Village

From Nako one follows the Spiti river upstream, passing by Tabo and the impressive village of Dankhar (Brang-mkhar), the former capital and seat of the Spiti ruler (Nono), to approach the picturesque village of Lalung (lHa lung; ◊ Lalung gallery). Situated on a northern tributary of the Spiti river, Lalung is reached either after an hour’s walk from Dankhar, or via a link road branching off the Spiti main road shortly after Dankhar opposite the Pin valley. Lying at an altitude of 3680 metres, Lalung today has 313 inhabitants and is the only major village in the Lingti valley.

Both the ancient and modern temples are located on the hill to the right of the village. Lalung, too, must once have been a major Buddhist centre. There was once a large monastery on the flat hill-top above the village that probably occupied the whole of this site.

Today only two older temples remain on the hill. One is a tiny provisional chapel on the side of a house at the edge of the flat hill-top. I call this building the Vairocana Chapel, after the images it houses. The second site is the exceptional Golden Temple or Serkhang (gSer-khang) located on the crown of the hill.

Vairocana Chapel

The chapel containing a four-fold image of Vairocana is today a crudely roofed structure attached to the side wall of a house. The room is 4.3 metres long and 3.1 metres wide. None of the surrounding architecture is ancient or provides any clues as to the original setting of the image. It seems that the four-fold Vairocana is the only remains of a temple once situated at the western end of the hill (> Lalung Vairocana gallery). Only archaeological documentation and excavation would reveal the original context and function of the image.

In the Vairocana Chapel four similar images are seated on a single throne structure with their backs towards one another. That these four images are a representation of Vajradhatu-Vairocana can today only be concluded from a comparison with the four-fold Vairocana at Tabo. It is very likely that all the images once performed the teaching gesture (dharmacakramudra) similar to the image at Tabo, but the mudra of highest enlightenment (bodhyagrimudra) also seems possible, as one image has its index finger raised. In any case, it can be assumed that all four images were once iconographically identical.

Golden Temple

The main room inside the larger structure of the Lalung Serkhang is also called Serkhang (gSer-khang). It is only the latter room, measuring 5.65 by 5.2 metres and with a height of more than 4.5 metres, that will be discussed here. This room is virtually packed with sculptures covering three walls in complex configurations. The entrance wall (west wall) has only two gate-keepers guarding the door (> Lalung Serkhang sculpture gallery).

While the sculptures are largely original and well preserved, the painting on them is quite recent. Judging from the reports published, the whole temple was repainted at some point between 1926, the year that H. L. Shuttleworth and Joseph Gergan saw them, and 1933, when Tucci and Ghersi visited Lalung.

The Founding Inscription in the Lalung Serkhang is much better preserved than that at Nako, but despite several readings the concise seven-syllable verses are often incomprehensible. Here, too, no historical names have been identified to date, nor have I managed to identify the events mentioned.

While the repainting has not really affected the sculptures, the quality of the present murals is pitiful compared to the originals, which have only survived in a small section above the Founding Inscription to the left of the entrance. Nevertheless, the crude repainting apparently followed the original painting, as it can still be related to compositions found in the Alchi group of monuments.

The organisation of the sculptural decoration of the temple is unique. In general, it follows an iconographic principle suggested by Rob Linrothe for the Alchi Sumtsek: Buddha on the main wall, Bodhisattva on the wall to his right (left-hand wall), goddess (or rather female Bodhisattva) at the wall to his left (right-hand wall), and protective deity on the entrance wall.

The relationship of the Serkhang to the Vairocana Chapel, which is approximately 35 metres WNW of the Serkhang, is wholly obscure.

Literature

  • Linrothe, Robert N. "Mapping the Iconographic Programme of the Sumtsek." In Alchi. Ladakh's Hidden Buddhist Sanctuary. The Sumtsek, edited by Roger Goepper and Jaroslav Poncar. London: Serindia, 1996, 269–72.
  • Luczanits, Christian. 2004. Buddhist Sculpture in Clay: Early Western Himalayan Art, late 10th to early 13th centuries. Chicago: Serindia: 89–106.
  • Shuttleworth, H. Lee. Lha-Lung Temple, Spyi-Ti, Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, No. 39. Calcutta, 1929.
  • Tropper, Kurt. 2008. The Founding Inscription in the gSer kha of Lalung (Spiti, Himachal Pradesh) Edition and Annotated Translation. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives.
  • Tucci, Giuseppe. 1988. The Temples of Western Tibet and their Artistic Symbolism. Indo-Tibetica III.1: The Monasteries of Spiti and Kunavar. Śata-Piṭaka Series, vol. 350. ed. Lokesh Chandra. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.