Sumtseg in Alchi MonasterySumtseg in Alchi Monastery complex is one of its most architecturally brilliant structures. The different symbolism and iconography of Sumtseg has earned the Monastery a prominent place in the United Nation’s list of most intriguing religious monuments.
However the most interesting part of the Sumtseg saga is that no historian, social researcher or Buddhist religion specialist has been able to tell with satisfying clarity as to why this structure was established in the first place.
Structure of SumtsegThe outer structure of Sumtseg is none descript and non suggestive of the marvels that lie inside. The building is 3 storeys high and built with warm brown stone and natural loam. Unlike other Buddhist and Tibetan religious structures it does not possess the typical red and gold color scheme.
However according to historical sources, a legion of Kashmiri artists were employed to design and paint the artistry on the facades, wood work, clay statues and gorgeous paintings on the outer walls of the Sumtseg. There is a sanctum in the ground floor of the building which has total measurement of 5.4 meters 85.8 meters with niche constructions of around 2 meters.
In each niche there is a superbly crafted image of a Bodhisattvas who are all depicted in a standing posture. There are 3 niches and therefore 3 upright statues of Bodhisattvas who are present with their individual procession of associative deities. There are 4 deities in each niche and 2 flying Goddesses in each niche.
All the idols and woodwork in Sumtseg is depicted with amazing clarity. Unfortunately the gorgeous and huge wooden floor which was positioned on the top floor of the Sumtseg is now dilapidated.
Features of SumtsegThe second floor of Sumtseg has a distinctive feature in terms of the balcony which has thousands of inbuilt lantern mounting. There is a gigantic image of Maitreya which is 15.2 feet in height (making it one of the highest statues in Ladakh). The Buddhist religious Gods Avalokiteshwara and Manjushri are depicted to the right and the left of Sumtseg Maitreya. Another interesting observation can be made in this part of the Sumtseg in Alchi.
The dhotis of all the deities including Avalokiteshwara, Maitreya and Manjushri are all themed with outstanding detail. Each dhoti has a lot of religious symbolism attached to it in forms of textures, symbols and iconography. For example the dhoti worn by reigning deity Maitreya depicts the entire life cycle of Buddha while Avalokiteshwara is wearing a dhoti which shows an illustration of all holy and royal places in Buddhism. Manjushri deity is wearing a very interestingly designed dhoti which contains images of 84 Mahasiddhas.
In Buddhism there are many manifestations of the supreme power; Buddha. Maitreya deity is shown to be wearing a crown inspired by Vairochana Buddha while Avalokiteshwara’s crown represents Amitabha Buddha. Manjushri’s crown represents Akshobhya Buddha. The niche contains an inscription of the statement that the three Buddhas represent the mind, body and speech or the philosophical concepts of Compassion, wisdom and hope. It is inferred that Sumtseg was established in 13th century as the name of Drigungpa School of Buddhism (which existed between 1143-1217) is inscribed on its walls.
How to Reach Sumtseg in Alchi MonasteryDistance between Leh and Sumtseg is 70 km and it can be covered by a 90 minute drive by car. The months between June to September are best for a visit to the Sumtseg. Once inside the Alchi Monastery Complex (which incidentally spans 3 hamlets) you will have to cover quite some distance on foot before you reach the Sumtseg.
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