In the Nubra Valley in Ladakh, in the midst of sand dunes and rocky barren mountains sits the Diskit monastery. It was built sometime in the 14th C during the reign of King Nyama Dakpa. A monk from the Leh valley, Tserab Zangpo, is said to have founded the monastery. Interestingly Zangpo was a follower of the Gelug School, which is one of the newest strands of Tibetan Buddhism and at that time, would have barely been a few decades old. One can only imagine, but his coming and the setting up of the monastery, would have created quite a stir among the local population which was a mix of Buddhist, Shia Muslims, Sunnis and Noorbakshiyas.
Still the monastery is quite a grand structure, not as large as many of the others we saw in the state, but imposing nevertheless. A winding road that twists and turns like the mountain wind leads up to the monastery. We climb a flight of stairs to be met by a monk who leads us into the first of the prayer halls where he tells us this story.
The Nubra region was the favorite haunt of Mongol raiders who were looking to establish their rule over the kingdom. They would ride in big groups and small, destroying everything that came their way. During one such raid, led by a particularly ferocious leader, the marching troops made their way right up to the king’s palace which stood where the monastery stands now.
Grags-pa-‘bum-Ide, the king of Nubra at the time, was always on his guard. He was a devotee of Mahakali had installed a huge idol of the goddess in the palace. The idol was unique as it was cast in white stone, unlike the other idols of the goddess which were always black in color. The white Mahakali was the guardian of the king and his kingdom – she was the protector goddess.
As the Mongolian raiders rode up to the palace and stormed its gates, they found themselves face to face with Mahakali. Her white form loomed over them in all its gargantuan splendour and it is said that the leader was transfixed to the spot. Fear tied his feet and knocked him dead and his men fled the scene. The king’s men then gathered up his lifeless body and dropped it into the nullah that still flows by the monastery. The palace doors were safely secured and the valley slept in peace that night. But the next morning as the guards threw open the gates, they found the Mongolian leader’s dead body back where it was the previous day, lying in front of the idol of Mahakali. Stunned, they threw it into the nullah once again. They did this three times and three mornings in a row, they found the dead body back inside the palace gates. Finally someone suggested that they place the skull and hand of the dead leader in the hands of Mahakali, as an offering for her protection. The king ordered that it be done immediately and after that the rest of the body was duly disposed. This time, the dead leader did not reappear.
The white Mahakali stands tall in the monastery today and the skull and the hand, are still in the tight grasp of her hands.
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta
Story told by: Monk at Disket monastery
Text Source: Recent Research on Ladakh 6: Proceedings of the Sixth International Colloquium on Ladakh Leh 1993 by Henry Osmaston and Nawang Tsering