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- Himalayan Journals (Complete) - 50/157 -

north-west and south-east, covered with temples, chaits, and mendongs of the most picturesque forms and in elegant groups, and fringed with brushwood, wild plantains, small palms, and apple-trees. Here I saw for the first time the funereal cypress, of which some very old trees spread their weeping limbs and pensile branchlets over the buildings.* [I was not then aware of this tree having been introduced into England by the intrepid Mr. Fortune from China; and as I was unable to procure seeds, which are said not to ripen in Sikkim, it was a great and unexpected pleasure, on my return home, to find it alive and flourishing at Kew.] It is not wild in Sikkim, but imported there and into Bhotan from Tibet: it does not thrive well above 6000 feet elevation. It is called "Tchenden" by the Lepchas, Bhoteeas, and Tibetans, and its fragrant red wood is burnt in the temples.


The Lamas met us on the top of the hill, bringing a noble present of fowls, vegetables and oranges, the latter most acceptable after our long and hot march. The site is admirably chosen, in the very heart of Sikkim, commanding a fine view, and having a considerable river on either side, with the power of retreating behind to the convents of Sunnook and Powhungri, which are higher up on the same spur, and surrounded by forest enough to conceal an army. Considering the turbulent and warlike character of their neighbours, it is not wonderful that the monks should have chosen commanding spots, and good shelter for their indolent lives: for the same reason these monasteries secured views of one another: thus from Tassiding the great temple of Pemiongchi was seen towering 3000 feet over head, whilst to the north-west, up the course of the river, the hill-sides seemed sprinkled with monasteries.

We camped on a saddle near the village of Sunnook, at 4000 feet above the sea; and on the last day of the year we visited this most interesting monastic establishment: ascending from our camp along the ridge by a narrow path, cut here and there into steps, and passing many rocks covered with inscriptions, broken walls of mendongs, and other remains of the _via sacra_ between the village and temple. At one spot we found a fissure emitting hot vapour of the temperature of 65.5 degrees, that of the air being about 50 degrees. It was simply a hole amongst the rocks; and near the Rungeet a similar one is said to occur, whose temperature fluctuates considerably with the season. It is very remarkable that such an isolated spring should exist on the top of a sharp ridge, 2,800 feet above the bottom of this deep valley.

The general arrangement on the summit was, first the Lamas' houses with small gardens, then three large temples raised on rudely paged platforms, and beyond these, a square walled enclosure facing the south, full of chaits and mendongs, looking like a crowded cemetery, and planted with funereal cypress (_Cupressus funebris_).

The house of the principal Lama was an oblong square, the lower story of stone, and the upper of wood: we ascended a ladder to the upper room, which was 24 feet by 8 wattled all round, with prettily latticed windows opening upon a bamboo balcony used for drying grain, under the eaves of the broad thatched roof. The ceiling (of neat bamboo work) was hung with glorious bunches of maize, yellow, red, and brown; an altar and closed wicker cage at one end of the room held the Penates, and a few implements of worship. Chinese carpets were laid on the floor for us, and the cans of Murwa brought round.

The Lama, though one of the red sect, was dressed in a yellow flowered silk robe, but his mitre was red: he gave us much information relative to the introduction of Boodhism into Sikkim.

The three temples stand about fifty yards apart, but are not parallel to one another, although their general direction is east and west.* [Timkowski, in his travels through Mongolia (i. p. 193), says, "According to the rules of Tibetan architecture, temples should face the south:" this is certainly not the rule in Sikkim, nor, so far as I could learn, in Tibet either.] Each is oblong, and narrowed upwards, with the door at one end; the middle (and smallest) faces the west, the others the east: the doorways are all broad, low and deep, protected by a projecting carved portico. The walls are immensely thick, of well-masoned slaty stones; the outer surface of each slopes upwards and inwards, the inner is perpendicular. The roofs are low and thickly thatched, and project from eight to ten feet all round, to keep off the rain, being sometimes supported by long poles. There is a very low upper story, inhabited by the attendant monks and servants, accessible by a ladder at one end of the building. The main body of the temple is one large apartment, entered through a small transverse vestibule, the breadth of the temple, in which are tall cylindrical praying-machines. The carving round the doors is very beautiful, and they are gaudily painted and gilded.


The northern temple is quite plain: the middle one is simply painted red, and encircled with a row of black heads, with goggle eyes and numerous teeth, on a white ground; it is said to have been originally dedicated to the evil spirits of the Lepcha creed. The southern, which contains the library, is the largest and best, and is of an irregular square shape. The inside walls and floors are plastered with clay, and painted with allegorical representations of Boodh, etc. From the vestibule the principal apartment is entered by broad folding-doors, studded with circular copper bosses, and turning on iron hinges. It is lighted by latticed windows, sometimes protected outside by a bamboo screen. Owing to the great thickness of the walls (three to four feet), a very feeble light is admitted. In the principal temple, called "Dugang," six hexagonal wooden columns, narrowed above, with peculiar broad transverse capitals, exquisitely gilded and painted, support the cross-beams of the roof, which are likewise beautifully ornamented. Sometimes a curly-maned gilt lion is placed over a column, and it is always furnished with a black bushy tail: squares, diamonds, dragons, and groups of flowers, vermilion, green, gold, azure, and white, are dispersed with great artistic taste over all the beams; the heavier masses of colour being separated by fine white lines.

Illustration--SOUTHERN TEMPLE.

The altars and idols are placed at the opposite end; and two long parallel benches, like cathedral stalls, run down the centre of the building: on these the monks sit at prayer and contemplation, the head Lama occupying a stall (often of very tasteful design) near the altar.

Illustration--MIDDLE TEMPLE.

The principal Boodh, or image, is placed behind the altar under a canopy, or behind a silk screen: lesser gods, and gaily dressed and painted effigies of sainted male or female persons are ranged on either side, or placed in niches around the apartment, sometimes with separate altars before them; whilst the walls are more or less covered with paintings of monks in prayer or contemplation. The principal Boodh (Sakya Sing) sits cross-legged, with the left heel up: his left-hand always rests on his thigh, and holds the padmi or lotus and jewel, which is often a mere cup; the right-hand is either raised, with the two forefingers up, or holds the dorje, or rests on the calf of the upturned leg. Sakya has generally curled hair, Lamas have mitres, females various head-dresses; most wear immense ear-rings, and some rosaries. All are placed on rude pediments, so painted as to convey the idea of their rising out of the petals of the pink, purple, or white lotus. None are in any way disagreeable; on the contrary most have a calm and pleasing expression, suggestive of contemplation.

Illustration--ALTAR AND IMAGES. Central figure Akshobya, the first of the Pancha Boodha.

The great or south temple contained a side altar of very elegant shape, placed before an image encircled by a glory. Flowers, juniper, peacock's feathers, pastiles, and rows of brass cups of water were the chief ornaments of the altars, besides the instruments I have elsewhere enumerated. In this temple was the library, containing several hundred books, in pigeon-holes, placed in recesses.* [For a particular account of the images and decorations of these temples, sea Dr. Campbell's paper in "Bengal Asiatic Society's Trans.," May, 1849. The principal object of veneration amongst the Ningma or red sect of Boodhists in Sikkim and Bhotan is Gorucknath, who is always represented sitting cross-legged, holding the dorje in one hand, which is raised; whilst the left rests in the lap and holds a cup with a jewel in it. The left arm supports a trident, whose staff pierces three sculls (a symbol of Shiva), a rosary hangs round his neck, and he wears a red mitre with a lunar crescent and sun in front.]

Illustration--PLAN OF THE SOUTH TEMPLE. A. entrance; B. four praying cylinders; C. altar, with seven brass cups of water; D. four columns; E. and F. images; G. library.

The effect on entering these cold and gloomy temples is very impressive; the Dugang in particular is exquisitely ornamented and painted, and the vista from the vestibule to the principal idol, of carved and coloured pillars and beams, is very picturesque. Within, the general arrangement of the colours and gilding is felt to be harmonious and pleasing, especially from the introduction of slender white streaks between the contrasting masses of colour, as adopted in the Great Exhibition building of 1851. It is also well worthy of remark that the brightest colours are often used in broad masses, and when so, are always arranged chromatically, in the sequence of the rainbow's hues, and are hence never displeasing to the eye. The hues, though bright, are subdued by the imperfect light: the countenances of the images are all calm, and their expression solemn. Whichever way you turn, the eye is met by some beautiful specimen of colouring or carving, or some object of veneration. The effect is much heightened by the incense of juniper and sweet-smelling herbs which the priests burn on entering, by their grave and decorous conduct, and by the feeling of respect that is demanded by a religion which theoretically inculcates and adores virtue in the abstract, and those only amongst men who practise virtue. To the idol itself the Boodhist attaches no real importance; it is an object of reverence, not of worship, and no virtue or attribute belong to it _per se_; it is a symbol of the creed, and the adoration is paid to the holy man whom it represents.

Beyond the temples are the chaits and mendongs, scattered without much order; and I counted nearly twenty-five chaits of the same form,* [In Sikkim the form of the cube alone is always strictly preserved; that of the pyramid and hemisphere being often much modified. The cube stands on a flight of usually three steps, and is surmounted by a low pyramid of five steps; on this is placed a swelling, urn-shaped body, which represents the hemisphere, and is surmounted by another cube. On the latter is a slender, round or angled spire (represented by a pyramid in Burma), crowned with a crescent and disc, or sun, in moon. Generally, the whole is of stone, with the exception of the spire, which is of wood, painted red.] between eight and thirty feet high. The largest is consecrated to the memory of the Rajah's eldest son, who, however, is not buried here.

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