Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh
The Namgyal Monastery is among the world’s most important Buddhist monastaries. Since the mid-20th century, it has served as the home-in-exile of the Dalai Lama, one of the most important Buddhist leaders (and religious leaders for that matter) in the world. A relatively humble complex compared to the massive palace in Lhasa, Tibet, the Namgyal Monastery is nevertheless a large and impressive institution. It is not only a home for the Dalai Lama, but also a school and refuge for monks as well as a pilgrimage center for Buddhists the world over.
The region of the Himlaya Mountains known as Tibet is one of the world’s oldest centers of Buddhism. Buddhist kingdoms have existed in the area since ancient times, and a Buddhist Empire which covered much of Central Asia throve here in the 8th and 9th centuries AD. Not surprisingly, Tibet was an important center of Buddhist teaching and monasticism. In the 14th and 15th centuries a new Buddhist order emerged: the Gelug, also known as the Yellow Hats.
Among its earliest teachers and leaders was Gendun Drup, who later became the First Dalai Lama (this honor was bestowed after his death). Over time, the Gelug became increasingly concentrated at Lhasa, which eventually became not only the center of Yellow Hat activities but also the capital of Tibet. It remained the home of the Dalai Lamas and one of the most important centers of Buddhism until well into the 20th century.
After World War II, conflict and revolution wracked much of Central Asia, including Tibet and its neighbor, China. Tibet was incorporated into China in 1950 following the Communist Revolution. Life was difficult for the Gelug after this. In 1959, following a local uprising in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama himself was forced to flee. He traveled to India, where the Yellow Hats went about rebuilding their order and their lives.
The Dalai Lama (the 14th of the line) settled at the Namgyal Monastery. This monastery had been established by the third Dalai Lama in 1571. A relatively small cloister for much of its history, the Namgyal has grown rapidly in size and importance since the early 1960s. Over the last few decades, the small group of monks in exile have slowly began to expand their activities again, establishing new schools and monasteries around the world.
The Namgyal Monastery is a contemplative place, much more understated than the immense palace that the Dalai Lama lived in in Lhasa. Compared to the massive, intricately built religious monuments that can be found all over Himachal Pradesh, it is easily overlooked by more hurried visitors. It consists of a simple complex of a few buildings, the largest being just a few stories, that serve the current community of about two hundred monks.
The Namgyal Monastery is located on the northern outskirts of Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains, approximately 280 miles north of New Delhi. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.namgyal.org (official website of the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies).
Dharamsala is all about the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans in exile, and there are a number of sites in town related to these. Among these is the Nechung Monastery and the Institue of Buddhist Studies. Also in Dharamsala is the Residence of the Dalai Lama, but access to this site is extremely limited. Also in Dharamsala are the Bhagsu-Nag Temple, the Dip-Tse-Chok-Ling Monastery, and the Tsulagkhang Monastery. Two other major Buddhist monasteries are nearby in Tabo and Tashding.