Location of Rumtek Monastery
Rumtek Monastery is located in the eastern part of Sikkim, 24 kilometres away from state capital Gangtok. It is situated at an altitude of about 5,500 feet (1,547 metres) above mean sea level.
History of Rumtek Monastery
After the Chinese invasion in Tibet, His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, was forced to flee to India. He arrived in Sikkim in 1959 and chose Rumtek, over other sites, to be his main seat in exile, perceiving the site to possess many auspicious qualities and surrounded by the most favourable attributes, like the flowing streams, mountains behind, a snow range in front and a river below. The monastery in Rumtek was originally constructed by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje in 1740, and continued to be the main abode of the Karma Kagyu lineage in Sikkim for some time. When the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje arrived in Sikkim, the monastery was in a state of ruins, but he decided to rebuild it and bring it back to its lost glory. He began the construction work of the new monastery in 1961 and was assisted in his effort by the Sikkim Royal family as well as the Indian Government. The construction work was completed in 1966. Finally, on the Tibetan New Year’s day (Losar) in 1966, the inauguration of the new seat called, “The Dharmachakra Centre, a place of erudition and spiritual accomplishment, the seat of the glorious Karmapa”, was officially accomplished by the 16th Karmapa.
Architecture of Rumtek Monastery
The main temple at the Rumtek Monastery, surrounded by the monks’ quarters, is a four-storey structure with a golden sculpture, the Ghanzira, adorning the rooftop. The ‘ghanzira’ is a combination of five distinct shapes representing the five Tathagata (Buddha) families namely Amithaba; the wheel, Vairochana; the bell, Amoghasiddhi; the vase, Akshobya; and the jewel, Ratnasambhava. The main entrance to the temple is decorated with traditional colourful murals. Huge life size images of the Four Guardians of the universe namely, Virudaka, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra and Vaishravana stand guarding the four directions. Also, what is instantly noticeable is the painting of a Hindu God, Lord Ganesha. He finds a place here because of the vision of the 16th Karmapa in which he saw the elephant headed deity aiding the construction work.
The main shrine hall inside stands on strong red pillars with long, round silk banners and ancient ‘thankas’ suspended from them. The walls of the hall are replete with paintings of the Kagyu lineage, the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, the Sixteen Arhats and the Genduk Chogngi. The holy throne of the Gyalwa Karmapa, together with the thrones for his regents and other high incarnate ‘tulkus’ is the highlight of the room. Behind the holy throne, a 10-feet large statue of Sakyamuni Buddha along with Shariputra and Mangalputra are positioned. Initially, the space was occupied by a large painting of Buddha, however, in 1989, the hall room was enlarged and the painting had to be shifted to another location. Two rooms in the right and rear of the main shrine hall are dedicated to the Mahakal and Mahakali. The hall on the left side serves as the ‘gonkhang’ of the female protector of the Kagyu sect, Tsering Che Nga and the manifestation of Guru Padmasambava, Dorje Drolo.
Within the monastery complex, behind the main shrine, are the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute of Buddhist Studies and the Golden Stupa. Opposite the institute entrance, a small hall houses the 4m high Golden Stupa, which contains the ashes of the 16th Karmapa, who died in 1981. Behind the stupa, the statue of Dorje Chang (Vajradhara) stands in the centre with four great Kagyu preachers namely Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Milerapa on his sides. The statues of the preceding Karmapas are also seen arranged on the sides of the hall.
Festivals in Rumtek Monastery
At Rumtek Monastery, a puja ceremony is conducted for one or two weeks. The Tibetan New Year day, Losar, is celebrated with much enthusiasm. The celebration of Losar is preceded by the monks of the monastery performing a week long puja in honour of Mahakal. Ritual dances take place on the last two days proceeding the eve of Losar. The performances of dances were opened for public viewing recently, for the first time in the history of the monastery.
The Dungdrub Puja, organised during the 4th Tibetan lunar month, sees the recitation of a 100 million mantras by the monk community. The recitation begins on the 15th day and continues till the final conclusion. The puja is conducted for world peace and to assist people develop tranquillity and compassion by embracing Buddha’s teachings. Every alternate year, a weeklong Vajrakilaya (dubchen) or Guru Padmasambhava Tsechu puja together with traditional Chaam performances, is organised in the 4th Tibetan month (May to June). Apart from these, cultural programmes are also performed commemorating the birthday of the 17th Karmapa, on June 26 every year.
Visiting Information to Rumtek Monastery
Rumtek Monastery is accessible from Bagdogra which is the nearest airport to Rumtek Monastery at a distance of 124 kms. New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railhead at a distance of 134 kms. NH 31 is the highway connecting between Kolkata and Gangtok, via Teesta Bazaar and Rangpo. Apart from this, buses also ply from Bagdogra, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kolkata, to Gangtok from where Rumtek is at a distance of 24 kms southeast.