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The Most Famous Temples and Monasteries in Tibet

Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Lamaism, is a form of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in Tibet and spread to neighboring countries of the Himalayas. Tibetan Buddhism is known for its rich mythology and iconography and for the practice of identifying the reincarnations of deceased spiritual masters. There are many monasteries and temples in Tibet; among them some are with high reputations. If you are interest in Tibetan Buddhism and monasteries, the following famous temples and monasteries you should never miss.

Jokhang Temple, Lhasa

Located at the center of the old Lhasa, Jokhang Temple is the spiritual center of Tibet. Built in 647 by Songtsen Gampo, it has a history of more than 1,300 years. The temple is the fine product of Han, Tibetan and Nepalese architecture techniques. Visitors will be treated to the sight of various exotic and sacred sculptures. Jokhang Temple also houses many invaluable cultural relics. Every year, the Great Prayer Festival is held here. The temple was called the Tsulag Khang or 'House of Wisdom' but it is now known as the Jokhang which means the 'House of the Lord'.
Jokhang Temple has remained a key center of Buddhist pilgrimage for centuries. It was sacked several times by the Mongols, but the building survived. In the past several centuries the temple complex was expanded and now covers an area of about 25,000 sq. meters. There is a walled enclosure in front of the Jokhang which contains some willows called the Jowo Utra ('Hair of the Jowo') and a doring or inscribed pillar erected by the Chinese in 1793 during a smallpox epidemic. There are also famous statues of Chenresig, Padmasambhava and King Songtsan Gambo and his two famous foreign brides, Princess Wen Cheng (niece of Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty) and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal.
For most Tibetans it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. Along with the Potala Palace, it is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Lhasa. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site 'Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace

Potala Palace, Lhasa

Originally built by King Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century, Potala Palace is located on the Red Hill of Lhasa. The awe-inspiring Potala Palace, perched high above much of Lhasa, is the landmark of the city.
Destroyed by lightning and war, Patala Palace had been rebuilt by the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1645 and since then, it has become the seat of Dalai Lamas and also the political center of Tibet.
Mainly comprised by the White Palace, the administrative building, and the Red Palace, religious building, Potala Palace is famous for its grand buildings, complicated constructions, devotional atmosphere and splendid artworks. The White Palace, comprising halls, temples and courtyards, serves as the living quarters of the Dalai Lama. The Red Palace includes various chambers for worshipping Buddha and chambers housing the eight stupa that contain the remains of fifth through thirteenth Dalai Lama.
There are also many other constructions in Potala Palace which include: the school of Buddhist Logic, the Seminary, the printing house, gardens, courtyards and even the Jail. For more than 300 years, Potala Palace has treasured many culture relics such as murals, stupas, statues, tangkas, and rare sutras. Potala Palace is indeed a must see in Lhasa.

Drepung Monastery, Lhasa

Located 5 km from Lhasa, the Drepung Monastery is considered one of the three great monasteries in Tibet. It was first built in 1416, and held 7,700 monks in its heyday. In Tibetan language, Drepung Monastery means monastery of collecting rice.

Drepung Monastery was known for the high standards of its academic study, and was called the Nalanda of Tibet, a reference to the great Buddhist monastic university of India. Chapman reported that in the late 1930's Drepung was divided into four colleges, each housing monks from a different locality.

The Drepung Monastery houses many cultural relics, which adron the monastery and make it more superb. Statues of Manjushri Bodhisattva, and Sitatapatra found on the first story of the Coqen Hall, rare sutras on the second story and Jamyang Qoigy's conch shell given by Tsong Khapa on the third one, all add to the wonder of the monastery. Exquisite statues of Tsong Khapa, Kwan-yin Bodhisttva, Manjushri Bodhisattva, Amitayus, and Jamyang Qoigyi in other sutra halls, as well as flowery murals on walls also fully present the wisdom of the Tibetan people.

Sera Monastery, Lhasa

The Sera Monastery
is the last of the three principal Yellow Sect monasteries built in Lhasa. The setting itself is very beautiful with cobbled alleyways, temples and colleges. The highlight of visiting Sera Monastery will be watching monks debating inside the shady courtyard behind the main temple. Every day, hundreds of red-robed monks assemble in small groups and practice their debating skills. Founded in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, Sera Monastery is one of the great three Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet. The original Sera Monastery was in Lhasa, about 5 km north of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. Sera Monastery once housed more than 5,000 monks in 1959. Although badly damaged, it is still standing and has been largely repaired. It now houses a few hundred Buddhist monks.

The highlight of visiting in Sera Monastery will be watching a monks debating inside the shady courtyard behind the main temple. Every day, hundreds of red-robed monks assemble in small groups and practice their debating skills. It is a highly entertaining spectacle, during which they strike poses not dissimilar to hip hop rappers. They are clap, turn, and finger point, whoop, holler, and throw their prayer beads about. In most cases, one monk sits on the floor, while another one stands, and between them, they argue about Buddhist rituals - immensely enjoying their debates. As tourists you are allowed to walk around the edge and observe the very dynamic and animated monks asking and answering questions like ‘why', ‘what came first the chicken or the egg' and ‘who is your favorite Buddha'. The spectacle is just so fun-filled and high energy. It's a bit like a Sicilian market place, or a football match, increasing in volume all the time, and some of the monks are really good showmen, sometimes mischievously involving you in their debates, as if trying to get you onto their side

Ganden Monastery, Lhasa

Ganden Monastery
is located on the southern bank of Lhasa River, 60 km from Lhasa City. It is one of the earliest and largest Buddhist monasteries in Tibet, and stands atop of the six famous temples of Gelugpa, a branch of Tibetan Buddhism. Every year, Buddha Painting Unfolding Festival is held in the monastery, attracting thousands of visitors and disciples.
Ganden Monastery was completely destroyed during the rebellion of 1959. In 1966 it was severely shelled by Red Guard artillery and monks then had to dismantle the remains. Most of Tsongkhapa's mummified body was burned but his skull and some ashes were saved from the fire by Bomi Rinpoche, the monk who had been forced to carry the body to the fire. Re-building has been continuing since the 1980s and the "red-painted lhakang in the centre is the reconstruction of Ganden's sanctum sanctorum containing Tsongkapa's reliquary chorten called the Tongwa Donden, 'Meaningful to Behold.'

Since Ganden Monastery is the ancestral monastery of Gelugpa, the abbots of Ganden Monastery, the Ganden Tripas, are regarded as the abbots of Gelugpa as well. The Ganden Tripas are only outranked by the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lamas.

Sakya Monastery, Shigatse

Situated 160 km west of Shigatse, Sakya is the principal monastery of the Sakyapa Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Its medieval Mongolian architecture is quite different from temples in Lhasa and Yarlung. Sakya Monastery is famed as the "Second Dunhuang" due to its colossal collection of numerous Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, murals and Thangkas.
The main architectures inside the castle are the Dajing Hall, the Buddhism Hall and the hall where the Sakya archbishop lived. They all preserve the style of Yuan architectures. The Dajing Hall is in the center of the temple and occupies an area of 5,700 square meters. The columns and walls inside it are all painted dark red. There are 40 columns, each 10 meters high. On the western, northern and southern sides are fresco corridors while on the eastern side is the hall where Sakyapa Masters are enshrined. To the north of Dajing Hall is the hall for Sakyapa archbishop, with monks’ dorms on its north and back.
On the shelves of the Dajing Hall and the Buddhism Hall are displayed various hand-written Buddhist scriptures and books of Ming and Qing dynasties. It has the largest number of books among all the temples in Tibet. These scriptures and books are precious materials for research into the Tibetan history.

Tashilhunpo Monastery, Shigatse

Founded by the First Dalai Lama in 1447, Tashilhunpo Monastery is one of the six big monasteries in Tibet. It is the seat of the Panchen Lama, the second ranking person in the Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, after the Dalai Lama. The monastery houses the tombs of Panchen Lamas and a 22.4-meter statue of Maitreya Buddha. Tashilhunpo remains popular among the Tibetans, as they carry on coming here on pilgrimage.
Standing on the entrance of Tashilhunpo, you can see the grand buildings with golden roofs and white walls. The remarkable Tangka wall which is nine-floor high, displays the images of Buddha on the 14th, 15th and 16th of May every year following the Tibetan Lunar Calendar.
Besides the grand palace and gigantic statues, the Tashilhunpo also treasures characteristic wall paintings. Because of the variety of shapes, resplendent colors and exquisite painting, the murals are considered to be another masterpiece of Buddhist art. Rare sutras, tangka, china and glass service of the Ming and Qing Dynasties are also invaluable asserts found in the monastery. These are good relics for researching the history and society of Tibet.

Rongbuk Monastery, Shigatse

Rongbuk Monastery
was built by a local Lama in 1899. Because it is located at the north slope of theMt. Everest, 5,154 m above the sea level. It is the base camp for mountaineers and an ideal location to view Mt. Everest from afar. Walking forward from Rongbuk Monastery, you will also see the famous Rongbuk Glacier Zone, which is the largest among hundreds of glaciers formed around the Mt. Everest.
Climbers must pass through Rongbuk in order to reach the highest peak of Mt. Qomolangma via the North Face. It has been described as having some of the most dramatic views in the world, presenting a panorama of the Shishapangma, Mt. Qomolangma, Cho Oyu, and Gyachung Kang peaks to visitors.
In previous times, the monastery became very active with the teachings at certain times of the year. It was, and is, the destination of special Buddhist pilgrimages where annual ceremonies are held for spectators coming from as far as Nepal and Mongolia. These ceremonies were shared with the satellite monasteries across the Himalaya also founded by the Rongbuk Lama.

Samye Monastery, Shannan

Built in the 8th century, Samye Monastery was the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Samye is famous for its sacred mandala design: the central temple symbolizes the legendary Mount Meru, center of the universe. It is a popular pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists, some of whom travel on foot for weeks to reach it.
Samye Monsstery is constructed in approximately 775 AD under the patronage of King Trisong Detsen of Tibet who sought to revitalize Buddhism, which had declined since its introduction by King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. The monastery is located in Dranang, Shannan Prefecture.
Samye Monastery is laid out on the shape of a giant mandala, with the main temple representing the legendary Mt. Meru in the centre. Other buildings stand at the corners and cardinal points of the main temple, representing continents and other features of the Buddhist universe. The main temple is full of Tibetan religious art in mural and statue form, as well as some important relics. Many Tibetan Buddhists come on pilgrimage to Samye, some taking weeks to make the journey.
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