Paro Taktsang also known as the Taktsang Palphug Monastery and the Tiger’s Nest), is a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and the temple complex is located in the cliffside of the upper Paro valley in Bhutan.
A temple complex was first built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. Padmasambhava is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan and is the tutelary deity of the country. Today, Paro Taktsang is the best known of the thirteen taktsang or “tiger lair” caves in which he meditated.
The temple devoted to Padmasambhava (also known as Gu-ru mTshan-brgyad Lhakhang, “the Temple of the Guru with Eight Names”) is an elegant structure built around the cave in 1692 by Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye; and has become the cultural icon of Bhutan.A popular festival, known as the Tsechu, held in honor of Padmasambhava, is celebrated in the Paro valley sometime during March or April.
Background and legends
According to the legend related to this Taktsang (which in Tibetan language is spelt(stag tshang) which literally means “Tiger’s lair”, it is believed that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress from Khenpajong.This place was consecrated to tame the Tiger demon.
Guru Padmasambhava founder of the meditations cave. Wall painting on Paro Bridge.
An alternative legend holds that a former wife of an emperor, known as Yeshe Tsogyal, willingly became a disciple of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambahva) in Tibet. She transformed herself into a tigress and carried the Guru on her back from Tibet to the present location of the Taktsang in Bhutan. In one of the caves here, the Guru then performed meditation and emerged in eight incarnated forms (manifestations) and the place became holy. Subsequently, the place came to be known as the “Tiger’s Nest”.
The popular legend of the Taktsang monastery is further embellished with the story of Tenzin Rabgye, who built the temple here in 1692. It has been mentioned by authors that the 8th century guru Padmasmabhava had reincarnated again in the form of Tenzin Rabgye. The corroborative proofs mooted are: that Tenzin Rabgye was seen (by his friends) concurrently inside and outside his cave; even a small quantity of food was adequate to feed all visitors; no one was injured during worship (in spite of the approach track to the monastery being dangerous and slippery); and the people of the Paro valley saw in the sky various animal forms and religious symbols including a shower of flowers that appeared and also vanished in the air without touching the earth.
Establishment as a meditation site
As noted before, the monastery was built around the Taktsang Senge Samdup (stag tshang seng ge bsam grub) cave, where custom holds that the Indian Guru Padmasambahva meditated in the 8th century. He flew to this place from Tibet on the back of Yeshe Tsogyal, whom he transformed into a flying tigress for the purpose and landed at the cliff, which he “anointed” as the place for building a monastery. He established Buddhism and the Nyingmapa school of Mahayana Buddhism in Bhutan, and has been considered the “protector saint of Bhutan”. Later, Padmasmbahva visited Bumthang district to subdue a powerful deity offended by a local king. Padmasambhava’s body imprint is stated to be imprinted on the wall of a cave near Kurje Lhakhang temple. In 853, Langchen Pelkyi Singye came to the cave to meditate and gave his name of Pelphug to the cave, “Pelkyi’s cave”.After he died later in Nepal, his body was said to have been miraculously returned to the monastery by the grace of the deity Dorje Legpa; it is now said to be sealed in a chorten in a room to the left at the top of the entrance stairway.The chorten was restored in 1982-83 and again in 2004.
17th century to present: The modern monastery
Tsechu – Dance of the Black Hat monks initiated by Pema Ligpa of Bumthang
In the 17th century the well-known Tertön Pema Lingpa of Bumthang, who founded many monasteries in various parts of Bhutan, was also instrumental in creating religious and secular dance forms from his conception of the ‘Zandog Pelri’ (the Copper Colored mountain), which was the abode of the Guru Padmasambahva (which is the same place as the Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s nest). This dance is performed in Paro as the Tsche festival. But it was during the time of Ngawang Namgyal of the Drukpa subsect, who fled Tibet to escape persecution by the opposing sect of the Gelugpa order (which dominated Tibet under the Dalai Lamas), that an administrative mechanism was established in Bhutan.
Another view of the monastery
The “Copper-Coloured Mountain Paradise of Padmasambahva” (Zangdopari) is vividly displayed in a heart shape on every thangkha and also painted on the walls of the monastery as a constant reminder of the legend. The paintings are set on a pedestal that represents the realm of the King of Nagas amidst Dakinis (mKha-hgro-ma), and the pinnacle in the painting denotes the domain of Brahma. The paintings also depict Klu (Naga) demigods with a human head and the body of a serpent, which are said to reside in lakes (said to denote that they are guarding the hidden treasures). Allegorically, they mean to represent the spiritual holy writings. The paintings also show what is termed as “Walkers in the Sky” (mKha-hgro-ma).
On 15 April 2016, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton trekked for three hours to reach the monastery, while in the country on a visit.Prince Charles, William’s father, who wanted to visit this monastery could not make this trek in 1998 due an injury he suffered in a polo match but he made a scenic painting of the monastery in watercolors from further down the path.