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The Jokhang Temple
Tibetan transcription(s)
Tibetan ཇོ་ཁང།
Chinese transcription(s)
Pinyin Dàzhāosì
Jokhang is located in Tibet
Location within Tibet
Monastery information
Location Barkhor, Lhasa, Tibet, China
Founded by Songsten Gampo
Founded 7th century
Type Tibetan Buddhist
Sect Gelug
Dedicated to Shakyamuni
Architecture Home of the most venerated statue in Tibet

The Jokhang (Tibetan: ཇོ་ཁང།), also called the Qoikang Monastery, Jokang, Jokhang Temple, Jokhang Monastery or Zuglagkang (Tibetan: གཙུག་ལག་ཁང༌།Wylie: gtsug-lag-khang, ZYPY: Zuglagkang; also Tsuklakang), is located on Barkhor Square in Lhasa, the capital city of the country of Tibet. For most Tibetans it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. It is in some regards pan-sectarian, but is controlled by the Gelug school. The temple's architectural style is a mixture of Indian vihara design, Tibetan, and Nepalese design.

The Jokhang was founded during the reign of king Songtsän Gampo. According to tradition, the temple was built for the two brides of the king, Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang dynasty and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. Both wives are said to have brought important Buddhist statues and images from China and Nepal to Tibet as part of their dowries, and they were housed here. Initially, many Nepalese artists worked to construct this temple.


  • Location 1
  • Etymology 2
  • History 3
  • Architecture 4
  • Collection of Buddhist scriptures and sculptures 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


Jokhang with Barkhor square in the front

The Jokhang temple, considered the "spiritual heart of the city" and most sacred in Tibet[1] is located in the center of an ancient network of Buddhist temples in the Great Temple of Lhasa city and is the focal point of commercial activity in the city with a maze of lanes emerging outwards.[2] It is 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) to the east of the Potala Palace.[3] Barkhor is the market square here in the heart of Lhasa which has the trek path for pilgrims to cicumambulate the Jokham shrine. It is a short 20m minutes walk around the holiest shrine in Tibet.[4] The Barkhor square is marked by four stone sankang or incense burners, two of which are front of the temple and two at the rear end.[5]


Rasa Thrulnag Tsuklakang "Meaning the house of Mysteries" or "The House of Religious Science" was the ancient name of Jokhang.[6] When King Songtsän built it his capital city was called 'Rasa' meaning "goats" as goats were used to transport earth to cover the water body to build the temple. After the king's death Rasa came to be known as "Lhasa" (meaning:"Place of the Gods") and the temple was called "Jokhang" (meaning: "Temple of the Lord"), derived from the name of Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha, the main image deified in the temple.[7] Its Chinese name is Dazhao.[8] The temple is also known as Zuglagkang or Qoikang Monastery.[9] Tsuglhakhang is another name for the temple.[5]


Tibetans viewed their country as a "living being" under the control of the wild demoness called as srin ma pronounced sinma who they considered was opposed to the propagation of Buddhism in the country. In order to prevent her from her evil intentions, King Songtsän Gampo (the first king of a unified Tibet[10]) evolved a plan to build twelve temples covering the entire country. The temples were built in three parts; in the first part, central Tibet was covered with four temples called the "four horns" (ru bzhi); in the second group four more temples were constructed in the border areas known as (mtha'dul); and the last four were built in the outer limits of the country called the yang'dul. Finally, the Jokham temple was built on the heart of the sinma, which ensured that her power was subjugated.[11]

To build neighbourly good relations with Nepal, Songtsän Gampo deputed envoys to the King of Nepal, Amsuvarman seeking his daughter's hand in marriage which was accepted by the King. His daughter Bhrikuti came to Tibet as the Nepalese wife or Tritsun, called as Belsa in Tibet. The image of Akshobhya Buddha or Mikyoba, which she had brought as dowry, was deified in a temple in the middle of lake known as Ramoche.[12]

Songtsän Gampo's next move was to get a wife from China and to achieve this he deputed his ambassador to the Chinese emperor Taizong (627-650) of the Tang Dynasty seeking one of his daughter's hand in marriage. The proposal was rejected by the Chinese Emperor as he considered Tibetans as "barbarians". He further compounded the insult by announcing marriage of one of his daughters to the king of Duyu Hun. This infuriated Gampo and then he mounted an attack, initially on the tribal areas affiliated with the Tang Dynasty, and then moved on Songzhou, the Chinese city. He further informed the Chinese emperor that he would be forced to escalate his violent actions unless he agreed to his request, and also sent a conciliatory gift of a "suit of armour" studded with gold with another request to the Emperor to agree to give his daughter in marriage to him. At this stage Taizong had no alternative but to concede, and he married his daughter Wencheng to the Tibetan king. When she went to Tibet in 640 AD, as the Chinese wife of the king, called as Gyasa in Tibet, she carried with her an image of Sakyamuni Buddha as a young prince. This image was deified in a temple which was named Trulnang, which subsequently was called the Jokhang. Now this is the holiest shrine in Tibet, and the image deified in the temple known as Jowo Rinpoche has become the most revered idol in the country.[12]

The ancient part of the temple which was built in 652 by King Songsten Gampo. In order to choose the location for building this temple, he had tossed ahead his hat (or ring as in another version[13]) with a prayer to build the temple at the place where the hat landed. The hat landed in a lake where suddenly a white stupa (a memorial monument) emerged,[14] over which the temple was built. In another version it is said that Queen Bhrikuti founded the temple to install the statue that she had brought, while Queen Wengcheng selected the site on the Chinese philosophical laws of geomancy or (feng shui).[10] The lake was then filled up leaving a small pond (which is seen even now at Jokhang as a well linked to the ancient lake) and a temple was built over the filled up area. In the following nine hundred years this temple was enlarged and the last renovation/improvement was carried out in 1610 by the Fifth Dalai Lama.[14]

The design and construction of the temple is attributed to the craftsmen from Nepal. After the death of Songsten Gampo, Queen Wencheng is reported to have moved the statue of Jowo from the Ramoche temple to the Jokhang temple to make it secure from any attacks by the Chinese soldiers. It is for this reason that a part of the temple is known as Chapel, which was the secret hiding place of the Jowo Sakyamuni. As time passed the Jowo temple became the most revered in Tibet.[15]

During the reign of King Tresang Detsan (r. 755-797) Buddhists were persecuted as the minister to the king, Marshang Zongbagyi was devoted to the Bon religion, and he was hostile to Buddhism. During this period the image of Akshobya Buddha in the Jokhang temple was hidden below the ground and could not be moved even by 200 people. The images in the Jokhang and Ramoche temples were also moved away to Jizong in Ngari and the monks were persecuted and made to leave Jokhang.[16] During the period of anti-Buddhist activity, in the later part of ninth and early tenth centuries, Jokhang and Ramoche temples were converted to horse stables.[17]

In 1049, Atisha, a renowned teacher of Buddhism from Bengal, who taught in Jokhang found the "The Royal Testament of the Pillar" (Bka' chems ka khol ma) in a pillar at Jokhang; this document was said to be the testament of Songsten Gampo. Atisha died in 1054.[17][18]

Jokhang – mid-1840s

From around the 14th century, the temple was associated with the Vajrasana in India. It is said that the image of Buddha deified in Jokhang temple was of 12 year old Buddha and that it was earlier located in the Bodh Gaya Temple, in India which was a strong pointer to the "historical and ritual" links of India to the Tibetans. Tibetans therefore call this temple as the "Vajrasana of Tibet" (Bod yul gyi rDo rje gdani) or the second Vajrasana (rDo rje gdan pal} or "Vajrasan the Navel of the Land of snows" (Gangs can sa yi lte ba rDo rje gdani).[19]

Following the occupation of Nepal by the Gorkhas in 1769, during the Gorkha-Tibetan war in 1792 the Chinese ruler Qianlong ousted the Gorkhas from Tibet, and the freedom of the Tibetans to interact with their neighbors was restricted. This period lasted for more than 100 years and has been termed as "the real dark age of Tibet". Pilgrimages outside Tibet were banned for the Tibetans and the Chinese king suggested that it would be equally effective to worship in the Jowo Buddha of the Jokhang Temple.[20]

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution the Red Guard had attacked the Jokhang temple in 1966. For a decade there was no worship in the monasteries of Tibet. However, renovation of the Jokhang was started in 1972 and mostly completed by 1980. Following this and stoppage of persecution, the temple was re-consecrated. It is now visited by a large number of Tibetans who come to worship Jowo at the inner sanctum of the temple.[21]

It is said that during the Revolution, the temple was spared destruction and was boarded up till 1979.[14] However, it is also said that during this period some parts of the Jokhang was made a pig-cote, some areas became army barracks for the Chinese soldiers; an abattoir, the soldiers burnt many historical Tibetan scriptures housed in the temple. For some time it was even converted into a hotel.[15]

However, following the city development action taken by the Chinese, the Barkhor Square where the temple is situated was encroached by destroying the outer circumambulatory route around the temple. The inner circuit was also converted into a plaza leaving only a small route for the circumambulation as the modified pilgrimage route. Following this development, the square is now abuzz with sale of religious paraphernalia related to the pilgrimage.[14]

There are two "flagstones" called "doring" or inscribed pillars outside the temple that flank the north and south entrances to the temple, which are worshipped by the Tibetans. The first flagstone is an "edict" of March 1794 (known as the "Forever Following Tablet" in the Chinese language (illegible) records advice on hygiene measures to prevent smallpox, which has been chiseled out in parts by the Tibetans on the assumption that the stone itself had curative effect. The second stone slab, a far older pillar, of 5.5 metres (18 ft) height with a crown in the shape of a palace, has an inscription dated 822 (821 is also mentioned). The tablet is given titles such as "Number One Tablet in Asia", "Lhasa Alliance Tablet", "Changing Alliance Tablet", "Uncle and Nephew Alliance Tablet" and "Tang Dynasty -Tubo Peace Alliance Tablet".[22])[23] Inscription is in Tibetan and Chinese languages, which is a peace treaty between Tibetan King Ralpachen and Chinese Emperor Wangti, delineating the boundary between the two countries. Both the stone slab inscriptions have been enclosed within brick walls when the Barkhor square came into existence in 1985.[24] The inscribed Sino-Tibetan treaty has the following inscription: "Tibet and China shall abide by the frontiers of which they are now in occupation. All to the east is the country of Great China; and all to the west is, without question, the country of Great Tibet. Henceforth on neither side shall there be waging of war nor seizing of territory. If any person incurs suspicion he shall be arrested; his business shall be inquired into and he shall be escorted back,"[22]

According to the Dalai Lama, out of the many images in the temple, there was one image of Chenrizi, which was made of clay in the temple itself, within which the small statue of Buddha that was brought from Nepal was concealed. This image was in the temple for 1300 years. When Songtsen Gampo died, his spirit or soul is believed to have entered in to this small wooden statue. During the Revolution, the clay image was smashed and the smaller Buddha image, which was with a Tibetan, was given to the Dalai Lama.[15]

In 2000, the Jokhang became a UNESCO World Heritage site as an extension to the Potala Palace which was inscribed in 1994, to facilitate conservation efforts.[24][25] The temple is also listed among the first group of "State Cultural protection relic units." It has been categorized as a 4A level tourist site.[3]


Plan of the complex from Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet by Sarat Chandra Das, 1902.
Jokhang temple courtyard, 2013

The Jakhong temple is spread over an area of 2.51 hectares (6.2 acres). Initially, when built in the 7th century, it had only eight chambers in two floors to house scriptures and sculptures of Buddhas. The structural features consisted of brick lined floors, columns and door frames and carvings made of wood. Then during the Tubo period there were fights between followers of Buddhism and the indigenous Bon religion. Changes in the dynastic rule affected the Jokhang Monastery. It was only after 1409 that during the reign of the Ming dynasty that there were many improvements made to the Jokhang. The second and third floors of the Buddha Hall as well as the annex buildings were constructed during the 11th century. The most dominant hall is now the Buddha Hall which has four floors.[26]

Gilt roof of the Jokhang

The temple has an east-west orientation facing towards Nepal honouring Princess Bhrikuti.[1] The main gate to the monastery faces west and features of the Jokhang are aligned along an axis starting with an arch gate, Buddha Hall, enclosed passage, cloister, atriums and hostel for the Lamas(monks).[3] Inside the entrance there are four "Guardian Kings" (Chokyong), two on either side. The main shrine is located on the ground floor. On the first floor there are murals and residential accommodation for the monks, and a private room for the Dalai Lama. There are also residential buildings for the monks and chapels on all four sides of the shrine. The building materiels used for construction are wood and stone. The architecture of the temple incorporates the Tibetan Buddhist style, with some architectural styles from China, Indian vihara design, and Nepal.[27][28] The roof is covered with gilded bronze tiles, figurines and decorated pavilions.[28]

The Jokhang Temple interior

The central part of the Buddha Hall is high with a large paved court.[29] A porch leads to an open courtyard which is in the form of two concentric circles with two temples, one in the outer circle and another in the inner circle. The outer circle also has a circumambulation path along which there are a number of large prayer wheels called the Nangkhor arranged serially; this path leads to the main shrine which is surrounded by chapels. Of all the murals that once adorned the temple only one mural remains which depicts the arrival of Queen Wencheng with the image of Buddha, which was followed by the building of the Jokhang. The image which was brought by the Nepalese wife of the king, which was initially kept at Ramoche, had been moved to Jokhang and kept in the middle of the back side of the inner temple. This Buddha remained on a platform since the 8th century though there were many occasions when it was moved to other locations for safe keeping. The image is set amidst the images of the king and his two consorts, and has been gilded several times. The image in the main hall on the ground floor is of gilded bronze statue of Jowo Sakyamuni which is 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) in height and represents Buddha when he was 12 years old. The image is decorated with a bejweled crown, and has a cover around its shoulder, a diamond adorns its forehead. It is attired with pearl studded garment.[28] The image of Buddha is seen in a cross legged lotus posture seated on a three tiered lotus throne and with the left hand resting on his lap and the right hand touching the earth. Many chapels surround the Jowo Sakayamuni Buddha; many of the chapels are dedicated to several gods and bodhisatvas. The most important bodhisatva here is the Avalokiteshwara, the patron saint of Tibet,[30] in the form of 1,000 eyes and 1,000 arms. Flanking the main hall are the halls for Amitabha (Buddha of the Past), and Qamba (Buddha of the Future). Incarnations of Sakyamuni are enshrined on either side of the central axis. The warrior guard of Buddha is seen in the middle of the halls on the left side.[31]

Apart from the main hall and its contiguous halls, on both sides of the Buddha Hall there are dozens of chapel rooms, each of 20 square metres (220 sq ft) size. Among these rooms, the chapel of the Prince of Dharma is on the third floor where sculptures on the west are of Songtsän Gampo, Princess Wencheng of China, Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal, Gar Tongtsan, the Tabo minister, and Thonmi Sambhota, creator of Tibetan script. The halls are surrounded by passages in the form of enclosed spaces which are used for circumambulation by the pilgrims.[32]

Decorations of winged apsaras, figurines of animals and human beings, flowers and grasses are carved on the structural features of the superstructure. There are also images of sphinxes with different expressions, which are carved below the roof.[32]

The temple complex has more than 3,000 images of Buddha and other deities (including an 85 feet (26 m) image of Buddha[8]) and historical figures, apart from some treasures and manuscripts. The walls of the temple are decorated with mural paintings related to religious and historical themes.[27]

On the rooftop and on the ridges there are iconic statues of golden deer flanking a Dharma wheel, victory flags, and "monster fish". The temple's interior is a dark and atmospheric labyrinth of chapels, illuminated by votive candles and filled with the smoke of incense. Although some part of the temple has been rebuilt, original elements remain: the wooden beams and rafters have been shown by carbon dating to be original; the Newari door frames, columns and finials date from the 7th and 8th centuries brought from the Kathmandu valley in Nepal.[26][33]

Traditional prayers and prostrations in front of the Jokhang

Apart from circumamabulation and spinning of prayer wheels, pilgrims fully prostrate before approaching the main deity.[28] They are even seen crawling on their knees and belly approaching the main shrine over a long distance.[13] The hymn that is recited during this worship is "Om mani padme hum" meaning "hail to the jewel in the lotus." Pilgrims queue up on both sides of the platform and offer ceremonial scarf or katak around the neck and duly touch Buddha's knee.[28]

A walled enclosure in front of the Jokhang, near the "Tang Dynasty -Tubo Peace Alliance Tablet", contains the stumps of willows known as the "Tang Dynstay Willow" or the "Princess Willow". It is said to have been planted by Princess Wencheng.[23]

Jokhang Square, the approach to the complex taken by most tourists today.

Collection of Buddhist scriptures and sculptures

The Jokhang owns a large and very important collection of cultural artifacts. These are bronze sculptures of Tang dynasty, finely sculpted figures in different shapes which belong to the Ming Dynasty. Among the hundreds of thangkas, two notable ones are of Chakrasamvara and Yamanataka of the period of emperor Yongle; both are in fine embroidery on silk and well preserved. Also found are 54 boxes containing scriptures of Tripiṭaka in red colour print. Also stored are 108 carved sandalwood boxes containing sutra scriptures. There is also a vase which was a gift from the emperor Qianlong, which is used in the process of selecting the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b Mayhew, Kelly & Bellezza 2008, p. 96.
  2. ^ Dorje 2010, p. 160.
  3. ^ a b c d An 2003, p. 69.
  4. ^ McCue 2011, p. 67.
  5. ^ a b Mayhew, Kelly & Bellezza 2008, p. 102.
  6. ^ Dalton 2004, p. 55.
  7. ^ Barron 2003, p. 487.
  8. ^ a b Perkins 2013, p. 986.
  9. ^ Service 1983, p. 120.
  10. ^ a b "Jokhang Temple, Lhasa". Retrieved 28 September 2015. 
  11. ^ Powers 2007, p. 233.
  12. ^ a b Powers 2007, p. 146.
  13. ^ a b Brockman 2011, p. 263.
  14. ^ a b c d Davidson & Gitlitz 2002, p. 339.
  15. ^ a b c Buckley 2012, p. 142.
  16. ^ Tibetan Religions. 五洲传播出版社. 2003. pp. 36–.  
  17. ^ a b Barnett 2010, p. 161.
  18. ^ Jabb 2015.
  19. ^ Huber 2008, p. 119.
  20. ^ Huber 2008, p. 233.
  21. ^ Laird 2007, p. 39.
  22. ^ a b Representatives 1994, p. 1402.
  23. ^ a b An 2003, p. 72.
  24. ^ a b Buckley 2012, p. 143.
  25. ^ "China destroys the ancient Buddhist symbols of Lhasa City in Tibet". Tibet Post. 9 May 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2015. 
  26. ^ a b An 2003, p. 69-70.
  27. ^ a b "Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa". UNESCO Organization. Retrieved 29 September 2015. 
  28. ^ a b c d e Davidson & Gitlitz 2002, p. 340.
  29. ^ An 2003, p. 69-71.
  30. ^ Brockman 2011, p. 263-64.
  31. ^ An 2003, p. 70.
  32. ^ a b An 2003, p. 71.
  33. ^ Mayhew, Kelly & Bellezza 2008, p. 103.


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  • Representatives, Australia. Parliament. House of (1994). Parliamentary Debates Australia: House of Representatives. Commonwealth Government Printer. 
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Further reading

  • Vitali, Roberto. 1990. Early Temples of Central Tibet. Serindia Publications. London. ISBN 0-906026-25-3. Chapter Three: "Lhasa Jokhang and its Secret Chapel." Pages 69–88.

External links

  • Jokhang Temple
  • Picture of Jokhang Temple
  • The Silver Jug of the Lhasa Jokhang

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