The Thiksey Gompa in Ladakh has murals that are believed to showcase the future

“Most tourists assume that it's just one form of Buddha across every monastery. Actually, it's not so. You'll probably see many forms such as Sakyamuni, Avalokiteshwara, Maitreya… among others, in every Gompa (monastery),” rattled friend and photographer Arun Bhat, trying hard to initiate me into Buddhist iconography, while I was planning my trip to Ladakh.

Now, gazing at the almost 50-ft statue of Maitreya Buddha in Thiksey, one of the largest Gompas in Ladakh, I wish I'd paid more attention to Arun. The lamas are, however, kind enough to explain as I ask them about Maitreya Buddha, seated in a lotus position.

A peek into tomorrow

They point to the colourful murals behind the statue depicting scenes from his life, and state that that's the future.

They add that the prophecy is that he'll appear soon as the reincarnation of the historic Sakyamuni Buddha, the form as we know today. Avalokiteshwara, I am told, is another form of Buddha with multiple arms and heads, also known as the Buddha of compassion, waiting to help others. And, there are more — such as Manjusri and Amitava, but I am lost in the murals…

Thiksey was founded by one of the Gelukpas (the yellow hats) — Sherab Sangpo, under the guidance of guru Tsongkhapa, in the early 15{+t}{+h} Century. It's believed he built it at Stagmo, closer to the present site.

Sangpo is said to have carried a small form of Buddha called Amitayus, containing a drop of his guru's blood, given it to the king, and sought his permission to build a Gompa. When the king agreed, they are believed to have performed a few rituals, during which crows had taken away the offerings, and placed it atop a hill. So, the Gompa was built there. Later, it is supposed to have been rebuilt here by Sherab Sangpo's nephew.

The present monastery was built on the ruins of an earlier Gompa, built by another monastic order called the Kadampa. Another ancient temple here in ruins is the Lakhang Nyerma, built by scholar Rinchen Zangpo, also called The Translator, who was well-versed in the Indian traditions of Indian Buddhism.

Thiksey, known as Mini Potala, with 12 levels, resembles the palace in Tibet with 10 temples dotting its slopes. Looking at the vast expanse of the Indus valley from this height, the lamas explain that this was the vision of the Tsongkhapa — that his doctrine be spread across the valley. As I look down, I see tourists rotating the prayer wheels, while a monastery guide explains the murals...


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