Jampa Gompa

Thubchen Gompa

Luri Gompa




Jampa and Thubchen are both exemplars of the Sakya-pa tradition of monastic architecture of the fifteenth century. Yet these two gompas, barely a hundred yards apart, conceived and commissioned by the same group of persons, their designs implemented and executed by the same (or similar) craftsmen and artists, do not replicate each other. Rather, they complement each other in concept, design, and function. While Jampa represents the mystical side of Buddhism, Thubchen expresses its philosophical aspect; Jampa, entirely painted with mandalas, embodies a mystical experience and esoteric, tantric teachings; Thubchen, its vast central prayer hall decorated with serene, elegant images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, offers a mainstream vision of Mahayana Buddhism.

In word as well as image, the innermost purpose of these great gompas is made clear--not, primarily, to glorify the gods, but to serve living beings. The gods cannot bestow the gift of enlightenment, but only show the way, through the teaching offered and embodied in the gompas. Their message is wisdom and compassion: the true means to relieve suffering, the true way to happiness. The inscriptions written on the walls of both gompas (see Appendix B: Inscriptions) proclaim that they were made in order to bring liberation and peace to all who come within, and even to those who cannot reach the gompas but can at least contemplate them and what they signify.

The spacious du-khang (assembly or prayer hall) of Thubchen permits the prototypical arrangement of rows of monks who sit facing each other for worship and recitation, at right angles to a wall along which are arranged holy statues and an altar bearing ritual objects used in worship. The design of Jampa is quite different, its main hall being a lha-khang (chapel) rather than a du-khang. Its interior space is interrupted by a massive statue of Jampa (Maitreya, the Buddha of the future), set within a huge well and projecting upward from a lower level. The remaining floor space is not sufficient to permit the traditional formal worship seating of the monastic community. This, and the mystical, tantric nature of its wall paintings, set Jampa apart as a sanctum for meditation.


The walls of both gompas are of sun-dried mud brick, rendered with earthen plasters; their interior walls and ceilings are plastered and the walls painted with an extensive program of decorative and iconographic paintings. Their floors are made of a material locally known as aka, a mixture of crushed stone and mud.

Their wall paintings were applied on dry walls rather than on wet plaster, and thus are technically not frescoes. The walls were prepared with a mixture of very fine sand mixed with several kinds of soil, as well as mud and crushed grass, and then coated with gum made from boiled skins to strengthen and compact the underlying coat. To this was added fine particles of crushed saligrams, ammonite fossils found in this region, which are held to be the footprints of Shiva--thus adding a mystical ingredient. Over this, another coat of powdered limestone and gum was applied. The pigments are based on mineral colors mixed with boiled yak skins and water, gum, and finely crushed stone. This mixture was allowed to dry in the sun, so that sedimentation occurred. From this colloidal solution, the water was then extracted. The large particles of stone were then removed, and the finer particles were crushed again to still finer powder. This process was repeated three times. Gold paint was used for many decorative details, such as the deities' ornaments.

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