Alchi

The village of Alchi in lower Ladakh is to be considered one of the most important cultural sites throughout the Himalayas. Consisting of four separate hamlets, the village contains numerous historic monuments of different ages and in various states of repair, the oldest and most famous of which is a monastic complex or Choskhor (chos ’khor) today under the jurisdiction of Likir monastery and the Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I). It is this complex, which accommodates some of the most fascinating Buddhist monuments in the Himalayas, that is commonly referred to by the term 'Alchi monastery'.

Besides this major complex there are temples and chörten throughout the village, among them the almost ruined 13th century chörten in a field near Alchi Shangrong, the poorly preserved Shangrong temple, and the Tsatsapuri temple complex.

Choskhor

The monastic complex or Choskhor at Alchi contains three temples and two chörten attributable to the earliest phase of the complex; the Main Temple, the Three-Storeyed Temple or Sumtsek, the Mañjuśrī Temple, the Great Chörten and the Small Chörten. These latter decorated gateway chörten (Kakani Chörten, Ka ka ni mchod rten) are of a type unique to Alchi and closely related monuments. In addition the tower-like structures flanking the Main Temple belong to an early phase of the monastery as well as its courtyard. Somewhat later additions are the Translator's Temple (Lo tsa ba lHa khang) and the so-called New Temple (lHa khang So ma) as well as other chörten.

History

Traditionally the foundation of Alchi Monastery is attributed to the great translator Rinchen Zangpo (Rin chen bzang po; 958–1055). However, the oldest monuments preserved are to be dated to the period from the middle of the 12th century to c. 1225.

Practically no historical background is known for the Alchi temples. While upper Ladakh down to Shey or even Leh was at least temporarily under Guge control, lower Ladakh was probably partly independent. Alchi was part of a small kingdom ruled by members of the Dro ('Bro)-clan, a clan of Central Tibetan origin. This kingdom defined itself as part of Tibet in general and West Tibet (mNga' ris) in particular. The founders of the two temples were monks of the Dro-clan who were educated at Nyarma (a site of an extensive ruin near Tikse monastery).

The Three-Storeyed Temple or Sumtsek, can be dated to ca. 1200–1220 on the basis of a lineage of identified teachers on the entrance wall of the third floor. The founder of the Drigung ('Bri gung) school, called Drigungpa ('Bri gung pa; i.e. 'Jig rten mgon po, 1143–1217) in the caption accompanying the depiction, is the last person of the lineage.

Literature

  • Pal, Pratapaditya & Lionel Fournier (1982) A Buddhist Paradise: The Murals of Alchi - Western Himalayas. Hong Kong, Visual Dharma Publ.
  • Goepper, Roger (1990) 'Clues for a Dating of the Three-Storeyed Temple (Sumtsek) in Alchi, Ladakh.' Asiatische Studien: Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Asienkunde / Études Asiatiques: Revue de la Société Suisse d'Études Asiatiques 44 (2): 159–75.
  • Goepper, Roger & Jaroslav Poncar (1996) Alchi. Ladakh's hidden Buddhist sanctuary. The Sumtsek. London, Serindia.
  • Goepper, Roger. 1999. Akshobhya and His Paradise: Murals in the Dukhang of Alchi. Orientations 30 (1):16–21.
  • Linrothe, Rob (2001) Group Portrait: Mahasiddhas in the Alchi Sumtsek. Embodying Wisdom. Art, Text and Interpretation in the History of Esoteric Buddhism, edited by Rob Linrothe & Henrik H. Sørensen. SBS Monographs, Vol. 6. Copenhagen, The Seminar for Buddhist Studies: 185-208.
  • Luczanits, Christian. 1999. The Life of the Buddha in the Sumtsek. Orientations 30 (1):30-39.
  • Luczanits, Christian. 2004. Buddhist Sculpture in Clay: Early Western Himalayan Art, late 10th to early 13th centuries. Chicago: Serindia.
  • Snellgrove, David L. & Tadeusz Skorupski (1977) The Cultural Heritage of Ladakh, 1. Central Ladakh. Warminster, Aris & Phillips.
  • Snellgrove, David L. & Tadeusz Skorupski (1980) The Cultural Heritage of Ladakh, 2. Zangskar and the Cave Temples of Ladakh. Warminster, Aris & Phillips.
  • Tropper, Kurt. 1996. Die Akshobhyayuhasutra-Inschrift in Alchi. Ein Beitrag zur Kanjurforschung. MA (Diplomarbeit), Institute of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, Vienna University, Vienna.