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Buddhits Temples

Buddhits Drepung Monastery In Tibet

The Drepung Monastery sits at the foot of the Gambo Utse mountain in the western suburb of the Lhasa city and spreads over an area of 250,000 square meters. A white structure, it lines up row upon row and when seen from afar, gives an impression of huge heap of rice. This is what gives the monastery its name, Drepung, which in Tibet means heap of rice.

One of the most famous monasteries of Tibet, the Drepung Monastery was established in the year 1416 by Jamyang Qoigyi, a disciple of the Gelukpa school founder Je Tsong Khapa. Initially, when the monastery was founded, it was a small structure and had only 7 monks residing in it. Neupon Namka-Zangpo, the political leader of Central Tibet at that time, became the patron for the monastery. Gradually, the seven great colleges of the Gomang, Losel-ling, Deyang, Shagkor, Gyelwa or Tosamling, Dulwa and Ngagpa imparting studies on tantra and sutra were founded. The higher standard of studies earned the monastery the sobriquet of the Nalanda of Tibet. After sometime, the Dulwa, Shagkor and Gyelwa Colleges ceased to exist as separate colleges. However, the monastery emerged as one of the richest and biggest monastery of Gelukpa order. At its zenith, it housed 7,700 monks who were supoorted by 141 manors and 540 pastures that the monastery owned. 

In1546, Sonam Gyatso, the 3rd Dalai Lama was invited over to be the first living Buddha to reside in the Drepung Monastery. He later travelled to Qinghai to teach Buddhism on the invitation of Mongolian king and in 1578 became the first one to be bestowed with the title of the Dalai Lama. The 1st and the 2nd Dalai Lama were graced with the title post their death. The Drepung Monastery served as the residence of the Dalai Lamas till the time the they were conferred with the title of the temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet. Now, the Dalai Lama could no longer have a permanent residence in the Drepung monastery, hence the Potala Palace was extended and the 5th Dalai Lama moved in there. Because it was the first residence of the Dalai Lama, the Drepung Monastery is regarded as the mother monastery of the Dalai Lamas.

The monastery continued to progress till the time Chinese invasion rocked Tibet. The monks of monastery found it difficult to carry out their religious activities in the prevailing circumstances and fled to West Bengal in India. Later, for the sake of staying close to the Tibetan settlement camps, they shifted base to south Indian state Karnataka.Today, the monastery in Tibet houses only a few hundred monks.

The buildings of the monastery have two spectacular pagodas as their centre. Important amongst these buildings are Ganden Potrang, Coqen Hall, the four Zhacangs (or Tantric colleges), and Kamcuns.

The Ganden Potrang occupies the southwest corner of the monastery and was constructed under the aegis of the 2nd Dalai Lama Gendun Gyatso around the year of 1530. It became home to the second, third, fourth, and the fifth Dalai Lamas before Potala Palace became their residence.

The Coquen Hall, situated in the centre of the monastery, has a large square infront of it. The stone steps lead upto grand Entrance Hall passing through which you will reach the Sutra Hall. This hall stands on 183 pillars and is ornated with beautiful statues of Buddha. Apart from this, there is a collection of precious sutras, a set of Gangyur Tripitaka written in gold powder and woodcarving sutras of the Qing Dynasty that makes a visit interesting.

In other sutra halls, the monastery houses wonderful statues of Tsong Khapa, Kwan-yin Bodhisattva, Manjushri Bodhisattva, Amitayus, and Jamyang Qoigyi. The walls are adorned with flowery murals. There are also a number of courtyards in the monastery which are made use of by the monks for conducting debates in sutras.

The most important festival of the Drepung Monastery is the Shoton Festival. On this day, a number of Buddhist devouts gather at the monastery to have a glimpse of the 20 m wide and 30 m long thangka of the Sakyamuni Buddha in the morning. The unveling ceremony is followed by Tibetan Opera.

Lhasa, the capital of Tibet is situated on the north bank of the Kyichu River (Lhasa River). It is the highest city in the world and is endowed with beautiful natural scenery and unspoilt landscape. For tourists coming to Tibet, Lhasa is invariably the starting point. There are pretty good accommodation, dining and transportation facilities in the city that makes it easier for tourists to stay here. Additionally, there are other attractions as well which make for an interesting visit.

Other Attractions
  • Jokhang Temple :  An extremely sacred destination for Tibetan Buddhist, the Jokhang Temple attracts thousands of devotees throughout the year. The temple is situated in the old city of Lhasa and was constructed by king Songtsen Gampo so that his wife Princess Wencheng could enshrine the two Buddha statues she brought with her after marriage. The original complex comprised just eight shrines, however multiple renovation work converted the monastery into the huge complex that it is today. The highlight of the temple is the statue of Sakyamuni which is one of three designed by Sakyamuni himself. The statue shows what he was like at the age of eight. The temple, declared a world heritage site in the year 2000, is open between 9 in the morning to 6 in the evening. 

  • Barkhor Street : Barkhor Street runs around the Jokhang temple and is important because the Buddhist walk clockwise on it (round the Jonkhang temple) to pay their respect to Sakyamuni. The street is the perfect place if you wish to see the religious faith of people in Tibet. Also, the street is full of markets. Almost all house that face the street have converted into shops that sell religious articles like thangka, prayer wheel and prayer flags as well as non religious items like knives. 

  • Potala Palace :  Standing impressively on the top of the Marpo Ri Hill in the center of Lhasa city, the construction of the Potala Palace was first commenced in the 7th century by king Songtsen Gampo. However, the war and the lightening in the 10th century destroyed it completely. The palace was later reconstructed by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1645 and additions were made till 1936. The remanants of the 7th century are the Cave of Dharma King (Songtsen Gampo) and a hall dedicated to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva.

  • Norbulingka : Located in the western suburb of Lhasa, south west of the Potala Palace, Norbulingka is the biggest man made garden of Tibet. The place was a favourite with the 7th Dalai Lama who came here to spend his summers while studying Buddhism in the Drepung Monastery. As a result a palace for him came up here at the behest of the Qing magistrate. In the following years, the 7th Dalai Lama constructed the Kelsang Potrang and named the area Norbulingka. The Tsokyil Potrang, considered the most beautiful building here, was constructed by the 8th Dalai Lama while the Chensel Potrang and the Takten Migyur Potrang were constructed by the 13th and the 14th Dalai Lama respectively. Initially, the park was not open for general public but now a whole lot of people spend their holidays in this park. Norbulingka is open from 9 in the morning to 12 in the noon and then from 3 to 6 in the evening.

  • Ramoche Monastery : The Ramoche Monastery stands on the northern side of the Barkhor Street and has the magnificent Jokhang Temple as its neighbour. The monastery was constructed by the Tang dynasty with its main gate facing eastward. This eastward facing is symbolic of the Princess Wencheng's affection for her birthplace and parents. The monastery is a three storeyed structure with statues of Sakyamuni and Maitreya as its prime highlight.

  • Sera Monastery : Standing at the foot of Sera Utse mountain in the western suburb of the Lhasa city, the Sera Monastery is one of the three most important monasteries of the Gelukpa tradition in Tibet. The monastery derives its name from two traditions which believe that a large tract of wild roses bloomed at the site of the monastery earlier and a fierce hailstorm occurred when the monastery was founded. Sera is the Tibetan expression for both hail and wild roses and hence the monastery became Sera monastery. The main buildings in the monastery are Coqen Hall, Zhacang (college) and Kamcun (dormitory). Within these are scriptures written in gold powder, fine statues, scent cloth and beautiful murals. The debates held at Sera Monastery are quiet famous and have a unique style of their own. The monastery celebrates the Sera Bengqin festival every year on December 27 as per Tibetan calendar. 

  • Ganden Monastery : The monastery is the oldest amongst the three important monasteries of Gelukpa tradition and is located 48 km east of Lhasa on the summit of Wangbur Mountain, beside the Lhasa River. Its construction by Tsong Khapa in 1409 marked the foundation of the Gelukpa School of Tibetan Buddhism. It is because of this that the abbots of the Ganden Monastery are regarded as the abbots of Gelukpa tradition on the whole. Only the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama have a superior power than the abbot of Ganden Monastery. The monastery has 90 stupas preserving the remains of previous Ganden Tripas including Tsong Khapa. Apart from this, a suit of armor, twenty four Thangkas woven in fine silks and gold thread and a set of Buddhist sutras written in pure gold are also worthseeing in this monastery. The monastery is open between 9 in the morning to 4 in the evening.

How to Reach
By Air - The airport of Lhasa is located 100 km south of the city and is known as Gonggar Airport. Flights from this airport is connected to destinations like Chengdu, Beijing, Xian, Kunming, Chongqing and Kathmandu. From the airport, buses and taxis are available to transfer you to Lhasa.

By Road - Lhasa can be reached by road from inland China by five major highways - Qingzang Highway (from Xining of Qinghai Province to Lhasa), Chuanzang Highway (from Chengdu of Sichuan Province to Lhasa), Xinzang (from Kargilik of Xinjiang to Ngari) and Dianzang Highway (from Xiaguan of Yunnan Province to Markam). A highway also connects Lhasa to Kathmandu in Nepal via Zhangmu County. In Lhasa, you can hire a taxi, mini bus, pedicab and bicycle to explore the areas in and around the city. 

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