Taktsang Lhamo Monastery (stag tshang lha mo dgon pa)

Taktsang Lhamo (stag tshang lha mo)/Kirti Monastery (ki rti dgon pa) was a monastic polity exercising joint political and religious rule of a wide area before 1949, based mainly in Dzörgé (mdzod dge; Dzögé in Standard Tibetan pronunciation) but extending into Ngawa (rnga ba) and Markham (smar khams) counties in Ngawa Prefecture and Sangchu (bsang chu), Luchu (klu chu), and Tewo (the bo) counties in Kanlho (kan lho) Prefecture.[1] Taktsang Lhamo seems to be the mother monastery of the Kirti Monastery in the same valley, as well as many other monasteries in Tewo. The two have not always cooperated though, as is clear from Ekvall’s account of his time there, in which he calls Kirti: Gurdi Monastery. What the extent of the monasteries control over the plains of Dzögé remains to be determined, though some sense of this might be extracted from Ekvall’s work.

Taktsang Lhamo is the most well-known among all Kirti monasteries. It was the base of the past ten Kirti Rinpochés for carrying out religious activities and thus it served as the mother monastery, despite the fact that Kala Mountain Retreat (kwa la ri ri khrod), which the first Kirti Rinpoché[2] founded at the beginning, is actually the mother monastery. Takstang Lhamo ruled two tsowa (tsho ba) directly and it had about 470 tawa (mtha’ ba)[3] households, or 1465 people.[4] There were twelve villages around the monastery and they were the monastery’s lhadé (lha sde)[5]. The highest leadership of the monastery was two people, namely Kirti Rinpoché and the Wönpo (dbon po). There were 17 reincarnate lamas at the monastery and each of them had their own residence (bla brang). As the highest lama of the monastery, Kirti Rinpoché exercised executive power over the religious and temporal affairs at the monastery, as well as the economic activities. The Wönpo was the main person in charge of administration and finances. Usually, this person would be a close relative of the lama. The position of the Wönpo at Kirti Monastery was hereditary and the first Wönpo was a relative of the first Kirti Rinpoché. Prior to 1950, Wönpo Nyerwa Sönam (dbon po gnyer ba bsod nams) held the absolute power over the monastery. As his title suggests, he was both Wönpo and Nyerwa (gnyer ba), whose job was to manage the resources of the monastery and look after the tawa villages. Moreover, he enjoyed a good relationship with Ma Bufang.

The influence of Kirti Monastery has extended to the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu. Kirti Monastery has eighteen monasteries under it. In principle, these monasteries were managed by their own lamas, but in practice the Wönpo controlled them all. The mother monastery appointed the lamas at these monasteries and important matters were reported to the mother monastery. It is important to note here that the relationship between Kirti Monastery and Labrang Monastery has not been a good one, especially since the time of the eighth Kirti Rinpoché (1849-1905).  

Hortsang Jikmé (hor gtsang ’jigs med) says that Kirti Monastery ruled Khagya (kha gya), Böro (’bos ro), Jangtsa (skyang tsha; Kyangtsa in Standard Tibetan pronunciation), Dringwa (’bring ba), Zaru (gza’ ru), and Tsongru (tshong ru), which are part of the Twelve Divisions of Dzörgé.


Unless otherwise noted, all notes are to:

Hor gtsang ’jigs med. Mdo smad lo rgyus chen mo las sde tsho’i skor glegs bam dang bo [The First Volume of Communities and Tsowa (sde tsho) in The Greater History of Amdo]. Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, 2009, 208-331.

[1] Yang Songbo & Qudan, Aba dichu zongjiao shiyao (Chengdu: Chengdu ditu chubanshe, 1993), 348.

[2] The first Kirti Rinpoché was Rongchen Gendün Gyentsen (rong chen dge ’dun rgyal mtshan). He was ordained by Tsongkhapa.

[3] Tawa (mtha’ ba) refers to the villages near the monastery that are responsible for providing labor services to the monastery such as taking care of the monastery's animals. Tawa literally means “edge” and in this case it means the villages on the edge of the monastery.

[4] Yang Songbo & Qudan, Aba dichu zongjiao shiyao (Chengdu: Chengdu ditu chubanshe, 1993), 348.

[5] Lhadé (lha sde) refers to the villages that support the monasteries by giving donations. Most monasteries have lhadé e.g, Rongwo lhadé (lha sde of Rong bo Monastery). These  lhadé villages do not have a particular name and they are simply called lhadé. Usually tawa (mtha' ba) villages are poor and dependent on the monastery, whereas lhadé villages are better off and the monastery is dependent on them. One translation for lhadé is “parish.”