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Tashilhunpo Monastery

Entrance to Tashilhunpo Monastery
Tibetan transcription(s)
Tibetan བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལྷུན་པོ་
Wylie transliteration bkra shis lhun po
Pronunciation in [ʈáɕil̥ympo]
Official transcription (China) Zhaxilhünbo
THL Trashilhünpo
Other transcriptions Tashilhunpo, Tashilhümpo
Chinese transcription(s)
Traditional 扎什倫布寺
Simplified 扎什伦布寺
Pinyin Zhāshílúnbù Sì
Tashilhunpo Monastery is located in Tibet
Tashilhunpo Monastery
Location within Tibet
Monastery information
Location Shigatse, Tibet, China
Founded by 1st Dalai Lama
Founded 1447
Type Tibetan Buddhist
Sect Gelug
Lineage Panchen Lama

Tashilhunpo Monastery (Tibetan: བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལྷུན་པོ་), founded in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama,[1] is a historic and culturally important monastery in Shigatse, the second-largest city in Tibet.

The monastery was sacked when the Gorkha Kingdom invaded Tibet and captured Shigatse in 1791 before a combined Tibetan and Chinese army drove them back as far as the outskirts of Kathmandu,[2] 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.[3]

The monastery is the traditional seat of successive Panchen Lamas, the second highest ranking tulku lineage in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. 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 dzongpön (prefect) appointed from Lhasa.[4]

Located on a hill in the center of the city, the full name in Tibetan of the monastery means "all fortune and happiness gathered here" or "heap of glory". Captain Samuel Turner, a British officer with the East India Company who visited the monastery in the late 18th century, described it in the following terms:

Monks hurrying to services, Tashilhunpo, 1993
"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."[5]

Pilgrims circumambulate the monastery on the lingkhor (sacred path) outside the walls.

Fortunately, although two-thirds of the buildings were destroyed during the excesses of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, they were mainly the residences for the 4,000 monks[6][7] and the monastery itself was not as extensively damaged as most other religious structures in Tibet, for it was the seat of the Panchen Lama who remained in Chinese-controlled territory.

However, during 1966 Red Guards led a crowd to break statues, burn scriptures and open the stupas containing the relics of the 5th to 9th Panchen Lamas, and throw them in the river. Some remains, though, were saved by locals, and in 1985, Choekyi Gyaltsen, 10th Panchen Lama, began the construction of a new stupa to house them and honour his predecessors. It was finally consecrated on 22 January 1989, just six days before he died aged fifty-one at Tashilhunpo. "It was as if he was saying now he could rest."[8]


  • History 1
  • Halls of the Tashilhunpo Monastery 2
    • Jamba Chyenmu 'The Maitreya Temple' 2.1
    • Gudong: The Panchen Lama's Palace 2.2
    • Main Chanting Hall 2.3
    • Sutra Hall 2.4
    • Gyeni Chanting Hall 2.5
    • Ngang College 2.6
    • Chuajing Duogang: The Great Courtyard 2.7
    • The Great Gallery 2.8
    • The Roof Chapels 2.9
  • Branch Monasteries 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
    • Citations 5.1
    • Sources 5.2
  • External links 6


The Thanka Wall overlooking the monastery

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.

Two novice monks. Tashilhunpo, 1993

Later Lobsang Chökyi 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 gradually.

In 1791 the monastery was attacked and looted by an army of Nepalese Gurkha warriors but were driven out by the Chinese who simultaneously strengthened their control over the temple and Tibet.

Novice monk with teapot.

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 Chinese authorities since 1995.

Tashilhunpo in its heyday housed 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 reincarnation and one of them always acted as a prime minister of Tsang under the control of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa.

In 1960, the monastery was dismantled by the Chinese army whilst the Panchen Lama was absent, although less damage was inflicted on the monastery than on most others around Tibet.

During the 1960s many senior lamas and monastics left Tibet and helped re-establish new monasteries in India, Nepal and Bhutan. The late Panchen Lama did not leave Tibet and consequently many of the senior lamas from Tashilhunpo Monastery remained inside Tibet. Therefore, 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, Karnātakā 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 Tibet today.

Halls of the Tashilhunpo Monastery

Jamba Chyenmu 'The Maitreya Temple'

Monks at Tashilunpo

The Maitreya 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 statue of the Maitreya Buddha and is 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 Lhasa.

Gudong: The Panchen Lama's Palace

On the east side of the monastery is the old living quarters of the Panchen Lama, the Panchen Lama's Palace known as Gudong. Inside, a narrow courtyard gives access to the temple containing the Fourth Panchen Lama's tomb. The temple vestibule 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 craftsmanship and jewels. Measuring 11 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 Hangzhou as indeed many throughout Tibet were during the 1920s. The old living quarters of the Panchen Lama are no longer open to the public, but the rooms are more modest and humane than any of the rooms at the Potala.

Main Chanting Hall

The main chanting hall contains the throne of the Panchen Lama and two connected chapels. The left is devoted to an elaborately ensconced Sakyamuni with eight Bodhisattvas robed in silk brocade. The right 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 the altar with a Jade Green Tara on either side.

Sutra Hall

Tashilhunpo Monastery. The two-tiered gilded bronze structure of the roof chapels can be seen at the top of the picture

The Sutra Hall is the repository chamber of the monastery, containing some 10,000 hand-carved wooden blocks used for printing the Buddhist scriptures. These are all Tibetan translations of original Sanskrit texts. Visitors to the temple can buy coloured 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 on the southeast side of the monastery 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 Ngang College on the west side.

Ngang College

Ngang College is focused on a smaller chanting chamber on the west side of the main path upstairs of the Deyangshar courtyard. A Ngang morning chanting ceremony accompanied by sacred musical instruments is usually led by the few remaining monks of the temple. Pilgrims may circumambulate the hall but tourists, particularly photographers, are asked to be extremely sensitive to the sacred atmosphere.

Chuajing Duogang: The Great Courtyard

The great flag-stoned courtyard of Tashilhunpo, known as (Chuajing Duogang), has walls which are covered by over 1000 repeated images of 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 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 of the 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 ancient pre-Buddhist, animist Bön faith who were only later absorbed into mainstream Buddhism. On the south side is a Tara chapel with blue and gold murals depicting Tibetan history.

Tashilhunpo Monastery, Shigatse, Tibet, 1993
Tashilhunpo Monastery, Tibet, 1985

Branch Monasteries

One of its branch monasteries was the famous Drongtse Monastery, 14 km north of Tsechen.[9]

See also



  1. ^ Chö Yang: The Voice of Tibetan Religion and Culture. (1991) Year of Tibet Edition, p.79. Gangchen Kyishong, Dharmasala, H.P., India.
  2. ^ Chapman, Spencer F. (1940). Lhasa: The Holy City, p. 128. Readers Union Ltd., London.
  3. ^ Richardson (1984), p. 69.
  4. ^ Chapman (1940), p. 141.
  5. ^ Captain Samuel Turner, 'Embassy to the Court of the Teshu Lama,' p. 230. In: Das (1802). Reprint: (1988), p. 45, n.
  6. ^ Dowman (1988), p. 273
  7. ^ Chapman (1940), p. 140.
  8. ^ Sun (2008), pp. 84-85.
  9. ^ Dorje (1999), p. 261.


  • 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 1-900949-33-4, ISBN 978-1-900949-33-0.
  • 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 0-87773-376-7.
  • Sun, Shuyun (2008). A Year in Tibet. HarperCollins Publishers, London. ISBN 978-0-00-728879-3.

External links

  • Website of the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Bylakuppe
  • Life on the Tibetan Plateau Tashilhunpo Monastery
  • Tashilhunpo Monastery and other tibetain monasteries Photos made in 2012 (text in French).
  • Grand Monastery of Tashi-Lhunpo 1902, Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas, Austin

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