Child Monks of Ladakh

Azure skies, alluring terrain and the sweeping view of Himalayas- Nestled in this area are the three monasteries - Thiksey, Lamayaru and Hemis where these young monks spend many of their child hood years.

Unmistakable in their maroon robes these ‘novice’ monks are sent to these monasteries by their families. When a prospective monk is brought to the monastery, a lock of his hair from top of his head, called a ‘shaput’, is presented to the ‘rimpoche’ as a sign that they are committed to becoming a monk at that monastery. Post a discussion with the family the monk’s head is shaved and the clothes of a layman are given up in exchange for the three-part maroon robes which he will wear for as long as he remains a monk.


At this first stage these children are thought of as “novice” monks. In the past such monks would be housed with a senior monk, who would function as their tutor . In recent years this system has been replaced in Ladakh by monastic boarding schools, usually located on the grounds of the monastery. ‘Gesnyen’ or the ‘first stage’ monks, sometimes participate among the monastic community, but they are not yet part of it. They live at the school during most of the year and some may return to live with their family during the mid-winter break. The boarding schools are well equipped with infrastructure, books and facilities. The young monks spend much of their time immersed in studies but also camaraderie and playfulness is apparent.


Historically, monks have customarily been recruited at a very young age, so that they may become socialized early into the monastic lifestyle thus increasing the likelihood that they will remain a monk for the rest of their lives.

During the Namgyal Dynasty,  it was decreed that every family with more than one son must send one – but not the eldest – to the monastery. This remains the normal pattern in Ladakh.

Families, motivated by either the advantage of deflecting the financial burden of raising a child to the monastery, recruitment pressures from the monastery itself, and the meritorious act – of karmic benefit both to the child and the family – of sending a child off to live out such a highly valued Buddhist ideal, often opt for one of their sons to enter the monastic life. Although things are fast changing and ‘ Mass Monasticism’ has reduced over the years with increased opportunities and a promising better quality of life outside, yet these monasteries continue to resonate with the young energy of these ‘child monks’

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