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Alchi temple complex, also known as “Alchi Chokhor”, “Alchi monastery” Levy, Rachel


The Alchi temple complex is one of the earliest and most culturally significant (wc) Buddhist sites in the western Himalayas. It is located in the Leh district of Ladakh in the present-day state of Jammu-Kashmir, India. The site consists of five temples and several stupas (chörtens) built between the eleventh/thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This was a period of political fragmentation and declining religious patronage in the kingdom of Tibeta, based in the central Tibetan plateau. As a result, the western Himalayas (Ngari) arose as the dominant political and religious authority. It also was an important nexus of trade and pilgrimage routes from neighboring Kashmir and central Tibet. During this period, religious and political elites sponsored production of new temples and monasteries in the region. These structures have become a primary trove for studying the period since there are few extant textual sources. The Alchi complex’s earliest two temples—called the Dukhang (“Assembly Hall”) and the Sumtsek (a three-storeyed temple) —were built shortly after this shift in power and provide valuable information about religious, political, and social aspects of the day. Local tradition holds that the Dukhang is one of 108 temples built under the auspices of renowned translator Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055). The date of the Sumtsek is the subject of ongoing scholarly debate. Some scholars posit an 11th-century date, whereas argue that it was bult in the 13th century. A painted panel depicting the nascent Drigung Kagyu lineage is central to this debate. There is a general consensus, however, that the Dukhang was built shortly before the Sumtsek. Each temple contains an inscription naming the temple’s founder. The Dukhang was founded by Kalden Sherab and the Sumtsek was founded by Tsultrim Ö, both members of the ruling Dro clan. The Dukhang and Sumtsek, as well as neighboring Sumda and Mangyu temples, share thematic and stylistic features. Collectively, these temples are called “The Alchi group.” These temples’ architecture is typical of central Tibetan structures, but their interior murals and sculptures are executed in a Kashmiri style, suggesting the artists were themselves Kashmiri. As such, the murals are a rare example of surviving Kashmiri painting. In addition to the overall Buddhist iconographic program, the murals depict patrons, devotees, and textiles which elucidate the material, cultural, and economic makeup of this well-connected political and religious authority. Today, Alchi is no longer an active monastery, but continues to draw pilgrims and tourists alike.

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