Tabo (ཏ་པོ་), a medium-size village in the lower Spiti valley, is famous for its monastery. The sacred compound or monastic complex (chökhor, ཆོས་འཁོར་) is situated on the plain in front of the village. The large old monastery contains nine temples from various periods within the old sacred enclosure. In recent decades, new temples and living buildings have been added to the east of the old complex.

Of the nine temples within the old sacred enclosure the Main Temple (གཙུག་་ལག་ཁང་) is attributable to the late 10th century, while the other temples in their present state of preservation range from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Although some earlier remains, such as painted chörten, carved wooden door-frames, and stone bases of pillars are preserved in the other monuments as well, some of these most likely represent cases of re-usage.

Tabo was the first monastery in the western Himalayas to become the focus of extensive scholarly research, several reports about Tabo monastery and particularly its oldest temple, the Main Temple, having been published as early as 1935 (Giuseppe Tucci, the reference below is to the English translation). However, only in recent years has it again been possible for non-Indians to resume research there. A detailed study of the monastery was possible thanks to permission from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) but above all to the helpful and understanding attitude of the abbot and monks of Tabo.

  • Tucci, Giuseppe (1988) The Temples of Western Tibet and their Artistic Symbolism. Indo-Tibetica III.1: The Monasteries of Spiti and Kunavar. Shata-Pitaka Series, Vol. 350, edited by Lokesh Chandra. New Delhi, Aditya Prakashan.

Painted Chörten

Among the remains within the sacred compound of Tabo the extremely fragmentary and hitherto unpublished painted chörten with an early representation of Padmasambhava is of special interest. In this depiction, Padmasambhava is flanked by eight mahāsiddha, each of them holding a skull-cup (kapāla). Other interesting paintings in this chörten include esoteric Buddhas in yab yum, six of the eight medicine Buddhas, an interesting range of teacher depictions, Vajrakīlaya and a raven-headed protector with attendant.

Painted Chörten