The 1,000-year-old Trilokinath temple (8th-9th century A.D. ) is located in the Chandrabhaga valley of Himachal Pradesh’s Lahul-Spiti district. The temple is located on a hill in the heart of Tunde (Tune) village, known in Tibetan as Re-phag. It is a prominent Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage site, regarded as an abode of Shiva, the lord of three worlds, by the former, and as a sanctuary of Avlokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, by the latter.

A Buddhist monk and a Hindu priest help pilgrims at the temple, which is being administered by a committee.

In the sanctum of the Trilokinath temple, two images of the six-armed Avalokiteshvara are enshrined. One is built of white marble, while the other is made of black stone and is smaller but older than the first. Scholars have linked the black stone image to Kashmiri stone sculptures from the 8th-9th century. The white marble image, assigned the 12th-13th century, is said to be identical in workmanship to that of the 8th century marble head of Avalokitehvara from the Guru Ghantal gompa (presently housed at the Tupchiling gompa).

The white marble image of Trilokinath/Avalokiteśvara.
The black stone image of Trilokinath/Avalokiteśvara.
[Handa, O. C. (1994). Buddhist Art & Antiquities of Himachal Pradesh, Up to 8th Century A.D.]

The temple features both Hindu and Buddhist elements, and its origins have long been a source of discussion among scholars. Some suggest that the temple was once a Hindu temple, while others affirm its Buddhist roots, based on art historical and architectural studies.

Understandably, the temple complex has been restored and repaired numerous times. A new building was built after an avalanche in 1979, almost completely enclosing the oldest surviving sections. Scholars conclude that the original construction was built in the classical Nagara style—one of its kind in Lahaul—commonly found in the neighbouring Chamba and Kulu.

Temple of Trilokinath/Avlokiteśvara, circa 1900.

A Sharda inscription was found on a wall of the inner sanctum of temple in the early 2000s by Tsering Dorje. The following is a translation by historian Diwakar Nath Acharya of the inscription, supposedly dated to the end of 9th century A.D.:

“Homage to you, glorious Avalokitesvara! With altruistic intent, Dvamgra Rana, a man of incomparable and stainless diligence, who has given up the slightest passion for possessions while being rich with hundreds of powerful virtues, has built for you an excellent towering temple, as high as Lahul is important.”

(2011) Young Drukpa Association. Garsha: Heart land of the Dakinis: a mirror into Lahaul sacred time and space.

Davamgra Rana, who is mentioned in the inscription as the temple’s creator or priest, could be an ancestor of Triloknath’s Rana (now Thakur) family, who used to be the village’s hereditary chiefs.

Connection with Kalath, Kulu

J. Ph. Vogel in his article ‘Triloknath’ published in Journal of the Historical Society of Bengal, Vol. 72(1), 1902, writes thus:

“At Kalath there is a plain village-temple, dedicated to Kapila Muni. When Vasistha was carrying the precious water from Manikarn to the place, which was destined to bear his name, he passed Kapila, who ceasing his tapas for a moment snatched from him a few drops and thus gave its origin to the hot spring at Kalath.

The image of Kapila Muni is made of ashtadhatu. This circumstance deserves notice, because nearly all metal images, which I found in Kullu, belong to Vishnu-worship, and for this reason, are of a comparatively recent date, both having been introduced in the seventeenth century under patronage of the Kullu Rajas. The shrine of Kapila contained some more images of the same material: Ramcandar, sita Chaturbhuj, Radha and Hanuman.

But besides, there was a small image-slab, much effaced and apparently, of considerable age. it showed a six-armed figure, but its attributes were unrecognisable. Only the varada-mudra of the lower right hand was plainly visible, while in one of the left hands there was something like a staff, which might have been either a trident or a snake. The asana was exactly like that of the avalokitas of Lahul. Moreover, there was a second figure in dhyana-mudra on the head. The pūjaris had never noticed the latter and when it was pointed out to them, they declared it to be Laksmi! The image itself, however, they knew by the name of Triloknath and admitted that it represented the same deity as that worshiped in Lahul. it seems highly probable that avalokita was originally the main object of worship at Kalath and was superseded by the Brahmanical Muni, who still grants him a subordinate place in his shrine. The material of the image in any case tends to show that it was not imported but belongs to the spot.”

Aforementioned image-slab depicting Trilokinath.
[Henry Lee Shuttleworth, ca. 1920]


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