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A Brief History of Ladakh

Saturday, 06 June 2009 11:54

Ladakh was a part of the Kushan empire approximately in the 1st century AD. One century later, Buddhism was spread into western Ladakh via Kashmir, at which time much of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet was still practicing the Bon religion. Located on one of the Silk Routes, Ladakh became a very important and prosperous trade center, where traders from the west and east met.

In 842 AD, after the break-up of the Tibetan empire, Nyima-Gon who was a member of the Tibetan royal family, annexed Ladakh for himself and founded an independent Ladakhi dynasty. During this period, Ladakhi culture and traditions became heavily influenced by their Tibetan counterparts. The dynasty spearheaded the "Second Spreading of Buddhism", inviting masters from north-west India, particularly from Kashmir, to revive Buddhist teachings in Ladakh. The Indian Mahasiddha Naropa established the first monastery in Ladakh at Lamayuru in the 10th century.

A wall mural of Rinchen Zangpo (955-1055) in Alchi monastery In 11th century AD, the Buddhist scholar Rinchen Zangpo, who was sent by Ladakhi King Yeshe-O to learn Buddhism in Kashmir and other Buddhist centers in Northern India, established 108 Buddhist monasteries throughout western Tibet and Ladakh. The monastery at Alchi, with its Kashmiri style of artwork, is probably the best surviving example of the Indian Buddhism iconography of that period. Many of the early monasteries in Ladakh, including Alchi, were attributed to Rinchen Zangpo, who also became known as the great translator.

In the following centuries, the Ladakhi kings extended their ruling territory. Lhachen Utpala (1080-1110 AD) expanded his kingdom up to the realm of the related dynasties of Purang and Mustang (in present-day Nepal). New importance was attached to the culture of the Ladakhi monks when the reform sect of the Gelugpa created by Tsongkhapa led to the reestablishment


A Brief History of Ladakh

Saturday, 06 June 2009 11:54

of monasteries, such as Thiksey, Likir and Spituk, in the 15th century.

In the following two centuries until about 1600 AD, Ladakh was subject to raids and invasions from neighboring Balti-Kashmir armies, leading to weakening and fracturing of Ladakh and partial conversion of Ladakhis, who until then were predominantly Buddhists, to Muslims.

In 1470, King Lhachen Bhagan of Basgo (Lower Ladakh), a distant cousin of the then ruling king of Ladakh (king of Leh, or Upper Ladakh), reunited Ladakh and founded the Namgyal (meaning "victorious") dynasty, which survives even today. His descendent Sengye Namgyal (1570-1642) invited the great Buddhist master, Taktsang Repa (the first Taktsang Rinpoche), to Ladakh and assisted the Drukpa Lineage to establish monasteries in Hemis and Stakna. In fact, a few centuries earlier, Gyalwa Gotsangpa, one of the most accomplished disciples of the first Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211 AD), had already visited Ladakh and its surrounding regions several times and founded many cave monasteries. Since then, the successive reincarnations of Taktsang Repa and his accomplished disciples have been guiding the Ladakhi people in their spiritual practice and many of them became great yogis who attained enlightenment within one lifetime.

The descendents of the Namgyal dynasty are still regarded as the rulers of Ladakh by the people there, and the Queen of Stok has been a member of the Indian Parliament.

N.B.: The above is a very simplified version of history of Ladakh. It does not cover in-depth the political history which is available in most websites on Ladakh.