Paro Taktsang (Dzongkha: སྤ་གྲོ་སྟག་ཚང་,
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
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. It
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.
1.1 Background and legends
1.2 Establishment as a meditation site
1.3 17th century to present: The modern monastery
1.4 Fire destruction
3.1.1 Other structures within the precincts
5 Further reading
6 External links
Background and legends
According to the legend related to this Taktsang (which in Tibetan
language is spelt [clarification needed] (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
Padmasambhava founder of the meditations cave. Wall painting on
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
Wider view of the cliffside
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
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
Padmasambhava 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
Buddhism and the Nyingmapa school of Mahayana
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.
Milarepa (1040–1123), who meditated at the cave in Taktsang
From the 11th century, many Tibetan saints and eminent figures came to
Taktsang to meditate, including
Milarepa (1040–1123), Pha Dampa
Sangye (died 1117), the Tibetan yogini
Machig Labdrön (1055–1145)
Thangton Gyelpo (1385–1464). In the latter part of the 12th
century, the Lapa School was established in Paro. Between 12th and
17th centuries, many Lamas who came from
Tibet established their
monasteries in Bhutan. The first sanctuary to be built in the area
dates to the 14th century when Sonam Gyeltshen, a Nyingmapa lama of
the Kathogpa branch came from Tibet. The paintings he brought can
still be faintly discerned on a rock above the principal building
although there is no trace of the original one. The Taktsang Ugyen
Tsemo complex, which was rebuilt after a fire in 1958 is said to date
back to 1408. Taktsang remained under the authority of the Kathogpa
lamas for centuries until the mid 17th century.
17th century to present: The modern monastery
Tsechu – Dance of the Black Hat monks initiated by Pema Ligpa of
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
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
In due time, he established himself in
Bhutan as a 'model of
rulership' and was known as the "Shabdrung" with full authority. He
wanted to establish an edifice at the Taktsang Pel Phuk site. It was
during a Tibetan invasion of
Bhutan in 1644-46 that Shabdrung and his
Tibetan Nyingmapa teacher gTer-ston Rig-’dzin sNying-po had invoked
Padmasambhava and the protective deities at Taktsang to give them
success over the invaders. He performed the bka’ brgyad dgongs
’dus rituals associated with the celebrations of Tshechu.
the war against
Tibet However, Shabdrung was not able to build a
temple at Takstsang to celebrate the event, even though he very much
wanted to do so.
The wish of Shabdrung to build a temple here, however, was fulfilled
during the 4th Druk Desi
Tenzin Rabgye (1638–96), the first, and
only successor of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (Zhabs-drung Ngag-dbang
rNam-rgyal), "a distant cousin from a collateral line descending from
the 15th century ‘crazy saint’ Drukpa Kunley". During his visit to
the sacred cave of Taktsang Pel Phuk during the
Tshechu season of 1692
he laid the foundation for building the temple dedicated to Guru
Rinpoche called the ‘Temple of the Guru with Eight Names’ (’gu
ru mtshan brgyad lha-khang). It was a decision taken by Tenzin Rabgye
while standing at the cave overlooking the Paro valley. At this time,
he was leading the
Tshechu festival of religious dances. At that
time the only temples reported to be in existence, at higher
elevations, were the Zangdo Pelri (Zongs mdog dPalri) and Ugyen Tsemo
On April 19, 1998, a fire broke out in the main building of the
monastery complex, which contained valuable paintings, artifacts and
statues. The fire is believed to have been caused by electrical
short-circuiting or flickering butter lamps lighting the hanging
tapestries. A monk also died during the fire. The restoration works
were undertaken at an estimated cost of 135 million ngultrum. The
Bhutan and the then King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye
Wangchuck, oversaw the restoration of the damaged monastery and its
contents in 2005.
Cloud cover around the monastery
The monastery is located 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to the north of
Paro and hangs on a precarious cliff at 3,120 metres (10,240 ft),
about 900 metres (3,000 ft) above the Paro valley, on the right
side of the Paro Chu (‘chu’ Bhutanese means ”river or
water”.]). The rock slopes are very steep (almost vertical)
and the monastery buildings are built into the rock face. Though it
looks formidable, the monastery complex has access from several
directions, such as the northwest path through the forest, from the
south along the path used by devotees, and from the north (access over
the rocky plateau, which is called the “Hundred Thousand Fairies”
known as Bumda (hBum-brag). A mule track leading to it passes through
pine forest that is colorfully festooned with moss and prayer flags.
On many days, clouds shroud the monastery and give an eerie feeling of
Pine forest in the area
Near the beginning of the trail is a water-powered prayer wheel, set
in motion by a flowing stream. The water that is touched by the wheel
is said to become blessed and carries its purifying power into all
life forms in the oceans and lakes that it feeds into. On the
approach path to the monastery, there is a Lakhang (village level
monastery) and a temple of Urgyan Tsemo ("U-rgyan rTse-mo") which,
like the main monastery, is located on a rocky plateau with a
precipitous projection of several hundred feet over the valley. From
this location, the monastery’s buildings are on the opposite ravine,
which is known by the name “Copper-Colored Mountain Paradise of
Padmasambhava”. This is the view point for visitors and there is a
cafeteria to provide refreshments. The trek beyond this point is
very scenic with the sound of the water fall breaking the silence.
Along the trek route blue pine trees, prayer flags and kiosks selling
paraphernalia for worship (such as prayer wheels, temple bells and
skulls) are seen. The route is scattered with number of temples. On
this path, a large water fall, which drops by 60 metres (200 ft)
into a sacred pool, is forded over by a bridge. The track terminates
at the main monastery where colorful paintings are displayed. Guru
Rinpoche's cave where he meditated is also seen. This cave is opened
for public viewing only once a year.
Tiger's Nest temples
The monastery buildings consist of four main temples and residential
shelters ideally designed by adapting to the rock (granite) ledges,
the caves and the rocky terrain. Out of the eight caves, four are
comparatively easy to access. The cave where Padmasmabhava first
entered, riding the Tiger, is known as 'Tholu Phuk' and the original
cave where he resided and did meditation is known as the 'Pel Phuk'.
He directed the spiritually enlightened monks to build the monastery
here. The monastery is so precariously perched that it is said: "it
clings to the side of the mountain like a gecko". The main cave is
entered through a narrow passage. The dark cave houses a dozen images
Bodhisattvas and butter lamps flicker in front of these idols. An
elegant image of
Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) is also deified here. In
an adjoining small cell, the sacred scripture is placed; the
importance of this scripture is that it has been scripted with gold
dust and the crushed bone powder of a divine Lama. It is also said
that the monks who practice
Buddhism (the formal State
Religion of Bhutan) at this cave monastery live here for three years
and seldom go down to the Paro valley.
All the buildings are interconnected through steps and stairways made
in rocks. There are a few rickety wooden bridges along the paths and
stairways also to cross over. The temple at the highest level has a
frieze of Buddha. Each building has a balcony, which provides lovely
views of the scenic Paro valley down below. The Monasteries have
ancient history of occupation by monks, as hermitages.
Other structures within the precincts
Taktshang Zangdo Pari is the place where Padmasmbahava’s wife, known
as the “Fairy of Wisdom”, Yeshe Tshogyal (Ye-shes mtsho-rgyal),
the founder of the Mon, a convent, by the same name as Taktshang and
also two other convents. The present caretaker of the place is said to
be an old nun supported by a young trainee.
Another important place near the shrine is the Urgyan Tsemo, the
“Peak of Urgyan” which has a small Mani Lakhang. The prayer wheel,
turned by an old monk, resounds with chimes that are heard every day
at 4 am. Above the Urgyan is the holy cave temple known as 'Phaphug
Lakhang' (dPal-phug IHa-khang), which is the main shrine of the
Taktshang. It is also the residence of the Head Lama, Karma Thupden
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).
The holy hill is drawn in the backdrop with four faces painted with
different colors – the east face is in crystal white color, the
south face is yellow, the west is in red color and the north has green
color. The palace has four sides and eight corners with its lower and
upper tiers adorned with jewels. The courtyard with four enclosures is
said to represent four kinds of conduct. The walls are built with
bricks, balconies have been bejewelled with religious symbols. The
ambience is shown in the form of wishing trees, fountains of the water
of life, rain bows in five colors with cloud formations and light
emanating from lotus flowers. The palace is also shown with a throne
with eight corners fully and curiously bejewelled. Padmasmbahva is
shown sitting on a pure stalk of lotus emitting divine energy
appearing “divine, charitable, powerful, or fierce”.
Further detailing depicted on the four faces and eight corners, are
five kinds of Buddhas suppressing the vicious demons (performing four
pious deeds) and placed on thrones that are mounted over the stooping
demons. The demons and Khadoms are depicted adorned and seated on four
petalled and four faced thrones “adorned with necromantic
attributes” enjoying a good time; the Khadoms are seen on the
four-sided courtyard of the palace and also on all side walls.
The scene is further embellished around the Guru Rinpoche
(Padmashambahava) image and also in the palace, with gods and
goddesses in the heavens, with gate keepers at the four gates with an
army of messengers and servants; all trying to crush the demons to
dust. The supporting staff shown are said to represent the Himalayan
tribes of pre-Buddhist periods.
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^ a b c d e Ardussi, John A. (1999). "
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Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye and the
Founding of Taktsang Lhakhang" (pdf). Journal of
Thimphu: Centre for
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^ Williamson, Teresa Rodriguez (2007). Fly Solo: The 50 Best Places on
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Workman Publishing. p. 441. ISBN 0-7611-0484-4. Retrieved
2010-04-19. Taktsang, the Tiger’s nest is a destination of treks
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silence except a water fall…
^ Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Most Peaceful and
Powerful ... Taktsang. National Geographic Books. 2008. p. 367.
ISBN 978-1-4262-0336-7. Retrieved 2010-04-19. … climbing
through blue pines and rhododendrons, past Buddhist flags, prayer
wheels and make shift stalls selling temple bells and skulls for
ritual offerings. Temples are scattered all over the hills…Beyond
this view point garlanded in flags, the trail plunges straight down to
a bridge across a 60 m waterfall cascades into a sacred pool. After
the climb the main sanctuary greets you with bright paintings on the
walls. Here you will find Guru Rimpoche’s meditation cave, open once
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Bhutan 2005. ISBN 99936-617-1-6
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Bellows, Keith (2008). Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's
Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations. Washington, D.C.: National
Geographic Society. ISBN 978-1-4262-0336-7.
Media related to
Paro Taktsang at Wikimedia Commons
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