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Report 1932: Ladakh Takes Your Breath Away

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2011

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Page 8 of 25: Matho Gompa

photo by Michael

Dancing skeletons

This is on the opposite bank of the Indus to Thicksey and Shey. It is in a side valley and hidden from view. It receives few visitors. 

It is a nice drive across the flat desert with views to the snow capped mountains. The Gompa sits on top of a crag with the village and monks' school below. There are excellent views from the Gompa. 

Matho Gompa is the only Gompa belonging to the Saskyapa sect, founded about 1000 years ago and the dominant religious faction in Tibet during the 13thC. The first buildings were 15thC but were destroyed by Muslim incursions in the 16thC. 

There is a large courtyard with temple buildings on one side and a library. Workmen were busy chipping plaster off the wall of the covered walkway in preparation for repainting.

The new Lakhang has a big statue of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva inside. This was begun in 2004 and finished in 2010. The centre is made from cement which is carved into shape, plastered and then painted.  The cement base is covered with wood from Kashmir which is carved and then painted. The statue is surrounded by manifestations of the 21 Taras carved from wood and seated on lotus flowers.  On the left is a statue of Green Tara, who was born from the tears of Avalokiteshvara. On either side are statues of the Kings of Naga with snakes surrounding their heads. In Buddhism, the Naga symbolises hatred and these statues are in a position of respect to take away hatred.  There are fierce mythical beasts under the statue holding up the gods. It is a beautiful building.

The adjacent Lhakhang was being restored and repainted. The central pillars are made from carved concrete and support a cement bar with wood above. Four painters on very rudimentary scaffolding were painting the roof beams. They had been working for four months and it would take another four to five months to finish. Then they begin on the wall paintings. There was a partly completed statue of the present Buddha with his two disciples; Sheripu on the left and Mongaliyana on the right. The Buddha had been covered with gold paint but was awaiting other painters to come and finish the painting. 

The old Dukhang has paintings of the four cardinal kings on either side of doorway. Inside the walls are covered with 200-300 year old paintings which included pictures of the old protector gods complete with skull necklaces and two skeletons dancing (Chitapati).

This is a delightful place and we were the only visitors. We found it interesting to watch the workman and see the partially finished statue of Buddha.

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