Likir Monastery

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Likir Monastery
Likir Gompa.jpg
Likir Monastery is located in Jammu and Kashmir
Likir Monastery
Likir Monastery
Location within Jammu and Kashmir
Coordinates: 34°10′48″N 77°9′0″E / 34.18000°N 77.15000°E / 34.18000; 77.15000
Monastery information
Location Likir, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India
Founded by Duwang Chosje and Lhachen Gyalpo
Founded 1065
Type Tibetan Buddhist
Sect Gelug
Lineage Ngari Rinpoche
Number of monks 120

Likir Monastery or Likir Gompa (Klud-kyil) is a Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, northern India, located approximately 52 kilometres (32 mi) west of Leh. It is picturesquely situated on a little hill in the valley[1] near the Indus River and the village of Saspol about 9.5 kilometres (5.9 mi) north of the Srinigar to Leh highway.[2] It belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism and was established in 1065 by Lama Duwang Chosje, under the command of the fifth king of Ladakh, Lhachen Gyalpo (Lha-chen-rgyal-po).[3]

Although Likir is relatively isolated, it was once on a major trade route which travelled via Tingmosgang, Hemis and Likir to Leh.[4]



Likir is mentioned in the Ladakhi chronicles as having been erected by King Lhachen Gyalpo (Lha-chen-rgyal-po) (c. 1050-1080 CE).[5] The name Likir means "The Naga - Encircled", representing the bodies of the two great serpent spirits, the Naga-rajas, Nanda and Taksako.[2] It presumably, originally belonged to the early Kadampa order of Tibetan Buddhism.[6][7]

When Francke visited the monastery in 1909 he was shown a long inscription written in black ink on a wall which outlined the history of the monastery. Francke had it copied and interprets it as follows:

"King Lha-chen-rgyal-po founded the monastery in the 11th century. In the 15th century, Lama Lha-dbang-chos-rje [a famous pupil of Tsongkhapa] converted the lamas to the reformed doctrines of the Ge-lug-pa order, and thus founded the monastery afresh as a Ge-lug-pa establishment. Then it is stated that seven generations after Lha-chen-rgyal-po, King Lha-chen-dngos-grub [c. 1290-1320] arose, and that he introduced the custom of sending all the novices to Lhasa. This statement is found in exactly the same words as we find in the rGyal-rabs"[8]

Eighteen generations later King bDe-legs-rnam-rgyal reigned, but his name has been erased from the inscription because he was forced to embrace Islam after the battle of Basgo in 1646-1647. The inscription itself is dated to the reign of King Thse-dbang-rnam-rgyal II (Tsewang namgyal II, c. 1760-1780), who repaired the monastery after a conflagration.[5][9]

View from the monastery

Below the monastery was a large chorten with frescoes inside representing Tsongkapa and other lamas of his time. "Painted above the door, a very strange figure is found which looks much like one of the ordinary representations of Srong-btsan-sgam-po (Songtsän Gampo). I was told by the lamas that it represents a lama of Srong-btsan-sgam-po's times. The figure wears a three-pointed hat of white colour and carries two leopard skins under his arms." The lower part of the chorten is a square room which a lama said was the earliest temple at Likir, and was already there when King Lha-chenrgyal-po built the monastery.[5]

The monastery currently has approximately 120 Buddhist monks and a school, in which almost thirty students study.[3] The Central Institute of Buddhist Studies runs it and teaches in three languages, Hindi, Sanskrit and English.[2] It also serves as the venue of an annual event Dosmochey, the assembly of votive offerings and sacred dances which takes place on the 27th day to 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar.[3]

It is the seat of the Ngari Rinpoche, the present emanation of whom is the younger brother of the Dalai Lama. Although he does not permanently reside here, he attends for the more important pujas.[10]

Layout and interior[edit]

Hanging prayer flags on the 23 m (75 ft) statue of Maitreya

The monastery has two assembly halls, known as Dukhangs and the older one is located on the right of the central courtyard with six rows of seats for the lamas and a throne for the Head Lama of Likir.[7] The Dukhangs contain statues of Bodhisattva, Amitabha, three large statues of Sakyamuni, Maitreya and Tsong Khapa, founder of the yellow-hat sect.[3] The verandah has thangka paintings of the Guardians of the Four Directions and wheel of life mandala held by Yama and the courtyard has a large Jupiter tree, a rare species.[7] The Dukhang contains glass-fronted bookcases holding the Kandshur and the Thandshur and two rolled-up thangkas hang from the beams close to entrance containing pictures of Sakyamuni and Likir's guardian divinity.[7] The monastery is also a repository of old manuscripts, has a notable thangka collection and old costumes and earthen pots.[2][7] Sitting on the roof is a 23 metre (75 ft) high gilded gold statue of Maitreya (the future) Buddha. It was completed in 1999.[11]

A Mahakala thangka in Likir

The newer Dukhang, about 200 years old is located diagonally across from the courtyard's entrance and contains a statue of Avalokitesvara with 1000 arms and 11 heads.[7] Bookcases stand at the statue sides, with the volumes of the Sumbum, describing the life and teachings of Tsong Khapa. The left wall has paintings of the 35 Confessional Buddhas while the right wall has an image of Sakyamuni with two of his chiefs by his side.[7]

A ladder leads out of the hall, followed by a doorway into the courtyard which in turn leads to the Zinchun, which is the head lama's room which contains mainly thangkas and images of lamas and the 21 manifestations of the White Tara, the consort of Avalokitesvara.[7] Then there is the Gonkhang room which is dedicated to the guardian divinities which is accessed by descending the stairs outside the courtyard of the head lama's room. The Gonkhang was created in 1983 when the monastery underwent renovation and was completed a year later[12] The walls of the Gonkhang contain thangkas of the divinities as does a glass-fronted room in front of the Gonkhang.[7]

The form of the Likir complex[edit]

The monastery is located on top of a hill alongside the valley of river Indus. The valley has agricultural fields at the lower level and the monastery complex occupying the high grounds. The main temple is roughly at the highest plateau of the hill. The complex itself consists of the main temple, the assembly hall, the monk’s quarters, and services such as kitchen and dining as its main recognizable parts. The parts of the complex has been modified and built over a long period of time, and its present state suggest a well fortified, compact and strategically sited monastery.

The political conditions and the fortress monastery[edit]

Likir monastery underwent expansion in the 15th century under Lhawang Lodos Sangphu. The geo-political landscape during this period was generally marked by bitter struggle for control of land. As mentioned earlier monasteries in Tibet and Ladakh region were command and control points for the region. Monasteries controlled and owned large tracts of land and there by the agricultural produce. Conflicts with rival sects of monasteries for political and material control were pretty common. They had to protect its inhabitants and its wealth from rival attacks. Monasteries that flourished during this period evolved their complexes as small fortress perched on strategic height, utilizing the terrain and reinforcing it with thick peripheral walls to form a protected inner core. Likir monastery is a classic example of such type of a fort-monastery. The basic hierarchy of the village houses at the lower slope, followed by monk’s residence and then finally the main temple and assembly hall complex at the upper plateau. The main complex has narrow entry and exit points and has shear wall surrounding its periphery results in creation of a protected fort like complex. The monasteries of later period (after 15th century) usually evolved into a compact, well protected fortress kind features – main monastery temple at the highest point followed by monks residence just below them and their after the village houses, thick peripheral walls and narrow residual open spaces as movement paths. The monastery of Alchi which flourished in the earlier period, has spread out plan organization on a level ground is a good example of monastery of the earlier period.

The centrality in belief system and its impact on the plan[edit]

The Buddhist religion revolves around the teaching of an individual – Lord Buddha. Whereas the teachers or Lamas of the past do hold very important position in the mythology and general beliefs system, the position of Buddha is central to the faith. This centrality in source of religious belief is reflected in the overall arrangement of the monastery complex itself.The Liker monastery consists of many parts – the main worship areas along with learning areas, the administrative and head monk’s area, the residential areas for monks and the service areas. The most important aspect of the organization is that there is only one central space and all other spaces are mere incidental or rather accidental. ‘Central space’ here refers to a singular gesture of open and closed space that is seen in the complex to be the most important due to its nature of expression. The space formed by the main entrance courtyard with the sacred temple and the assembly hall opening to it is the most important expression in the overall plan organization. The court is of a generous proportion with a very well defined edge on two sides in form of covered corridor. The scale, proportion and treatment of this space are a very clear expression of its importance. The sacred temple (Gu-Khnag) and the assembly hall are more or less standard type that is common in this part of the Himalayas1. The remaining spaces that have formed over time are never accorded the kind of importance or elaboration and are a result of utilitarian necessity along with climatic and topographic consideration

Processions, festivals and the central court[edit]

Throughout the year certain public processions takes place in the complex. These processions, held on auspicious days usually start behind the main temple in the open court around the Stupa, which often symbolize gateways before start of a journey. The procession path goes around the structures to finally reach the main temple court. This is the place for large gathering and performances during the festival. The size of the court is the outcome of this gesture of public activity. A peripheral linear open space, like a street thus connects the major part of the complex.

Circumambulation and the open space[edit]

This is an integral daily ritual that a devout would perform in the monastery. The circumambulation around buildings of religious significance leads to a roughly defined open space being left around the building. The open spaces around the main temple and assembly hall derive their definition from this particular ritual and by the way of their proportion and volume seem to suggest a certain purpose. For example the open spaces around the main complex do not have any predominant pause points or spaces that would suggest a break from the circumambulation, which is the primary purposed of these paths. By analyzing the built form of the Likir monastery it is very clear that the predominant definition of the complex come from two most fundamental parameters. The first being the basic structure of the Tibetan Buddhist religious belief system with very strong central ideas related to the teaching of Lord Buddha as well as the practice of rituals in form of processions, festivals and circumambulations. The second parameter is the political role that the monasteries were playing in the region, that lead to the need for defense and hence fortification.[13]



  1. ^ Francke (1914), p. 88.
  2. ^ a b c d Singh Jina, Prem (1996). Ladakh: the land and the people. Indus Publishing. p. 210. ISBN 81-7387-057-8. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Likir Gompa". Retrieved October 6, 2009. 
  4. ^ Francke (1977), p. 91.
  5. ^ a b c Francke (1914), p. 87.
  6. ^ Rizvi (1994), p. 241.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Likir monastery". Buddhist Tourism. Retrieved October 6, 2009. 
  8. ^ Francke (1914), pp. 24, 87.
  9. ^ Francke (1977), p. 130.
  10. ^ Rizvi (1996), pp. 242-242.
  11. ^ Banerjee (2010), p. 131.
  12. ^ "Likir Gompa Tibet". Culture Holidays. Retrieved October 4, 2009. 
  13. ^ Likir Monastery: The structuring principles of the complex, By Pratyush Shankar & Anar Memon


  • Banerjee, Partha, S. (2010). Ladakh, Kashmir & Manali: The Essential Guide. 2nd Edition. Milestone Books, Calcutta. ISBN 978-81-903270-2-2.
  • Francke, A. H. 1914, 1926. Antiquities of Indian Tibet. Vol. 1: Personal Narrative; Vol. 2: The Chronicles of Ladak and Minor Chronicles, texts and translations, with Notes and Maps. Reprint 1972. S. Chand & Co., New Delhi.
  • Francke, A. H. (1977). A History of Ladakh. 1907 edition with critical introduction and annotations by S. S. Gergen & F. M. Hassnaian. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi.
  • Rizvi, Janet. 1996. Ladakh: Crossroads of High Asia. Second Edition. Oxford India Paperbacks. 3rd Impression 2001. ISBN 0-19-564546-4.

Coordinates: 34°10′48″N 77°9′0″E / 34.18000°N 77.15000°E / 34.18000; 77.15000