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One of the oldest Buddhist monasteries of the Western Himalaya can be found in Tabo village in the lower Spiti Valley. Despite its age (founded 996 CE), it is one of the best preserved. This religious complex (chos-'khor) dates to the early period of the West Tibetan Kingdom and includes altogether nine larger and smaller temples as well as numerous shrines (mchod-rten). Because of the historical and cultural importance of Tabo, it is one of the focal points of the research conducted by the interdisciplinary research group.

Abbot Geshe Sonam Wangdu

The research in Tabo monastery was made possible and has been supported by the Abbot Geshe Sonam Wangdu, who has held his office for nearly thirty years. Very receptive to scientific research, the Abbot, together with a number of local monks, has also initiated important steps to maintain and reinvigorate the high monastic culture and to strengthen its economic activities.

Results of these efforts have been, among other things, the setting up of a drawing and painting school for younger monks, sponsorship of the monastic mask dance ('chams), and recently, the founding of a boarding school run by the monastery, where students from the all parts of the Spiti Valley can study written Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhism. Until thirty years ago, the monaster's economy was based primarily on its large land holdings and taxes from the local rural population, but since the reforms of the current Abbot, the collection of donations, income from a restaurant, and financial support from the central Indian government and the state of Himachal Pradesh have become more important.

Religious Celebrations at the Tabo Monastery

A protected monument under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) since 1960's, Tabo Monastery has belonged for approximately 500 years to the Gelugpa School, at whose head is the Dalai Lama. In 1996 the Dalai Lama conducted a Kalacakra consecration in Tabo. A new temple was constructed for this ceremony. Daily prayer meetings of the monks takes place in a new temple, as well as the monastic ceremonies held for festivals during the calendar year. This is also the case for the Festival of the New Year (lo-gsar), which is held according to the Tibetan calendar in February or March, in contrast to the other villages in the Spiti Valley, which hold this festival according to the local calendar at the beginning of December. However, the most important ceremonies and rituals are still held in the old temple complex, as for example the Tschakkar Festival, held every three years, which honours the most important guardian gods of the monastery and the Gelugpa school. The monks celebrate a large part of this festival privately among themselves, performing recitations and rituals. The monks’ mask dance, folk dancing of the local population, performances of trance mediums, etc., are publicly celebrated.