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Nayjal Chenmo Cave Temple: Unique Tibetan Historical Gem

The Nayjal Chenmo Cave Temple stands as an important remnant of the Tubo period’s cave architecture in Tibet. This ancient cave temple is located in Nayjal Village, Changlong Township, Kampa County, Shigatse. It perched on the cliff of a small gravel mountain on the river’s north bank. With an elevation of 5,000 meters, it is distinguished as the second cave temple discovered in Tibet. It added significant value to the region’s cave art history.

The Nayjal Chenmo Cave Complex and Artistic Significance

The Nayjal Chenmo Cave Temple (乃甲切木石窟) comprises five caves, all oriented towards the south and elevated about 10 meters above the ground. These caves, hewn during the Tubo period, contribute to the rich diversity of Tibetan cave art. Caves 1, 2, and 5, in partial ruins, lack statues or murals. Caves 3 and 4 maintain a much better state of preservation. Artisans crafted the Buddha statues in these caves by carving rough outlines into the cliff face and then sculpting them with clay, reflecting the Indian classical sculpture style.

rock sclupture
Rock sclupture

Nayjal Chenmo Cave Temple: An Artistic Marvel


Inside Cave 3 of Nayjal Cave

Cave 3, measuring around 15 square meters and 3 meters in height, once housed murals on its ceiling, now obscured due to prolonged exposure to smoke. Currently, the cave contains yak heads, placed there as offerings by subsequent visitors. Located 3 meters from the cave on the western cliff side are three small interconnected niches. Outside these niches stand four clay-sculpted columns with three arched doorways. The central niche, about 0.8 meters high and 0.5 meters wide, features a Buddha statue in a lotus-seated position with curly hair.

The flanking niches, each 0.7 meters tall and 0.3 meters wide, house Buddha statues, although these are somewhat damaged with missing arms. The Nayjal Chenmo Cave Temple is a remarkable testament to Tibet’s rich religious and artistic heritage from the Tubo period. It provides a fascinating insight into the region’s ancient spiritual practices and artistic expressions, rendering it an invaluable site for historical and cultural exploration.

Structure and Layout of Cave 4

Cave 4 of the Nayjal Chenmo Cave Temple features a doorway measuring 2.2 meters in height and 1 meter in width, leading to a rounded square-shaped interior. The cave extends 3.2 meters deep, 3.2 meters high, and 3.7 meters wide. The ceiling, once adorned with murals, has become indistinct over time. All four walls of the cave are decorated with relief sculptures approximately 1.5 meters above the ground.

Each sculptural group has similar dimensions and layouts, typically comprising a central Vairocana Buddha seated on a Sumiran throne 50 cm high. Around the main Buddha are four smaller Buddha figures, each 50 cm high, making a total of five Buddhas per group. These figures, either bare-chested or in monastic robes, are adorned with necklaces, armlets, and bracelets. They sit cross-legged on lotus seats, barefoot, in long trousers.

Wonders and Sceret of North Wall

On the north wall, the central figure is a depiction of Vairocana Buddha, a key figure in the Vajrayana Buddhist pantheon, measuring 1 meter in height. The sculpture shows the Buddha with curly hair, bare-chested, wearing necklaces and armlets, seated in a lotus pose. Flanking this central image are six small compartments containing carvings of mythical creatures like Makara (crocodile-like creature), elephants, vajras (diamond thunderbolts), and lotuses.

Best of East and West Walls

On the east wall, the northern side features the Buddha of Ratnasambhava, 0.7 meters tall, seated on a double elephant throne, bare-chested, with one hand in a meditation gesture and the other pointing to the earth, adorned in yellow. The southern Buddha is Akshobhya, 0.7 meters tall, on a double horse throne, with one shoulder bare and hands in symbolic gestures, draped in blue. Surrounding each main Buddha are four smaller Buddha figures, each 0.5 meters tall, with relief halos behind them.

The central northern and southern sides of the west wall display Vajrayana Buddhas. Amoghasiddhi, the north-central Buddha, sits on a Garuda (mythical bird) throne, bare-chested and in a meditation gesture, adorned in green. The south-central Buddha, Amitabha, occupies a double peacock throne, also bare-chested with hands in a meditation gesture, and decorated in red. Four smaller Buddha figures, each 0.55 meters tall, surround each of these main Buddhas.

The intricate art of the Southern Wall

The upper row on the south wall depicts eight celestial female figures, each adorned with a three-flower crown, bare-chested, in long skirts, and wearing necklaces, bracelets, and armlets. The lower row consists of four dynamic male figures, in a bow-and-arrow stance, one hand on the waist and the other raised in a fist.

The intricate art and sculptural details in Cave 4 of Nayjal Chenmo Cave Temple reflect a profound artistic and religious significance, showcasing the rich cultural heritage and the remarkable skill of the artisans of the Tubo period in Tibet.

The highlight of Nayjal Chenmo Cave Temple


One of the most captivating artefacts in the Nayjal Chenmo Cave Temple is a wood carving of a goddess, part of a halo fragment. This exquisite piece measures 102 centimetres in width and 29 centimetres in height.

Description of the Carving

Two celestial female figures, known as Apsaras or flying goddesses, elegantly perch upon dragon bodies at the fragment’s center. These goddesses feature bare upper bodies and wear necklaces, bracelets, and armlets, enhancing their divine allure.

Intricate scroll leaf patterns surround the goddesses, followed by a row of bead designs. A series of small Buddha figures in seated, cross-legged positions lie beyond the bead designs. Vajra (diamond thunderbolt) motifs, symbolizing indestructibility and irresistible force in Vajrayana Buddhism, form the outermost ring of the carving. Another layer of scroll leaf patterns adorns the halo’s very edge.

Artistic Mastery

The level of detail and fluidity of the carvings demonstrate a high degree of artistic skill and craftsmanship. The careful attention to the goddesses’ expressions and the intricate design work on the surrounding patterns showcase the rich artistic heritage of the Tubo period in Tibet. This wood carving not only represents religious significance but also serves as a testament to the sophisticated artistry of the period, making it a treasured piece within the Nayjal Chenmo Cave Temple.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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