The small monastery of Katsel is situated in the vicinity of the town of Medrogungkar at the bottom of the Kyichu Valley’s eastern scarp.
Built in the 7th century, Katsel (ska tshal) is one of the oldest Buddhist temples of Tibet. In ancient times, according to legend, Tibet was ruled by a giant demoness named Sinmo, who periodically ravaged the land with disasters. Her body was formed by the topography of the country. King Songtsen Gampo had four temples and monasteries built on geomantically significant places in order to subordinate the demoness to the Buddhist faith.
These religious buildings served to symbolically nail Sinmo down. Katsel was one of those geomantic temples (ru gnon), pinning the demoness’ right shoulder.
Katsel’s varied and eventful history is typical of many Tibetan monasteries. It was founded by the Nyingma, was transferred to the Drikungpa in the 13th century, and was taken over by the Gelugpa in the 17th century and held by them until it was returned to the Drikung Kagyu order in the 19th century.
After having been partially destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, Katsel has been gradually rebuilt. The Thugdam Tsuglagkhang, which was originally built during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo, has been restored on the old pattern. The temple has a narrow portico leading into the small pillared assembly hall with the inner shrine room (lha khang) surrounded by a path for circumambulation. There used to be a large statue of Jigten Sumgon and of of Maitreya in the assembly hall. On the roof there is another small shrine-room. The walls of the shrine-room are painted with murals of the Drikung lineage and a new image of the Achi Chokyi Dolma. They are decorated with old thangkas of Palden Lhamo, Guru Rinpoche, Shantarakshita and the Emperor Trisong Detsen.
Behind the assembly hall is the lukhang (klu khang), the residence of the naga that Guru Rinpoche subdued and turned into a protector. This temple also housed a large reliquary stupa (gdung rten) of the 17th lineage holder Gyalwang Rinchen Phuntsog (1509-1557).