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Shey Monastery in Leh

The Shey Monastery is a Gompa which is accompanied by a palatial structure called the Shey Palace near Leh. The Shey Monastery got its name from the Shey Hillock which serves as its base. Interestingly the Shey Hillock was (and still is) a place where people went to take summer breaks in Ladakh.

Shey Monastery in Leh

The Monastery was built in the year 1655 and remains till date one of the major tourist destinations near Ladakh. The elevation of Shey Monastery is 1105 meter above sea level which confers it with a very interesting view.

History of Shey Monastery

As mentioned earlier Shey has a very important place in the ecology of Ladakh. When the Dogra invasion happened in Ladakh in 1842, the Namgyal kings of Ladakh fled under fear to a place called Stok on another side of the Indus River. The fort of Stok gradually was rechristened to be named Shay Palace and it provided a safe haven to the Buddhist Monarchs for a long period of time. The Namgyal kings were so besotted with the place that they constructed a lovely palace and a Monastery here. These structures are now known a Shey Palace and Shey Monastery. Interestingly each royal Namgyal couple had to compulsorily conceive their heir inside the scared premises of the Shey Palace.

History of Shey Monastery

The statue of Sakyamuni Buddha inside the Shey Monastery is actually the second largest statue in Ladakh. The name Shakyamuni was so given as Buddha was known as the Shakya or Sage of the Shakya clan of Buddhists. The inner shrines of the Monastery have offerings of grains, scripts with mantras inscribed inside and jewels. The Monastery is always lighted up by more than 1000 butter lamps and care is taken to ensure that the flames never die out.

Structure of Shey Monastery

There is huge Sakyamuni Buddha stature inside Shey Monastery which is known for its gorgeous beauty. The statue is 12 feet high and is known as one of the highest stature in Ladakh. 3 floors of the shey Monastery are covered by the presence of the Buddha statue. There are walls present on both sides of Buddha which display 16 Arhats or representations of saints who achieved the blessed state of Nirvana. Two of the greatest disciples of Buddha; Sariputra and Maudgalyayana are also present in form of beautiful representations on the wall. As a tourist covers the three floors of this monastery he will get a different view of the Buddha statue. On the lowest floor he will see big feet with the heavenwards pointed soles of Buddha accompanied by a much smaller statue of Shambhunath. The middle floor has Buddha murals in many different poses while the top floor is illuminated by thousands of butter lamps which bathe the entire hall in an incandescent glow.

View of the Shey Monastery

The making of the statue of Sakyamuni Buddha was a giant feat in itself as it is made completely out of pure copper which was sourced from Linghshet mines. More than 5 kilograms of gold were used in plating the copper plates of the stature. The plates from the ingots of copper were hammered on nearby rocks, made into proper shape and then transported into the Monastery. The upper floor of the Monastery has some of the prettiest and the most ancient paintings in the whole of Ladakh. There is a library on the lower floor with restricted access on the ground floor which contains many exciting manuscripts and various books of rare importance. There are two tantric shrines inside the complex of Shey Monastery and both of them have important historical significance. There is another 6 feet statue of Sakyamuni Buddha in one of these shrines made of same metal but with a different and fiercer Tantric countenance.

Around the Shey Monastery

The ancient Nepalese sculptor Sanga Zangar Wanduk was responsible for designing and supervising the construction of both this shrine and the other one in Shey Monastery. Other famous craftsmen known as Paldana Shering Gyaso and Jal Shring Gaman were other artists who were part of the construction of the Monastery and the shrines. Now an entire village of Craftsmen are established in village Chilling and they specialize in silver work, Gold plating, brass crafting and painting religious murals along with Thangkas.

Another shrine present in the complex has depictions of the 16 Arhats or demonstrations of 16 disciples of Buddha with famous Buddhist teachers like Padmasambhava, Tson Ka Pa and Atisa. 5 Dhyani Buddha’s are also represented which include a large statue. Apart from above mentioned structures there are several Chortens or religious structures containing memorabilia of Buddha and religious artifacts. There is also a highly decorative photon 9rightful residence) of the head Lama of Shey Monastery.

Festivals in the Shey Complex

The Shey complex was home to kings and monarchs in the past and the culture of rich festivities continue till today. The first Shey festival is on the 26th day and the 27th day of the Tibetan Calendar and it usually happens either in July or August of the Gregorian calendar (followed by Buddhists). The festival is called Shey Doo Lhoo or the beginning of the fertile sowing season. There is a two day monastic celebration which has lots of specific rituals and customs. Villagers populate the Monastery in large numbers in an extravagant display of dance and drama. An oracle reader also visits the Monastery and after a 3 day long prayer session he falls into a trance. During the trance period lots of tourists and localities come to the Shey Monastery to hear his prophesies.

The Shey Gompa

The second Shey festival is known as Shey Rupla that signifies the commencement of Harvest. Ripe acorns and golden corn are offered to deities of Shey Monastery. The famous Rhupla dance is performed by men dressed in vibrant Tiger costumes. Soothsayers, dancers and magicians along with tarot card readers also participate in this festival.

How to Reach Shey Monastery

The Shey Monastery is a mere 15 km from Leh and it’s possible to reach it within 40 minutes of a car drive from Leh.

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