Tashilhunpo Monastery ( ),
founded in 1447 by Gendun Drup, the
First Dalai Lama, is a historic and
culturally important monastery next to
second-largest city in Tibet.
sacked when the Gurkhas invaded Tibet and
captured Shigatse in 1791 before a combined Tibetan and Chinese
army drove them back as far as the outskirts of Kathmandu, when they were forced to agree to keep the peace
in future, pay tribute every five years, and return what they had
looted from Tashilhunpo.
The monastery is the traditional seat of successive Panchen Lamas
, the second highest ranking
lineage in the Gelukpa
tradition. The "Tashi" or Panchen Lama had
temporal power over three small districts, though not over the town
of Shigatse itself, which was administered by a dzongp√∂n (prefect)
appointed from Lhasa.
Located on a hill in the center of the city, the full name in
of the monastery means:
"all fortune and happiness gathered here" or "heap of glory".
Monks hurrying to services,
- "If the magnificence of the place was to be increased by any
external cause, none could more superbly have adorned its numerous
gilded canopies and turrets than the sun rising in full splendour
directly opposite. It presented a view wonderfully beautiful and
brilliant; the effect was little short of magic, and it made an
impression which no time will ever efface from my mind." Captain
Samuel Turner, 'Embassy to the Court of the Teshu Lama,' p. 230.
Pilgrims circumambulate the monastery on the Lingkor
(sacred path) outside the walls.
Fortunately, although two-thirds of the buildings were destroyed
during the Cultural Revolution
they were mainly the residences for the 4,000 monks and the
monastery itself was not as extensively damaged as most other
monasteries in Tibet, for it was the seat of the Panchen Lama who
remained in Chinese-controlled territory.
The monastery was founded in 1447 CE by Gedun Drub
, the nephew and
disciple of the famous Buddhist philosopher Je Tsongkhapa
and later named the First Dalai Lama
. The construction was
financed by donations from local nobles.
Gyalsten, the Fourth Panchen
Lama and the first Panchen Lama to be recognized as such by the
rulers of Mongolia, made major
expansions to the monastery.
Since then all Panchen Lamas
have resided at Tashilhunpo, and have managed to expand it
the monastery was attacked and looted by an army of Nepalese Gurkha warriors
but were driven out by the Chinese who at the
same time strengthened their control, over the temple and Tibet.
Choekyi Gyalpo, the 11th Panchen Lama according to the
government of the People's Republic of China, has been enthroned there, while Gedhun Choekyi
Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama
recognised by the Dalai Lama, has been
held under "protective custody" by the Chinese authorities since
Tashilhunpo in its prime had over 4,000 monks and had four Tantric
colleges each with its own Abbot
. After the death of a Panchen Lama, these four abbots led the search
for his infant incarnation and one of them always acted as a prime
minister of Tsang under the control of the
Dalai Lama in Lhasa.
In 1960, however, the monastery was disbanded by the Chinese army
whilst the Panchen Lama
although less damage was inflicted on the monastery than on most
others around Tibet.
1960s many senior lamas and monastics left Tibet and helped
re-establish new monasteries in India, Nepal and Bhutan.
late Panchen Lama did not leave Tibet and consequently many of the
senior lamas from Tashilhunpo Monastery remained inside Tibet.
while other monasteries-in-exile have expanded and developed under
the guidance of senior lamas, Tashilhunpo has remained at a
disadvantage, although in 1972 a new campus of Tashilhunpo
Monastery was built by Tibetan exiles at a settlement in Bylakuppe, KarnńĀtakńĀ in southern India.
Since the early 1980s parts of the Tashilhunpo monastery have been
open to the public and it is an important tourist attraction in
Halls of the Tashilhunpo Monastery
Jamba Chyenmu 'The Maitreya Temple'
Monks at Tashilunpo
Temple known as (Jambu
Chyenmu)) on the west side is the tallest building of the
monastery. It was erected in 1914 by the Ninth Panchen Lama
to house a gigantic
of the Maitreya Buddha
26.2 metres (86 feet) in height. The statue sits on a splendid
lotus throne in the 'European' posture with its hands in the
symbolic teaching pose. A single finger of the giant figure is
almost 4 feet in length. The statue contains 279 kg
(614 lbs) of gold
and 150,000 kg
(330,000 lb) of copper and brass moulded on a solid wooden
frame by Tibetan and Nepalese
craftsmen. Small versions of the Maitreya are positioned in all four corners of the
chamber and the murals on either side of the
door show a more active, antic style than any to be seen in
Gudong: The Panchen Lama's Palace
On the east side of the monastery is the old living quarters of the
, the Panchen Lama's Palace
known as Gudong. Within, a narrow courtyard gives access to the
containing the Fourth Panchen Lama
's tomb. The temple
has very large
inscriptions at either end praising his holiness. Inside, the silver
and gold stupa tomb rivals any in the Potala Palace in Lhasa for the
splendour of its craftsmenship and jewels.
metres (36 ft) in height it contains 85 kg (187 lb)
of gold and countless semi-precious stones. On the left is three
statues representing Amitabha
, the Buddha
of Infinite Light, whom the Panchen Lams are thought to embody. An
upper level has a number of long chapels embroidered in silk thangka
's that relate the
lives and events surrounded the Panchen Lamas. Most were made in
Hangzou as indeed many throughout Tibet were during the 1920s.
living quarters of the Panchen Lama are no longer open to the
public but the rooms are more modest and human that any of the
rooms at the Potala.[Citation
Main Chanting Hall
The main chanting hall contains the throne
the Panchen Lama
and two connected
chapels. The left-one is devoted to an elaborately ensconced
with eight Bodhisattva
robed in bocade. The right hand one
is dedicated to Tara
the goddess who
sanctifies the mountain above and whose image is depicted
throughout the temple. A White Tara goddess occupies the centre of
with a Jade Green Tara on either
Sutra Hall is the repository chamber of the monastery containing
some 10,000 hand-carved wooden blocks used for printing the
scriptures. These are all Tibetan
translations of the original
text. Visitors to the temple can
buy colured prayer flags and Tibetan lunar calendars as souvenirs
which are printed in the chamber.
Gyeni Chanting Hall
The Gyeni Chanting Hall
is a chanting chamber of
the Tashilhunpo Monastery on the south-east side where Tibetan Buddhism
is practised. It has a
debating garden in its courtyard with many fine trees. The roof of
the chanting hall has a chapel on the north side where two very
tall guardians are formed from its structural columns by the use of
masks and ancient armour
. Outside it are some
extraordinary colourful Buddha murals and animal murals
which have emerged from folklore and animism
. It is situated near the smaller chanting
hall of the Ngagang college on the west side.
Ngang College is a smaller chanting chamber of the monastery on the
west side of the main path upstairs of the Deyangshar
courtyard. A Ngang a morning chanting
ceremony with musical instruments usually takes place between the
few remaining monks of the temple. Pilgrims may circumambulate the
hall but tourists, particularly photographers are asked to be
extremely sensitive to the religious atmosphere.
Chuajing Duogang: The Great Courtyard
The great flagstoned courtyard of Tashilhunpo, known as (Chuajing
Duogang) has walls which are covered by over 1000 repeated Sakyamuni
, with their hands gesturing the five
symbolic poses (mudras)
The Great Gallery
The gallery of the monastery surrounds the Deyangshar
courtyard and leads to the chapels on
the east side housing many hundreds of tiny Buddha statues.
The Roof Chapels
The roof of Tashilhunpo has several bronze-gated chapels located on
two-tiered levels. On the north side, above the chapels of the
chanting hall is the funerary stupa
First Dalai Lama
, the only one not
entombed in Lhasa. On the east side is a small 'chamber of horrors'
chapel. Painted demons
, considered now to be
defenders of Buddhism
betray their origins
as the terrifying gods of the old animist
faith who only later were absorbed by
Buddhism. On the south side is a charming Tara chapel with blue and
gold murals on the walls depicting Tibetan history.
its branch monasteries was the famous Drongtse Monastery, 14 km north of Tsechen.
In popular culture
Under the pseudonym Russell McCloud, Stephan M√∂gle-Stadel
thriller, 'Die Schwarze Sonne
von Tashi Lhunpo'
in 1991. (The Black Sun of Tashi Lhunpo)
- Chapman, Spencer F. (1940). Lhasa: The Holy City.
Readers Union Ltd., London.
- Das, Sarat Chandra. Lhasa and Central Tibet. (1802).
Reprint: Mehra Offset Press, Delhi (1988).
- Dorje, Gyurme. (1999) Tibet handbook: with Bhutan, 2nd
Edition. Footprint Travel Guides. ISBN 1900949334, ISBN
- Dowman, Keith. 1988. The Power-places of Central Tibet: The
Pilgrim's Guide. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London and New
York. ISBN 0-7102-1370-0
- Das, Sarat Chandra. Lhasa and Central Tibet. (1902).
Edited by W. W. Rockhill. Reprint: Mehra Offset Press, Delhi
(1988), pp. 40, 43 ff., 69, 114, 117, 149, 237; illustration
opposite p. 50.
- Richardson, Hugh E. Tibet
& its History. Second Edition, Revised and Updated.
(1984). Shambhala Publications, Boston Mass. ISBN