Hemis Monasteries in Ladakh

Hemis Monastery

Hemis Gompa : was built in 1620 by the king-architect Singe Namgyal who was a great patron of Buddhism. He filled Hemis with golden statues, stupas set with precious stones and thankhas brought from many places including Tibet.

The lamas of Hemis were associated with the Ladakhi royal family and became quite prosperous, owning much land and supervising many smaller, scattered monasteries. Hemis is the richest monastery in Ladakh and although only about a dozen lamas actually live here, it has several hundred lamas attached to its various subsidiary monasteries.

The Rimpoche or spiritual head of Hemis is a reincarnation of the monastery's founder Stagtshang Raspa. The last Rimpoche was a reincarnation who, as a five-year old child, was being taught in Tibet when the Chinese invaded. There has been no communication with the Rimpoche since the 1960s. Since then, the brother of the late King of Ladakh has conducted the business of the gompa. During the 1975 festival, Drugpa Rimpoche, a 12-year old youth, became the new Rimpoche as a new incarnation.

The central courtyard, 60 meters long and 18 meters wide, contains four tall poles stuck in the ground at equal distances, with four different banners flying atop. It is in this courtyard that the monastic dances take place. The dances occur during the Hemis festival (see FESTIVALS chapter).

As one enters the courtyard, to the right are two large temples up small flights of stone steps. The fronts have a wooden verandah of Kashmiri style, rising two storeys. As one faces them, the temple on the left is the Tshogs-khang and on the right is the Dukhang which contains the throne of the Rimpoche and seating areas for the lamas. It is here that religious ceremonies are held. Tall wooden pillars rise in the centre to a square cupola with windows that supply light to the throne. The walls also have paintings of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) with blue hair, other Buddha figures and paintings of Tantric deities such as Hevajra and Samvara.

In the Tshogs-khang is a large gilded statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha with blue hair surrounded by several silver chortens decorated with semi-precious stones. In front of the Buddha is a throne made of painted and lacquered wood, a present from the former Maharaja of Kashmir to a former Incarnate Lama of Hemis. On the right is a collection of Buddhist canonical volumes.

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