The warm and hospitable populace of Namsai practice the Theravada sect of Buddhism. Translated as ‘the way of elders’, it’s the oldest surviving form of Buddhism in the world and uses ancient and original Pali scriptures from the Buddha’s time. Eastern Arunachal’s Theravada Buddhists are ethnically, culturally and linguistically closer to the Buddhists of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
The Tai Khamptis and Singphos of Namsai district have a thriving Theravada Buddhist culture, which is evident in their daily lives as well as in the grand monasteries and temples they have built over the years. These monasteries are locally known as chongs or kyongs. Most chongs around Namsai have been renovated or rebuilt and stand as fine specimens of Tai Burmese style of temple architecture today.
Here are some of the most important monasteries that one must visit when in Namsai.
Namsai Monastery, Namsai Town
Formally known as the Pariyati Sasana Buddhist Vihara, the magnificent monastery in Namsai stands proud in all its glory as the first prominent Buddhist structure of Namsai. Stunning temples and interesting structures dot its vast compound. Meeting the Head Monk Ven, Bhaddhanta Aggadhamma and his disciples during an early morning visit can be a truly enriching experience.Located in the heart of Namsai town, this peaceful place has to be on your list of places to visit when in Namsai. The monastery houses novice monks, who come here from all parts of the state to get educated about their religion and discipline their lives. Don't forget to take a tour of the newly built prayer hall, which has some beautiful paintings depicting the life of Lord Buddha on its walls.
Kongmu Kham, Tengapani
More popularly known as the Golden Pagoda, this iconic monastery is the most important attraction of Namsai without a doubt. Bustling with visitors throughout the day, the Golden Pagoda is also the most noticeable landmark as you enter Namsai town through Tengapani and can be seen from the highway itself. Over the past few years, the iconic symbol of Theravada Buddhism has become one of the most photographed spots of Arunachal and continues to lure tourists with its grandeur and serenity.
Sprawling over an area of 20 hectares, the pagoda complex is dotted with neatly manicured lawns, clean ponds, nice walkways and an orchid centre, which houses exotic species from as far as Thailand.The complex is also home to a meditation centre, a library, living quarters for monks and an old-age home. The sanctum sanctorum of the pagoda is blessed with a bronze statue of Lord Buddha that was gifted by the chief monk from a temple in Thailand. The best time to visit the Golden Pagoda is during the first week of November, when the Kathina Robe Ceremony is held. The event draws monks and visitors from Thailand, Malaysia and Myanmar, and a lot of cultural displays by artists from all these countries, along with those of the Khampti artists can be enjoyed.
Momong Monastery, Momong
Just a few kilometres from the Golden Pagoda stand one of the oldest Theravada monasteries in Momong village. Dating back to 1918, the monastery was constructed with some old bronze Buddha statues that were brought from Myanmar during the late nineteenth century. You would also see many smaller figurines at this monastery. The beautiful old Bodhi tree at the Momong Monastery would definitely leave you impressed. What’s interesting to note about the monastery at Momong is the fact that you will notice the late phase of the older style of Khampti architecture, the one between the stages of bamboo and thatch temples and the extravagant new Thai-Burmese style.
Chongkham Buddha Vihara, Chongkham
Chongkham was once said to be one of the richest villages around, and the name itself translates into ‘temple of gold’. The monastery here stands true to Chongkham’s name. The complex is blessed with golden structures, roofs, pagodas and sculptures, a look that’s further dramatised around sunset.
More modern and Burmese in style than the other monasteries around Namsai, Chongkham’s Buddha Vihara is quite ornate. Inside the compound are several golden pagodas with little carvings of the Buddha in their niches, and idols illustrating situations from the Buddha’s lifetime. Particularly impressive is a giant reclining Buddha dressed in gold.
World Peace Pagoda, River Island, Chongkham
When done soaking in the tranquillity at the Buddha Vihara, walk towards the next door river island which lies at the other end of the Teang river. You’ll have to cross a steel bridge, which also offers stunning views of Chongkham’s impressive landscape. The World Peace Pagoda houses a meditation centre, which hosts monks from as far as Thailand during the Sangken festival, who come here to meditate.
Even though the pagoda remains closed most of the time, the nice part is that you could also take a 10-day Buddhist Vipassana meditation course offered here. Don’t make the mistake of leaving the place just because its doors are closed. You could sit by the river and interact with monks from nearby villages or simply loll around under the bright sun and clear blue skies breathing in fresh air. It’s absolutely zen and you’d love every moment spent at the river island.
Empong Monastery, Empong, Chongkham
Located at the confluence of Tissu and Marwa rivers, the monastery in Empong is one of the most important Buddhist chongs in Arunachal Pradesh. It is famed for its wish-fulfilling Buddha idol, known as the Phra Sutong Pe. Local legend suggests that this wooden idol had miraculously survived a huge fire in another monastery, and was found by a Singpho farmer far away from the original site of the fire. The farmer innocently asked the idol to keep the birds away from his field, which it did. The news spread and some people came and recognised the statue as the one that had been burnt in the fire. Deeming its reappearance miraculous, the village elders built a shrine for the idol at Empong, and since then, it is known for granting wishes to true devotes. At the entry of the monastery, a huge mango tree with enormous growth and size, perhaps the thickest in the world, will leave you jaw-dropped as it does to visitors from all corners of the world.
With inputs from Sanjeev Valsan