Tamshing Lhundrup Choling

Tamshing is a small one-storey temple surrounded by monastic and village dwellings. From Tamshing monastery there is an excellent view of the Kurje complex on the other side of the river. A little bit north of Tamshing, a footbridge crosses the river and from there, it is only a ten-minute walk to Kurje.
Today, the monastery suffers from precarious conditions of conservation. Amongst other problems, due to roof leakages, the wall paintings are now becoming detached from the mud plaster of the walls and require urgent restoration

Tamshing, is one of the most historically, spiritually and culturally significant monasteries in Bhutan. Built in the early sixteenth century, it has maintained living Vajrayana Buddhist traditions for over five hundred years. The founder of Tamshing, Pema Lingpa (1450 – 1521), is considered a great saint and spiritual master in both the Bhutanese and Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist traditions. Moreover, Tamshing is also a great centre of Bhutanese sacred masked dance, and Pema Lingpa himself introduced many of the sacred dances that remain a vibrant part of the monastic dance repertory throughout the region.
Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in 1501 (completed in 1505) by Pema Lingpa, contains paintings of fundamental interest for the history of painting in this region. It is also, along with Gangtey Gonpa in the Black Mountains and Drametse Gonpa in the East, one of the only places where Pema Lingpa’s tradition of religious teachings still continues today.
The temple was restored at the end of the 19th century, probably at the time of the 8th reincarnation of Pema Lingpa, by Kunzang Tenpe Nyima (1843–1891), since he is the last historical personage to figure in the paintings. He was the first king’s uncle. The temple itself is made up of a vestibule and two sanctuaries, one above the other, with a path for circumambulation running around the sanctuaries.
In the 1990s a building and toilet facilities have been built with the help of a European donor, thus allowing the children and the monks to live in healthier conditions and from 2000, more buildings were restored through other Bhutanese donors. The temple is owned by the Tamshing family descending from Pema Lingpa, but the monastic school residing there functions independently and Tamshing is the seat of two incarnations of Pema Lingpa lineages, the Sungtrul and the Thuksey.

Architectural style / school and related art works
Built in stones with a circumambulation path around the sanctuaries, Tamshing is typical of the architectural style pre-17th c.
Ground Floor: The 36 paintings in the vestibule on the ground floor date from the same period as the construction of the temple (early 16th c.) and are still in relatively good condition.
Since they are probably the oldest extant paintings in Bhutan, they are of enormous interest for the history of both art and religion, and by some miracle they have escaped the repaintings which are so frequently sponsored by the faithful as acts of piety. Each painting consists of a central figure surrounded by smaller personages who form his entourage and are placed on either side in small horizontal compartments. The colours are evenly applied and the lines are drawn firmly and clearly. All the figures conform to the iconographic canons laid down by Pema Lingpa.
In the circumambulation path itself , the paintings cannot be accurately dated. On the interior wall they represent Pema Lingpa’s lineage and on the exterior wall the Sixteen Arhats separated by the Buddha of Medicine.
The sanctuary on the lower floor is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche and his Eight Manifestations. The right-hand wall displays paintings of the Norbu Gyamtsho, a lineage of Guru Rinpoche particular to Pema Lingpa. The left-hand wall has the lineage of Pema Lingpa himself, ending with this eighth incarnation, Kunzang Tenpe Nyima (1843–1891). These paintings were restored at the initiative of the senior wife of the Second King, Ashi Phuntsho Chogron (1911–2003).
Upper Floor: The ceiling of the upper floor is extremely low. It is said that Pema Lingpa was a short man and that his measurements were used as the gauge for the temple. The upper floor would thus have been scaled to his size.
The first paintings in the left-hand gallery are of the Thousand Buddhas followed by the Twenty-One Taras, feminine emanations of Avalokiteshvara. The outside wall of the circumambulation path is covered with pictures of the Three Bodies of Buddha (Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara and Padmasambhava). They are simple figures elegantly drawn in yellow on a red background. On the inner wall are paintings of the religious cycle called Sampa Lhundrup, very popular with the Nyingmapas, in which 13 protecting forms of Guru Rinpoche are represented.
Next, the Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas are painted in a landscape of green hills. The right side of the gallery is taken up by a continuation of the Thousand Buddha images. The western part of the gallery over the entrance is occupied by the Gonkhang, the temple of fearsome deities.
The main temple of the upper floor is dedicated to Buddha Amitayus whose statue graces the inner sanctuary. The right hand wall is decorated with a painting of the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra, coloured dark blue. He is surrounded by the Four Bodhisattvas and several eminent Nyingmapa lamas, among them Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–92) and Kongtrul Lodroe Thaye (1813–99). The left-hand wall has a painting of Buddha Vajrasattva coloured white, holding a diamond-thunderbolt and a bell; he is surrounded by the other Four Bodhisattvas. Like the paintings in the sanctuary below, these date from the end of the 19th century.
In the vestibule in front of the ground floor sanctuary there is a coat of mail attributed to Pema Lingpa, who had knowledge of metallurgy. Tradition says that if a person walks three times around the sanctuary wearing this heavy coat of mail, a part of his sins will be wiped away.

Social cultural function
A small monastic community from the Pema Lingpa religious lineage which came from the mother-monastery of Lhalung in Lhodrak (southern Tibet) in 1959 settled at Tamshing. Today, the religious community of Tamshing consists of approximately 100 monks who provide training to the novices and members of the local community receiving schooling at the monastery and nearby Konchogsum Shedra.
In the 8th Bhutanese month, a festival called Phala choedpa takes place in the courtyard and unique ritual dances which follow the tradition established by Pemalingpa himself, are performed for 3 days.
Tamshing is also a place of daily worship for villagers and many personal rituals are performed in the temples.

For more details on Tamshing, see Y. Imaeda and F. Pommaret “Le Monastère de Tamshing au Bhoutan Central” in Arts Asiatiques, t.XLII (Paris, 1987) 19-30; and M. Aris “The Temple-Palace of Gtam Zhing as described by its Founder” in Arts Asiatiques, t.XLIII (Paris, 1988) 33-9.

(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)