Three-Storeyed Temple

The Three-Storeyed Temple or Sumtsek (གསུམ་བརྩེགས་), as its name indicates, is a three storey building dedicated to a triad of Bodhisattvas and their secondary deities located in three niches. The interior of the ground floor measures 5.4 x 5.8 meters and the niches are 2.1 to 2.7 meters wide and more than four meters high, the niche in the main wall being wider and higher than the niches in the side walls. On the basis of an inscribed lineage depiction in the top floor of the temple that ends with the representation of Drigungpa, who died in 1217, the Sumtsek can safely be dated to around 1220. The mural paintings of the Sumtsek are the subject of a major publication by Roger Goepper and Jaroslav Poncar which documents most of the temple.

  • Goepper, Roger, and Jaroslav Poncar. Alchi. Ladakh’s Hidden Buddhist Sanctuary. The Sumtsek. London: Serindia, 1996.
  • Goepper, Roger. “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, no. 2 (1990): 159-175.


The largest Bodhisattva on the back wall, Maitreya, is flanked by Avalokiteśvara (to his right) and Mañjuśrī. Besides these celebrated large standing Bodhisattvas, each niche has four secondary deities and two flying goddesses (◊ Sumtsek Sculptures). Many of the secondary deities have been repaired and altered so much that it is no longer possible to reconstruct their original appearance, but they can be identified from the information provided by the temple's foundation inscription.

Each of the Bodhisattvas is dressed in a beautifully decorated dhoti. These dhotis do not display the usual textile patterns, but are dedicated to different themes – one is decorated with holy places of Kashmir, one with the Life of the Buddha (see below), and one with the 80 plus mahāsiddha. The latter are discussed in an article by Rob Linrothe.

  • Linrothe, Rob. “Group Portrait: Mahāsiddhas in the Alchi Sumtsek.” In Embodying Wisdom. Art, Text and Interpretation in the History of Esoteric Buddhism, edited by Rob Linrothe, and Henrik H. Sørensen, 6, 185-208. Copenhagen: The Seminar for Buddhist Studies, 2001.

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Life of the Buddha

The dhoti of the Bodhisattva Maitreya contains a painted cycle of the life of a Buddha. The scenes are inscribed within a basic textile pattern consisting of red circular medallions with a diameter of 15 centimeter on a blue background.

Principally the scenes of the Buddha’s life are arranged in opposite direction through the horizontal groups of medallions. The chronological sequence on the dhoti begins below the belt of Maitreya’s right leg and moves downward, while it continues in the opposite direction on the left leg, where it ends at the top. The scenes in the space between the legs are to be read from top to bottom and precede the two last scenes on the left leg.

The majority of the 48 scenes identified are dedicated to the events between the last sojourn in Tuṣita heaven and the first sermon in Sarnath. To these 41 episodes five teaching scenes and two scenes of the parinirvāṇa are added. While the teaching scenes are prominantly located the parinirvāṇa scenes are almost hidden at the side of Maitreya's left leg. (◊ Maitreya's Dhoti).

The depiction of the legend on Maitreya’s dhoti is a unique interpretation of the Buddha’s life that not only incorporates the different authoritative traditions but also successfully hints towards the true nature of the Buddha in Mahāyāna. The life of a Buddha is nothing else than the marvelous dress of a super-human, namely Maitreya, who is himself is an emanation of the true nature of a Buddha represented as Vairocana in his crown.

  • Luczanits, Christian. 1999. The Life of the Buddha in the Sumtsek. Orientations 30 (1):30-39.