A Historical Treasure

The Tabo Entry Hall (Gokhang སྒོ་ཁང་) is a small, earth-coloured room dominated by two crudely made gatekeepers, but it contains one of the most fascinating treasures of early Tibetan art and history. The fragmentary remains of murals going back to the foundation of the temple include two inscribed assemblies of historical personages. In addition the Entry Hall contains a rich array of pan-Indian protective deities, fragments of a Wheel of Life, and a depiction of the cosmos. The paintings preserved here can be attributed to the foundation of the temple in late 10th century (c. 996 CE).

The documentation presented here in the ◊ Entry Hall galleries is extremely valuable today, as the Entry Hall has largely been repainted during a 'restoration' undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India. While the visibility of the Entry Hall's programme is owed to the cleaning by the ASI, the repainting has effectively made this evidence unreadable again.

East Wall

The entry wall on the east side is extremely fragmentary, but its overall programme can be largely be identified. On the north side are the fragments of a large Wheel of Life (bhavacakra), the earliest Tibetan depiction of this theme preserved. This wheel was originally held by four deities occupying the corners of the composition, only the upper left preserved. There, is also the obligatory Buddha depiction and the stanza of the Prātimoksasūtra. The wheel actually is a stream of water in which the beings in transmigration float from one life to the next. Of the realms of rebirth traces remain of the realm of the gods, the humans and the hells.

Above the door two larger seated protective deities are surrounded by beings engaged in those activities driven by the three poisons that keep beings in the cycle of rebirth (saṃsāra), while some are seeking refuge. Given the small size of these figures, in relation to the protectors it has been proposed that the latter depict Hārītī and Pancika, an identification that probably can never be proven conclusively.

On the south side of the entry wall are fragments of a large depiction of the cosmos. One can recognise the superimposed heavens, a palace presided over by a deity and the base of Mount Meru. More details have been added in the course of the repainting, but the validity of those remains unclear.

South Wall

The south wall is best preserved and features three rows of deities above and a large donor assembly below. The deities above are arranged in groups of eight that represent prominent gods, snake deities (nāga) and celestial bodies. Only some of them can be identified conclusively.

The donor assembly underneath is of utmost historical significance, as it identifies king Yeshé Ö and his two sons as well as all the prominent monks depicted on the right side. Rinchen Zangpo, two which the temple is traditionally attributed to is not among them.

West Wall

The two crude sculptures flanking the entrance to the Assembly Hall on the west wall today are certainly fairly recent. However, the remains of painted flames behind the images date to the late tenth century and make clear that there always have been protectors in this position. A number of holes in the wall where the wooden supports of the original sculptures were once anchored show that these were larger than those today. They must have made a lasting impression on the visitor inside this relatively small room.

Above the door eleven guardians of the directions (dikpāla) are represented in two superimposed rows to be read from right to left. Underneath them is the famous depiction of Winyumin ཝི་ཉུ་མྱིན་, the protectress of the temple, flanked by an all female retinue. Unfortunately, the central goddess is not preserved, but a caption identifies her.

North Wall

The north wall mirrors the south wall in composition, but not in preservation. There are the fragmentary remains of four rows of pan-Indian deities of which only one, Kārttikeya གཞོན་ནུ་ཀཱརྟི་ཀ་/གདོང་དྲུག་, can be identified on the basis of his six heads. Underneath is another large donor depiction of which only one side is preserved. The relationship of this assembly to that on the north side remains unclear, but one may assume that these are local dignitaries.