What happens to old stupas?
This beautiful Buddhist image of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is in a decrepit wayside shrine in an old part of Leh, Ladakh. Although the building is not being well maintained - the house adjacent to it seems to be getting closer to falling down each year - the paintings inside are still fresh.
Wayside shrines like this are fairly common in Leh. They house three stupas or chortens, behind which are paintings of Manjushri - the Bodhisattva of Wisdom - Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani - a wrathful protector figure representing effort or energy. Wisdom, compassion and energy in pursuit of the good.
Sometimes the stupas are painted individually yellow, white and blue but often they are just white. On the side walls there may also be painted images of the Buddha and another protector figure or possibly Tara.
These shrines are also found over gateways or the entrance to a house. We’ve being staying with a young woman called Tsering and her family on the outskirts of Leh. Their house was built by Tsering’s great grandfather. It has a long perimeter wall punctuated with large gates surmounted with an old shrine like this one. Last year Tsering’s father had the rickety old shrine taken down and replaced with a new version.
I asked him what happened to the old one. In an elaborate prayer ritual the old stupas and paintings were taken apart by a lama, broken up and cast into the river Indus which flows less than half a mile away. The paper prayers were taken out of the stupas and placed in the shrine room on the top floor of the house.
Mum goes to the shrine room twice a day - she’s currently part way through 100,000 full length prostrations to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. She starts with 100 prostrations at 5.30 before setting up the house for the day and then going to work as a nurse in the local hospital. Then another 100 prostrations before cooking. 200 per day. 1000 every 5 days. 500 days to do 100,000.
Tibetan Buddhism is alive and well in Ladakh.