Spituk gompa was built about 550
years ago by Gyalpo Bumide, although one temple, dedicated to Mahakala
was built about 900 years ago. The Spitok is probably derived from
the Central Tibetan language and means "Effective as an Example",
referring to the fact that this was the Tibetans' first monastery
in Ladakh. Spituk gompa contains both old temples and those built
in the 1970s. Ancient thankas are preserved here, some having been
taken from the Potala Palace and Lhasa after the Chinese invaded.
Some 125 yellow-hat sect lamas are considered Spituk lamas, but
at least half of them live and pray at Spitok's dependent monasteries
at Sankar, Stok and Sabu. All the lamas gather together for a major
festival. The head lama of Spituk is also the head Lama for Ladakh
and represents Ladakh has been India's serving ambassador to Mongolia
and was also a member of Parliament. After ascending and descending
several flights of stair, one is in the main courtyard. It is here
that Spitok's main festival, the Spitok Gurstor, is celebrated in
mid-winter. Masked dances take place here, ending with the sacrificial
destruction of a cake. Hence, the festival is known as the Spitok
Festival of the Sacrifice of the 29th Day. The festival takes place
on the 28th and 29th days of the 11th month of the Tibetan calendar.
The monastery also has a statue of Kali whose face is covered throughout
the year but displayed to the public for one day during the festival.
Steep steps leading from the main courtyard lead to the Dukhang
or main temple. The walls both inside and outside the entryway have
pictures of fierce protecting deities. Inside the Dukhang are five
rows of low seats for the lamas and a high throne at the far end,
reserved for the Dalai Lama, although he has only made one visit
here since leaving Tibet in 1959. Behind the throne are manifestations
of Lord Buddha. On both side walls of the Dukhang are Buddhist canonical
Beside the central throne are doors
leading to a low dark chapel behind. In a central position are images
of Tsong-kha-pa, founder of the yellow-hat sect of Buddhism and
his two chief disciples as well as an image of the Buddha. On the
left is an image of Tara the Saviouress and consort of Avalokitesvara,
and on the right are statues of previous head lamas. From the main
courtyard one can reach another smaller courtyard that is in front
of the Chikhang temple, another assembly hall similar to the Dukhang.
This temple was built around 1960 and contains beautiful murals
on all the walls. The room is dominated by a statue of Sakyamuni,
the Historical Buddha. To the right is a statue of the 11 headed
Avalokitesvara, the "Lord of All He Surveys" and analogous
to the Hindu god Shiva. A small room behind the Buddha statue is
dedicated to a guardian divinity whose image remains covered all
year, except for one day during Spituk's winter festival. The new
Chokhang temple is several levels above the Dukhang courtyard. It
is here that funeral ceremonies take place. The central large statue
is of Sakyamuni. To the left of the Buddha is a statue of Padme
Sambhava, an 8th century Indian Buddhist scholar who translated
the Buddhist texts into Tibetan from their original languages of
Pali and Sanskrit. To the right is a statue of the goddess Tara.
The temple also contains many exquisite thankas, some quite new.
Diagonally opposite the Chokhang and on the same level is a small
temple called Dolma Lokhang which is devoted to Tara (Dolma in Ladakh).
In this temple are 21 beautiful statues of Tara, representing her
different forms. The gilded clay figure on a horse represents the
King of Ladakh, Shukdan. Next to the temple is the head lama's private
The largest temple, standing above the other temples near the crest
of the rocks is the Gonkhang. Although another name for this temple
is Kali Mata, the temple is not dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali,
but rather to Mahakala, the fiercest Buddhist guardian divinity.
Together with the image of Mahakala are the images of other fierce
guardians: the "Six-Armed One"a form of Mahakala, the
White Guardian, the Brother and Sister, Khyitra on his dog and the
Goddess on her horse. The last one is derived from the Hindu goddess
Kali who entered the Buddhist pantheon of gods in a minor capacity.
The images of Mahakala and the six-armed form of Mahakala are carved
from black stone and are very old. In order to clearly see the images
in this dimly lit temple, it is necessary to bring a very strong