple considered as the earliest of the four structures have the original clay sculptures, murals and ceiling panels - largest temple among these two is known as the 'Translator's Temple'; the third structure is a cramped white temple, partly dilapidated, has a wooden door frame depicting sceneries of the Life of the Buddha carved on the lintel; and the fourth structure is cloned as the Upper Temple and is also situated next to it, which is known as "rGya-dpag-pa'i lHa-khang" signifies temple of wide proportions. An impression of a foot found neighbouring to the Nako Lake is ascribed to Guru Padmasambhava. In a adjacent village called Tashigang, certain caves are found where it is believed that Guru Padmasambhava meditated and gave discourse to his disciples.
Fourteenth century and later monasteries
The tendency of building fortified Buddhist monasteries was started from 14th century forth. nonetheless, very scanty have sustained. Of these, Tangyud monastery, Dhankar monastery and Key monastery in Spiti valley are few of eminent ones.
The Tangyud Monastery in the Spiti valley was built in the early 14th century when the Sakyapas rose to power under Mongol patronage. 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 which make them glimpse lanky than actually. It is at an altitude of 4,587 metres (15,049 ft), on the edge of a deep canyon and overlooking the town of Kaza, which is 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) away from the town. It is one of only two monasteries belonging to the Sakya sect left in Spiti - the other, at Kaza itself, is tiny and relatively insignificant. It is thought, nonetheless, that there was an earlier Kadampa establishment here founded by Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055 AD) and named Rador-lha. The name, Tangyud, may refer to the Sakya revision of the Tang-rGyud, or the 87 volumes of Tantra treatises which form part of the Tengyur this was done around 1310 AD by a team of scholars under the Sakya lama, Ch'os-Kyi-O'd-zer. The unplanned arrangement of the monastery is attributed to several modifications carried out after it was ransacked by invasions of Central Tibet by Mongols, in 1655 AD. The monastery is also glorious for the expertise of the Sakyapa tantric cult that even dacoits are scared to rob this monastery.
Dhankar Monastery also spelt Drangkhar or Dhangkar Gompa; Brang-mkhar or Grang-mkhar, situated in the Spiti Valley betwixt the towns of Kaza and Tabo at an elevation of 3,894 metres (12,776 ft) is a fort monastery analogous to the Key Monastery and Tangyud Monastery in Spiti built in the Central Tibetan pattern. Dhankar was the conventional capital of the Spiti Valley Kingdom during the 17th century. The complex is built on a 300 metres (980 ft) high spur overlooking the confluence of the Spiti River and Pin River - one of the world's most spectacular context for a gompa. Dhang or dang stands for cliff, and kar or khar stands for fort. Hence, Dhangkarstands for fort on a cliff. It resides to the Gelukpa order but claims to its earlier founding in the 12th century has put forth by the local monks. Below this Gompa is the small village of Shichilling where the new Dhankar Monastery has been constructed. It is home to about 150 monks residing to the Gelukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.one can reach Dhankar by a road, positive for paltry vehicles only, that branches off for Dhankar from the main Kaza-Samdu road at a point around 24 kilometres (15 mi) from Kaza.
The earliest history of Key Monastery is drawn to Dromtön (Brom-ston, 1008-1064 CE), a pupil of the eminent faculty-member, Atisha, in the 11th century. This nonetheless, refers to the destroyed Kadampa monastery at the neighbouring village of Rangrik, which was probably destroyed in the 14th century when the Sakya sect rose to power with Mongol assistance. In the wake of the Chinese influence, it was rebuilt during the 14th century as an magnificient example of the monastic architecture.
Key monastery has a collection of ancient murals and books of high aesthetic value and it enshrines Buddha sceneries and idols, in the position of Dhyana.
Monasteries in Dharamshala
Subsequent to the 14th Dalai Lama establishing his Tibetan exile government at Mcleod Ganj (a former colonial British summer picnic spot) near uppermost Dharamshala, the ancient Namgyal Monastery, which was first established by the third Dalai Lama in 1579 in Tibet, was relocated to Dharamshala (the district headquarters of the Kangra district), in 1959. It is now the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama. Two hundred monks and young trainee monks reside here. They pursue studies of the major texts of Buddhist Sutras and Tantras, as also the Tibetan and English Languages.
An relevant Buddhist shrine (located opposite to the Namgyal Monastery in the same courtyard) in the town is the Tsuglagkhang orTsuglag Khang, known as the Dalai Lama's temple. It houses the statues, in sitting postures, of Shakyamuni (gilded)- the central image, Avalokiteśvara (the deity of compassion sculpted in silver with eleven faces and thousand arms and eyes -linked to a legend), and Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) - both covering the guidance of Tibet - and also the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. Dalai Lama's residence is opposite to this temple. A festival is celebrated here annually , during April and May, when traditional dances and plays are enacted. 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) far away from Dharamshala, at Sidhpur, a meagre monastery called the Gompa Dip Tse-Chok Ling, the Gangchen Kyishong (called Gangkyi in short by Tibetans and Library by Indians is the premises of the Tibetan government-in-exile), Mani Lakhang Stupa, Nechung Monastery, Norbulingka Institute, Sidhpur are located. The Karmapa (who was in Norbulinga in Tibet before taking refuge in India) is now living in Gyato monastery.
Kalachakra Temple is located adjoining the Tsulagkhang which is devoted to the Kalachakra. The temple has fresco decorations of 722 idols of the mandala, Shakayamuni Buddha, and the central Kalachakra scenery. Dalai Lama individually directed the painting of the frescos done by three skillful artists for a span of three years. The walls and columns here have many traditional Tibetan Thangka paintings.
Library of Tibetan works and archives
A Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA) was also erected by the Dalai Lama, in June 1970, to provide exhaustive information on Buddhist and Tibetan culture. The LTWA boasts of more than 110,000 titles in the form of manuscripts (40% are the Tibetan originals, books and documents; hundreds of thangkas (Tibetan scroll paintings), statues and other artefacts; and over 6,000 photographs, and many other materials. The LTWA has nine departments guided by a governing body. The library conducts seminars, talks, meetings and discussions and also brings out an annual 'News Letter.' On the third floor of this library there is a museum (opened in 1974) that houses notable artefacts such as a three-dimensional carved wooden mandala of Avalokiteshvara and items that date back to the 12th century.
The Norbulingka Institute founded in 1988, by the present Dalai Lama has the primary objective of perpetuate the Tibetan language and cultural heritage. This institute has been emulate on the same lines as Norbulingka, the traditional summer residence of the Dalai Lamas, in Lhasa, amidst a well-maintained garden setting, and the emphasis here is more on traditional art. A temple named as the “Seat of Happiness Temple” (Deden Tsuglakhang) is located here. Around this temple, craft centres are located, which is specialized in traditional forms of Thanka painting to Metal art that are considered integral to Tibetan Monastery architecture. 300 artisans work here and also impart training to their wards. The Losel Doll Museum here has diorama displays of traditional Tibetan scenes, using miniature Tibetan dolls in traditional costumes. A short distance from the institute lies the Dolma Ling Buddhist nunnery and the Gyato Monastery, temporary residence of the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.