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Inner courtyard of Rinchenling Gompa.

The Ancient Tibetan Monastery of Rinchenling Gompa

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The Rinchenling Gompa is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Nepal. This monastery can be found in the Limi Valley, which is situated on Nepal’s north-western border with Tibet. Due to its proximity with Tibet, it is the Tibetan language that is spoken by the people of the Limi Valley.

In addition, Tibetan, rather than Nepali traditions are practiced in this area. Rinchenling Gompa, and the Limi Valley, in general, are said to be such remote places which is seldom visited by travelers, mainly due to the difficulty to reaching this place. Whilst the Rinchenling Gompa and its surrounding area have escaped the detrimental effects of being overcrowded by tourists, they have, in recent years, been threatened by flooding as a result of climate change.

Halji village and its cultivated terraces covered by snow.

Halji village and its cultivated terraces covered by snow. ( Stanford.edu)

Foundation of the Rinchenling Gompa

According to tradition, the Rinchenling Gompa was founded by Rinchen Zangpo either during the 10th or 11th century AD. Rinchen Zangpo is best remembered for the role he played in the translation of Buddhist texts into the Tibetan language. He was a prominent figure of the ‘Second Dissemination’, a period beginning in the first half of the 11th century AD which saw the reintroduction of Buddhism into Tibet. Apart from providing the people of Tibet with Buddhist texts in a language that they can understand, Rinchen Zangpo also built places where Buddhism could be studied and propagated to the public, i.e. temples and monasteries.  

Richen Zangpo.

Richen Zangpo. ( Public Domain )

Therefore, Rinchen Zangpo’s fame is not limited to his translation of Buddhist texts. He contributed greatly to the construction of Buddhist temples and monasteries during his lifetime. Legends say that Rinchen Zangpo built a total of 108 temples. This number is used by Tibetans to signify a large amount. Whilst it is difficult to verify the claim that the Rinchenling Gompa was one of the religious buildings built by Rinchen Zangpo, radiocarbon dating of the Vairocana statue inside the monastery has shown that it was made during the early 11th century AD. Therefore, it is plausible that this monastery was built by the Tibetan translator.

The Monastery

The Rinchenling Gompa is a three-store structure located in the middle of Halji village. The houses surrounding the monastery are of about the same height as this religious structure. The two, however, may be distinguished by the monastery’s golden spires. The Rinchenling Gompa occupies an area of 36 m x 32 m (118.1 x 104.9 ft.), and surrounds a rectangular open courtyard. The primary rooms used for religious functions can be found on the upper two stories of the monastery’s northern side. These include the assembly halls, the library, and the store room for ceremonial objects.

In the central room on the second floor (northern side).

In the central room on the second floor (northern side). ( Stanford.edu)

The monks’ quarters, kitchens, and store rooms for ordinary objects can be found on the ground floor surrounding the four sides of the courtyard. One exception is a room underneath the assembly hall on the north side. This room measures about 6 m x 6 m x 6 m (19 x 19 x 19 ft.), and contains a large four-fold image of Vairocana. This statue is surrounded on three sides by bodhisattvas.

Representation of Vairocana (who symbolizes the mirror-like wisdom of the Buddha′s enlightenment) in a four-fold composition located on the ground floor of the gompa.

Representation of Vairocana (who symbolizes the mirror-like wisdom of the Buddha′s enlightenment) in a four-fold composition located on the ground floor of the gompa. ( Stanford.edu)

A Site in a Possible Path of Destruction

On one side of the mountain range surrounding the Limi Valley are a series of glacial lakes that had formed as a result of melting ice from higher up on the mountain. It has been reported that in early 2006, these glacial lakes began to burst, which could potentially cause flooding to the land below it. In June 2011, such a flood occurred, which washed away part of the Halji village. Whilst several houses in the village were destroyed, there was no loss of human life. Additionally, the Rinchenling Gompa was spared from destruction. Nevertheless, such floods may occur again in the future, and the monastery may not be so lucky then.           

Central section of Halji with the Rinchenling Gompa.

Central section of Halji with the Rinchenling Gompa. ( Stanford.edu)

Featured image: Inner courtyard of Rinchenling Gompa. Source: Stanford.edu

By Ḏḥwty

References

Church, M. & Wiebenga, M., 2008. A four-fold Vairocana in the Rinchen Zangpo tradition at Halji in Nepal. [Online]
Available at: https://www.asianart.com/articles/halji/index.html

Crews, C., 2015. When the Anthropocene Came to Halji. [Online]
Available at: http://www.stateofformation.org/2015/01/when-the-anthropocene-came-to-halji/

Gardner, A., 2011. Rinchen Zangpo. [Online]
Available at: http://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Rinchen-Zangpo/10199

jeremyberke, 2016. Rinchenling Gompa. [Online]
Available at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/rinchenling-gompa

The Great Himalaya Trail, 010. Gompas and festivals in Limi Valley, Humla, West Nepal. [Online]
Available at: http://dev.thegreathimalayatrail.org/1353/gompas-and-festivals-in-limi-valley-humla-west-nepal/

The Great Himalaya Trail, 2010. Introduction to the Limi Valley in Humla, West Nepal. [Online]
Available at: http://dev.thegreathimalayatrail.org/1344/introduction-to-limi-valley/

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