Ralang Monastery: Sikkim’s Serene Buddhist Sanctuary

The Ralang Monastery, nestled in the foothills of the majestic Himalayas, is a testament to the abundant spiritual and cultural heritage of South Sikkim. This sacred site sits atop a hill in the enchanting northeastern state of Sikkim and holds great religious value for the community, attracting both worshippers and tourists alike. In our exploration, we delve into the rich history, impressive architecture, religious principles, and impactful cultural presence of the Ralang Monastery.

A visit to Ravangla is an absolute must for anyone exploring the enchanting Himalayan state of Sikkim. This charming destination boasts magnificent thangkas and uniquely beautiful paintings that represent the rich traditions and art of Buddhism. As one of the most revered monasteries in Sikkim, it proudly upholds the beliefs of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

Background History: Tracing Ralang Monastery’s Origins

In the latter half of the eighteenth century, the esteemed Ralang Monastery came to life through the vision and leadership of Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal, the fourth king of Sikkim. In 1768, he established the monastery, and with the guidance of Wangchuk Dorje, the 9th Karmapa and a revered figure in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, the monastery was skillfully built.

In the 1800s, a devastating earthquake ravaged the original Ralang Monastery in Yangang. Despite this tragedy, the resilient monks rebuilt the monastery in its present location of Ralong in 1840. The reconstruction was led by Dudul Dorje, the 13th Karmapa and a revered mentor within the Karma Kagyu lineage.

In 1995, the 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche took on the admirable task of establishing the Palchen Choeling Monastic Institute. This incredible feat of preserving traditional Tibetan architectural style was a tribute to the original monastery, reconstructed between 1975 and 1981. Standing proudly to the west of the institute is the venerable Ralang Gompa, also known as the Karma Rabtenling monastery.

Architectural Wonder

The monastery’s architecture seamlessly combines elements of Sikkimese and traditional Tibetan styles. The Dukhang, or main hall, is a masterpiece adorned with exquisite murals, thangkas, and statues that depict the inspiring life and teachings of Lord Buddha. Whether one is an appreciator of fine art or a devout follower of Buddhism, the tranquil ambience created by the vibrant colours and intricate details is sure to bring inner peace.

The Kangyur and Tengyur, texts containing the Buddha’s teachings and commentaries by esteemed Indian and Tibetan scholars, reside within the sacred confines of Ralang Monastery. This architectural masterpiece not only serves as a hub of religious activity but its intricate woodwork and lively frescoes add to its enchanting ambience, creating a truly spiritual retreat.

Relevance to Religion

The Ralang Monastery holds a special connection to the Kagyu sect, which is one of the four main branches of Tibetan Buddhism. Embracing the Kagyu tradition, the monastery conducts specific practices, teachings, and rituals that prioritize meditation, firsthand knowledge, and the passing of verbal instructions from mentors to learners.

The monastery springs to life during numerous religious festivals, the most notable being the Kagyed Dance Festival. This dynamic and lively event features monks donning elaborate masks as they perform traditional dances illustrating profound spiritual wisdom, the pursuit of enlightenment, and the victory of morality over malevolence. Travellers and locals alike are drawn to Ralang to partake in these jubilant celebrations, fully immersing themselves in the diverse and enchanting customs of Sikkim.

Buddha Park

buddha park near ralang monastery

Buddha Park, also known as Tathagata Tsal, is a calm and lovely park located near Ravangla on a hilltop, roughly 6 kilometres from Ralang Monastery. It is a lovely spot for guests to unwind and take in the area’s natural beauty because it provides expansive views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

The construction was done in honour of Lord Gautama Buddha’s 2550th birthday in 2006. Standing at a height of 130 feet (40 meters), the imposing statue of Lord Buddha is the park’s major attraction. Surrounded by exquisitely designed gardens and walkways, the monument is plated in gleaming gold. It’s a beautiful scene that represents spirituality, harmony, and serenity.

Explore the park, go for leisurely walks, and take in the tranquil atmosphere. Within the premises, there are additional spaces set aside for prayer and meditation. The park is kept up nicely and has amenities like picnic spaces, observation decks, and a gift shop.

The Route to the Ralang Monastery

By Air: Bagdogra Airport, which is close to Siliguri in West Bengal, is the airport that is closest to Ralang Monastery. To go to Ralang Monastery from Bagdogra, you can either take a shared taxi or rent a car. It takes roughly four to five hours to get from Bagdogra to Ralang.

By Train: New Jalpaiguri Railway Station (NJP), which is situated close to Siliguri in West Bengal, is the closest major railway station. You can take a shared taxi or rent a car from NJP to get to Ralang Monastery. It takes roughly four to five hours to go from NJP to Ralang.

By Road: Ralang Monastery is well-connected by road. You can hire a taxi or take a shared cab from nearby towns like Gangtok or Ravangla to reach the monastery. If you are travelling from Gangtok, the journey takes approximately 2-3 hours, while from Ravangla, it takes around 30 minutes.

Ideal Period to Visit the Ralang Monastery

The spring and fall seasons are ideal for visiting Ralang Monastery in Sikkim, India, since they provide good weather and perfect conditions for outdoor activities and sightseeing. With temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F), the weather is nice and mild. It’s the perfect time of year to take pictures and take in the natural beauty of the surrounding landscapes, which are rich and colourful with flowering flowers.

In conclusion, the Ralang Monastery is a representation of Sikkim’s architectural beauty, cultural diversity, and spiritual enlightenment. Its religious rituals, historical significance, and involvement in the community make it an essential institution for Tibetan Buddhism as well as the region’s larger cultural fabric. Ralang Monastery’s continued popularity as a destination for those seeking peace and spirituality is evidence of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions’ lasting influence in the Himalayas.