by Dr Nordan Otzer, Stawa 01-20
Skalzang Mane with the Maitreya Buddha monastery in the background, Hunder village, Nubra valley.
Over the last few years, the number of people visiting Skalzang Mane in Hunder village to seek blessing has been increasing each year.
It is important for us to understand the historical and spiritual importance of this Mane wall among local communities in Nubra. It is perhaps one of the most unique mane walls in Ladakh. It is believed that there are only two such mane walls in the whole of Ladakh and Tibet. In the past, people from other parts of Ladakh and different regions in Tibet would request traders and pilgrims visiting Nubra valley to circumambulate and offer prayers at Skalzang Mane for them. It was very famous in the past and fortunately it is regaining its popularity again.
The literal meaning of Skalzang is 'good eon'. According to Buddhist cosmology, a cycle of destruction and formation of the universe is called an eon. Every eon has a name in Buddhist mythology. The present eon is called 'good eon' or Skalpa Zangpo or Skalzang. In good eon, there will be a thousand official Buddhas. Sakyamuni Buddha is the fourth one of these Buddhas. He is supposed to be the first one in this eon to have taught Vajrayana. Maitreya Buddha is the next and fifth of the thousand Buddhas of this eon to descend on earth to turn the wheel of Dharma. Similarly, a thousand Buddhas will appear in this world in this eon.
The names of these thousand Buddhas are mentioned in the Sutra of Good Kalpa (Bhadrakalpika-sutra), which elucidates the names and merits of each Buddha that will appear in the good eon. Similarly, the names of these Buddhas have also been engraved on the votive plates and preserved on this mane wall. This is why it is called Skalzang Mane or mane wall of the good eon.
The structure of the mane wall is also unique. Instead of an elongated single rectangular structure like other mane walls, this one comprises of two parallel walls like an open trench. The mane is located on the bank of Hunder Tokpo that flows towards the Maitreya Buddha temple from the adjacent mountain. It is said that this trench-like structure was extended from the top of the adjacent mountain, where an earlier settlement of Hunder village used to be located. The structure continues in the form of a tunnel beneath the Maitreya Buddha monastery and opens into the stream. This entire structure was intact till a few decades back when it was dismantled for road construction. This structure is believed to be a continuation of a fort wall. The main entrance of the fort was much higher and there was danger of enemy attacks from across Hunder Tokpo. The villagers used to walk through this passage to fetch water.
The votive plate with details of the sponsors, Hunder village, Nubra valley.
One of the votive plates has details of sponsors and the dedication prayer engraved on it. It was dedicated to King Tashi Namgyal, who ruled Ladakh from 1500 to 1530 CE, and his queen. King Bagram Mir, the vassal king of Nubra, had possibly helped King Tashi Namgyal in a war against the Turks. Thus, the people of Nubra praised the king and his associates.
The first three stanzas are the dedication prayer. The rough English translation of the engraving following these prayers is: "(I pray) long life of King Baga-ram Mir and Queen Jom (who) are residing in the palace of Dechen-tse-mo. Under the direction of the king, his minister Tondup Tashi did religious works and paid his regards. Minister and dzom bha skyid together made one hundred mane. (I) Pray both may become Bodhisattvas."
Many votive plates would be stolen and therefore, villagers fixed the votive plates within the wall to preserve it. Otherwise, plates would be kept on the top of the wall. Recently, many generous sponsors from the village have built a proper foot path for circumambulation and erected prayer wheels around the mane wall.
Buddhist pilgrims from different parts of Ladakh visit Skalzang Mane to offer prayers and seek blessings. It is believed that prayers are fulfilled if you perform circumambulations clockwise thrice and offer prayers with pure intentions.