Monasteries of Sikkim

Monasteries form an integral part of Sikkim. There is a plethora of monasteries in Sikkim. In fact there are almost nearly 200 monasteries or Gompas belonging to either the Nyingmapa Sect or the Kargyupa Sect but Sikkim also has monasteries of the Gelugpa, Sakyapa and Bon faith.

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Monasteries in Sikkim are of three types

TAK-PHU

TAK-PHU

Literally meaning "rock-cave" or cave hermitage. Although there are many such hermitages in Sikkim, there are four which are of special importance, one in each direction. The four are hallowed as caves where Guru Rinpoche and Lhatsun Chhembo are said to have halted and meditated.

These are:
Lha-ri nying phu: The north face of the four, Lha-ri nying phu is situated at a 3-day trek precarious trek from Tashiding, west Sikkim. Not only is this the most difficult to reach, it is also the holiest. Its name means "the Old Cave on God’s Hill".

Kah-do Sang phu: "The Cave of the Occult Fairies" is on the south gate and one of the easiest to reach. A five-minute walk across a pedestrian bamboo bridge from the Jorethang-Gyalshing highway just beyond Reshi hot-springs takes one to Kah-do Sang Phu where one can find footprints ascribed to fairies.

Pe-phu: Placed between Tendong and Maenam hills in south Sikkim, Pe-phu lies near Sangmoo Gumpa about 5 kms from Ravangla, south Sikkim, en route to Singtam. A huge cavern, believed to extend by a bifurcation to both Tendong and Maenam hill, visitors can still walk in about a quarter of a mile. As low as five feet at places, the cave opens up to a towering 100 feet at some sections.

De-chhen phu: "The Cave of Happiness" is accessible only in autumn when the snow that hides it, melts. Distanced from Rimbi, west Sikkim, by a 3-day trek, it lies in the snows above Dzongri.

GOMPA

Gompa

Monasteries are almost always translated as "Gompas". This is, however, a misinterpretation. Gompa literally means "a place of solitude", a religious escape where monks are trained in the finer aspects of Tibetan Buddhism practiced here. Most gompas in Sikkim are found in solitary places since isolation from the world has always been a important for Buddhist learning; not as an act of self-punishment, but merely as an escape from mundane temptations. Monasteries usually occupy commanding and frequently picturesque sites. A choice made easy by the two conditions laid in a guiding couplet on where a monastery should be built; "Back to the hill-rock, And front to the tarn". A monastery, wherever possible, should be built on a ridge and have a lake in front.

The door of the assembly room and temple should preferably face eastwards. South-east is the second choice and then south. A stream draining the site is considered inauspicious as monks believe that this would drain away all the virtue of the place. If such a location is unavoidable, then the main door is made to face another direction. A waterfall, is, however, considered a good omen and if one is visible from the monastery, then the door is made to face that direction. The monastic buildings cluster around the main building which is also used as the Assembly Hall or du-khang. Lining the approaches to the monastery are rows of prayer flags and chortens.

Mani Lakhangs

Gompa

These are only temples and not also schools like gompas. Normally situated near villages, these normally have only a few monks ministering to the religious needs of the villagers.

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