Tashi Lhunpo Monks
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Tashi Lhunpo Monks

Bylakuppe, Karnātaka, India | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Bylakuppe, Karnātaka, India | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
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"Remarkable triumph"

CD Review "Wisdom & Insight"

This CD is released to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery in exile, and it coincides with the start of a UK tour which will bring the monks to Scotland – Helensburgh, Mull, Lochinver, and Poolewe – in late July. These monks reflect remarkable triumph in an adversity which started when China’s crackdown began in earnest in 1959; the refugees’ perilous march through the Himalayas took them to Mysore where they built a magnificent new monastery with their own hands. The first prayer sung on this CD goes back in time to the very beginning of the tradition the monks so devotedly uphold – when 1000 Buddhist scholars gathered in Nalanda university 2000 years ago, and communally created the “prayer of wisdom” which all Tibetan monks still sing each morning today. And the second prayer – “praise to Buddha” – reflects a wonderfully colourful creation myth, which began when the umbilical cord of Lama Tsongkhapa (born in 1357) fell to the ground. A sandalwood tree grew from the spot, with each leaf bearing a picture of the Buddha, so on that spot a monastery was built. The prayer celebrates the Wheel of Life illustrating the six realms of existence, with the central hub occupied by the destroyer of death, with a cockerel, a snake, and a pig representing the three basic evils – desire, anger, and ignorance. Meanwhile the six spokes of the wheel each has its own hieratic significance. It’s not essential to know any of this to appreciate the gently mystical momentum of the chants, but such a rich invisible world has a charm of its own. - The Scotsman

"The monastery proves that ritual music needn't be po-faced"

Any listener's fears that Tibetan ritual music may be too challenging or austere are readily dispelled by this latest release by the Tashi Lhunpo monks - one of the most accomplished and well-established performing groups emanating from Tibet;s monasteries in exile. the CD, and UK concert tour this summer, commemorates the 40th anniversary of the monastery's foundation in India following the Chinese occupation of Tibet, where Tashi Lhunpo had been among the most prestigious institutions.

Like the monks' previous two releases with 30 iPS (Dawn Till Dusk, reviewed in Issue 52 and Time of the Skeleton Lords, reviewed in Issue 72), this collection of chants cobines a well-informed focus with a carefully balanced presentation. As explained in the informative accompanying booklet, it features prayers in praise of the monastery's founders and teachers, and the entirely choral style reflects this emphasis on collective worship and the performance of memorised texts.

In a sense the chants are hymn-like, but the great variety of texture , tempo and rhythm is remarkable. For example "Nam-dak Kang-ri Ma" is a beautifully simple, slow-measured melody sung in a low register, while "Rikchen Sang Shey";, to which the monks are said to dance, is folk-like, with lively rhythms and active tune. On several tracks, such as "Shapten Soldep", on which the full choir swells to over 150 voices with the inclusion of the boy novices, the layering of sounds is powerfully resonant, producing almost magical ringing sonorities with sub-bass undertones. Over the vigorous delivery and well-blended ensemble is mesmerising, and impressively captured in the recording. The CD is a delightful addition to a magnificent series, and it should be well worth catching one of their live performances this summer. - Songlines Magazine - 4 star review

"Exiled Chanters"


Prior to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Tashi Lhunpo was one of its most important monasteries. From its home-in-exile in South India, this CD is a remarkable cultural achievement - as strong musically as perhaps it is politically.
The CD presents a performance of a Buddhist ritual from the daily monastic service. Superbly recorded in situ, the sound is majestic and atmospheric, whilst careful post-production leads the listener unobtrusively through the 16 tracks, illustrating and explaining each stage of the ritual. The monks are of the Gelukpa school, and the musical style is restrained and almost entirely chant-based, but it is all the more beautiful and captivating because of the sheer power and richness of sonority this large group achieves, under strong leadership from the chant-master. The young novices add a further dimension, with amazing effect in the multi-layered rhythmic recitations of "Tara Prayer". Also mesmerising are the almost timelessy sustained chants of "Taking Refuge"; while lighter, gently lilting melodic chants, such as the "Prayer for the Dalai Lama" provide delightful contrast.

This well-presented CD appeals to Western ears without compromising traditional values and should be a great ear-opener to new listeners. - Songlines Magazine 4 star review

"Potent stuff"

CD Review - Wisdom & Insight

Amid the boybands, the divas and the dinosaurs, the next ringtone you hear on the train could well be channelling the values of the monastery that was founded by the first Dalai Lama. Just in time for their latest tour, the monks - past visitors to the Edinburgh Fringe are now disseminating their music via smartphones. On their album, the massed ranks work their way through an austere series of Buddhist chants and prayers. Musically speaking, it's not as intimate as, say the Hindu devotional pieces assembled by Ravi Shankar and George Harrison on Chants of India. As a glimpse of a transcendental realm however, it's potent stuff - Sunday Times

"Polyphonic chants of praise"

Tashi Lhunpo Monks: Wisdom & Insight
By David Honigmann
CD Review

The monks’ third album is focused on polyphonic chants of praise and has an emotional tribute to the first Dalai Lama as its centrepiece.

From their exile in southern India, the monks of Tashi Lhunpo have released their third album, now focused on polyphonic chants of praise: the centrepiece, ‘Thup-Wang Tendrol Ma’, pays emotional tribute to the first Dalai Lama, founder of the monastery. For those who want their iPhones to sound like long horns or skull drums, many musical elements have been reborn as a set of accompanying ringtones. - Financial Times

"A Timely Release"


A timely release for obvious reasons, and the monks (exiled to a monastery in southern India founded by the first Dalai Lama in 1447) are on tour throughout the UK this summer, including an appearance at WOMAD. The record charts a day in the life of the monastery and features - wait for it, pop pickers! - many previously unrecorded chants and mantras. - Observer Music Monthly

"Quick blast of Buddhism"

A troupe of Tibetan monks is packing our theatres. Why are secular Britons so drawn to dharma? By John Naish

Modern Britain does not normally consider religion to be much of a spectator event. The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, apart, we seem resolutely averse to the idea of sitting watching Christian celebrants at work. Nevertheless, I’m in a capacity crowd of white middle-class types at a Nottingham theatre, avidly watching two hours of sacred rituals for entertainment. The difference is that these are traditional Tibetan rituals, performed by Tibetan monks.

Has Buddhism become the exception to our religious rule? Or is their following just another example of our modern pick’n’mix attitude to spirituality? The spectacle in itself is certainly growing in popularity. The monks of Tashi-Lhunpo monastery, whose four-month tour of Britain is filling venues with the curious, the dilettantish and the devout, are frankly far more entertaining than your average Anglican clergy. The evening rips open with gut-shaking blasts on long horns and proceeds through a psychedelic whirl of chanting, dancing, drums, cymbals and processions.

“We first came to Britain in 2000. Now we are back and seeing more and more people in the audience,” says the monks’ leader, Kelkang Rinpoche. “We are not here to convert people but to show our culture. Whatever your belief, you can leave with the same belief.” Rinpoche joined the monastery at the age of 6, having been recognised as a reincarnation of a revered Tibetan Buddhist teacher. He is, like many Tibetans, big-boned and muscular. He sits looking settled and happy in his soul. He and his fellow monks giggle a lot.

Rimpoche learnt his impressive English in idiosyncratically Buddhist style: his impecunious monastery could support only a three-year course, so Rimpoche studied it for three years. Then he began again, reincarnated as a first-year. His fluency is a boon when answering potentially difficult questions from curious Brits. “Many of them ask what the differences are between Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. I say it’s like going from anywhere in Britain to London; the journeys are different but the destination is the same.”

In fact, the monks’ next stop is Brighton, where next week they will perform one show and spend four days painstakingly creating an intricate mandala out of millions of grains of sand on the floor of the city’s Unitarian church, as part of the Brighton Festival of World Sacred Music. “We love performing in churches. It is just like being in a temple. It is spiritual and better for us. The only difference is that your churches have lots more chairs,” says Rinpoche. “The Tibetan Buddhist mandalas have various functions. One of them is for medicine, dedicated to helping the health of those all around.” Mandalas are intricate geometric circular patterns of bright colours that represent a microcosm of all the powers at work in the universe. They are also mesmerically detailed. But at the end of the four days, when the mandala is completed, it is ceremonially swept away.

“We never keep it because it is impermanent. All things are impermanent,” says Rinpoche. “It is one of the great lessons of non-attachment. Western people often don’t understand that the whole point of the mandala is its destruction. To us, it is just like music; it passes.” In fact, it feels an affront to our Western attitude towards art, where everything should be preserved.

It’s not the only affront that the mandalas have caused. The monks have created the symbols at Anglican cathedrals in Lichfield and Salisbury, though not everyone at Salisbury welcomed it. John Fergusson, a Christian missionary and member of Salisbury Diocese, argued: “On this mandala there appears to be a throne with snakes on it surrounded by eight deities. That is getting pretty close to idolatry. The Bible is clear in its instructions not to get involved in idolatry. The promotion of another means of salvation will confuse people.” But the cathedral’s canon chancellor, Edward Probert, was unabashed, saying: “Based on confidence in our own faith, we are more than happy to promote greater understanding of other faith traditions.”

The Tashi-Lhunpo monks are keen to use the tour to create bridges, says Rinpoche. “One of our events is a public conversation with a group of Benedictine monks.” But in our mix’n’match world, Buddhism appeals most to secular Britons. At the end of a fortnight riven by debate over Muslim dress, it may be useful to note that Buddhism could well be Britain’s fastest growing religion. In Glasgow in the 2001 census, for example, the number of converts defining themselves as Buddhist soared by 28.5 per cent in a decade. The Muslim population rose by just 0.7 per cent. The census also reveals that Buddhism lags behind Judaism in England by only 0.2 per cent. And in Westminster 1 per cent of the population considers itself Buddhist. These census figures exclude those who c - (Feature) The Times (UK) by John Naish

"Requiems for a Dream"

A group of exiled Tibetan monks are touring concert halls to perform sacred rites. It's the only way to preserve their way of life before it disappears, they tell Tim Cumming

Their performance begins with the deep, otherworldly boom of two 12ft-long horns, the dunchen, which sound like fog horns, only deeper. I'd heard them once before, at the Swayambhunath monastery in Kathmandu in the spring of 1991, accompanied by heavy shamanistic drumming and blasts of Moroccan-like pipes, high and shrill. The cacophony sounded very old, and as if it came from very far away.

As I sit at the foot of the stage of the Purcell Room, the call of the dunchen is almost physical in impact, invading the body as well as the ears. The two cross-legged players blow in long, extended breaths as a procession of monks from Tashi Lhunpo monastery in India takes to the stage wearing the conical, yellow-plumed hats that give the Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) order of Tibetan Buddhism its name.

Over the next 90 minutes, they fill the air with the chanting of Buddhist texts, the recitation of mantras, the ringing of bells and cymbals, the blowing of horns and the beating of drums. There are dances - the four lords of death appear, preceded by a "cutting", in which the monks imagine themselves cutting off parts of their own bodies to offer to the deities.

Death-figures dominate the dances. There are the lords of death, with their human-skull cups and skull masks, and a parade of the "lords of the cemetery". But there are rituals of purification in which water is poured on to a mirror, and rice scattered over the ground. The mesmerising Kunrik is a hand dance involving hundreds of gestures to evoke a retinue of deities. By legend, to witness these gods means that your next reincarnation will not be in the lower realms.

"What we do on stage is very similar to what we do in the monastery" says Kelkhang Rinpoche, a senior figure at Tashi Lhunpo. "The prayers we see performed are the real thing, not a theatrical recreation. The difference is the scale of time. The hand gestures usually take one day. We have 10 minutes."

What the audience has is a 90-minute window of time on to a magical universe of reincarnation and release. This is the sacred wing of world music, and it's not technique, or range, or a unique talent on fretboard or pipes, but sound for invocation, the purpose of music at its most basic.

"They're not doing something that has no meaning," Jane Rasch of the monastery's UK Trust, who organises the tours the monks have undertaken since 2002. "The extracts from the rituals are not random. But it's important that you know it's a performance. It's like a performance of a Verdi Requiem rather than the actual service."

Tashi Lhunpo monastery was re-established in India in 1972 by monks who had followed the Dalai Lama into exile after the Chinese invasion of 1959. It is now home to 260. The original 15th-century monastery in Tibet still exists, but only a quarter of it survived the Cultural Revolution. In 1959, there were more than 6,000 monks studying there. Today, there are barely 600. The current head of the monastery, the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, was born in 1989 and arrested in the late 1990s by Chinese authorities. He remains under arrest to this day and his whereabouts are unknown.

"They come because they're in exile," Rasch of the reasons behind the monks' willingness to turn ritual into performance. "In Tibet, the monastery would be supported by local people, who would have family studying there. In exile, you don't have that infrastructure. One of the reasons we're doing this is to raise the money to improve facilities. The other reason is for people to understand what it involves. Unless people start worrying about it, it is going to disappear."

Rinpoche concurs. "During the Cultural Revolution, they damaged a lot of ancient prayer books," he says. "Many are still missing, and the older monks are dying. There are fewer monks today. This is because of a Chinese-imposed law forbidding people to become monks until they are 18. And no one will join when they are 18. They must do other things. They should join between six and 10 years old." Rinpoche became a monk when he was six, but few can follow his example.

The monks have released CD recordings, but with fewer teachers left to pass on the texts, the future of this ancient order, and of Tibet, looks increasingly fragile. Either side, India and China are becoming economic superpowers, churning out consumables to the world, while between them an ancient culture dies, bringing an end to a living tradition codified in the 15th century, - (Feature) The Independent (UK) by Tim Cumming

"Pipes of Peace"

A flatulent blast shatters the calm of an English country garden. It sounds as if the earth itself is bellowing, but there's a more prosaic explanation. Swathed in cerise robes that contrast wildly with the spring lawn, Tibetan monks are practising the dung-chen , an elaborately decorated three-metre horn.

Since 2003, the Tashi Lhunpo UK Monastery Trust's headquarters has been the English home of Jane Rasch, an effusive advocate of Tibetan culture who used to teach English in Dharamsala, the northern Indian town "Little Lhasa" because of its thousands of Tibetan refugees. On this, the eighth UK visit of the Tashi Lhunpo Monks, she is playing host to eight of their number. Their own base is Bylakuppe, the southern Indian site of a new monastery since 1972, when the order followed its patron the Dalai Lama into exile from Tibet's second city of Shigatse.

With the Beijing Olympics looming, the Chinese occupation and annexation of Tibet is a hot topic, which should mean full houses throughout the monks' three-month tour of the UK, Spain and the Netherlands. Rasch and the monks are hoping the visit will also educate people about Tibet's ancient and endangered Buddhist culture.

This has evolved in spectacular ways among the Tashi Lhunpo monks, whose distinctive yellow hats are part of the Gelugpa tradition, the most classical of Tibet's four monastic schools. Aside from the hypnotic mantras and chants of the daily prayer cycle featured on their third and latest CD Dawn Till Dusk , the tour will showcase dances and rituals associated with festivities, including the Tibetan New Year celebrations. As well as drums and cymbals, the monks play trumpets made from human leg bones (to remind us of our mortality), and don a fantastical array of demonic masks and dazzling costumes.

Kelkang Rinpoche is the group's secretary and spokesman. Like most of his colleagues, the stocky 30-year-old has only ever visited Tibet, although he identifies himself as Tibetan. He was born in Kathmandu to a Nepalese father and Tibetan mother, and speaks broken English with a soft south Indian accent, punctuated by chuckles.

The question of whether these monks see themselves as performing artists, religious emissaries or cultural ambassadors is a complex one. Their main reason for touring is to raise awareness of Tibetan culture, as well as raising essential funds for the monastery in exile, all of which draws attention to what has happened to it under Chinese rule since 1949. While Kelkang says he's grateful for the support offered by other artists such as Bjork, who uttered the words "Tibet, Tibet!" at her recent Shanghai concert, the Tashi Lhunpo monks never make political statements onstage.

"We are doing a cultural tour so we are not going to mix that with politics. If we get the chance, we will go to one of the demonstrations outside the Chinese embassy, but we keep this separate from performances."

While they're happy to meet people with questions about their faith and culture, they never proselytise. And those hoping for Tashi Lhunpo dance remixes or New Age meditation soundtracks will be kept waiting: "Some people say to us, "Why don't you mix your music with guitars or synthesisers?" but we refuse to do that. Whatever we had before, we prefer to just keep it separate, just as it is."

Dawn Till Dusk underlines the unchanging nature of their music. All the titles are traditional except one new composition, the "Panchen Lama Long Life Prayer" which basically recycles the mesmerisingly simple, undulating melody of the earlier "Dalai Lama Long Life Prayer".

As Kelkang explains, although the Dalai Lama is the ultimate leader of Tibet's Buddhists, the Tashi Lhunpo monastery has the younger 11th Panchen Lama as its spiritual leader. "When the sun goes down, the moon comes up." he says enigmatically. After the 10th Panchen Lama died suddenly in 1989 - soon after making a strongly pro-Tibetan speech - his reincarnation was declared to be the new-born Gendun Choekyi Nyima. But when only six, the boy and his family were abducted by the Chinese authorities, and have been held incognito ever since.

"That's a big problem for Tibetan society and also for Tashi Lhunpo, because we don't have a head at the moment," Kelkang explains. Like many, he doesn't take any notice of the replacement Panchen Lama, whom the Chinese subsequently installed. "The people will only believe the one his holiness the Dalai Lama recognises." - (Feature) Financial Times by Jon Lusk



The Power of Compassion (2002)

The Power of Prayer (2006)

Dawn till Dusk (2008)

Time of the Skeleton Lords (2010)

Wisdom & Insight (2012)

17 Golden Greats (2014)

(All on 30iPS Records / TLMUKT - Distributed by Proper Music Distribution)


Sand Mandala (2006)

The Power of Compassion (2008)


Eight auspicious Ringtones featuring traditional instruments from the monastic orchestra.

(Available from the i-Tunes Tone store & Bandcamp)



The Tashi Lhunpo Monks bring a moving and inspirational insight into the world of sacred music and monastic dance from the contemplative, mesmerising chant of Buddhist texts to the majestic brocade-costumed masked dances.  Ancient musical instruments from the Tibetan Tantric tradition are used: the conch-shell trumpet, horns made from human leg bones, skull-drums and meditation bells, while the powerful sound of the majestic dungchen or long horns is accompanied by cymbals, bells and drums, evoking the atmosphere of sacred Tibet and an opportunity to experience a unique endangered culture.

Instrumentation:  Chant & ritual Tibetan Buddhist instruments.

Touring group members:

Kachen Lobzang Tuskhor
Kachen Jamyang
Kachen Choedak
Ven Lobzang Thokmed
Ven Jampa
Ven Lachenpa
Ven Phuntsog Namgail
Ven Sonam Dhundup