Nestled on top of Wangbur Mountain, Ganden Monastery was the first monastery of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug Sect, established it in the early 15th century. Ganden is known as on of the “Three Great Temples”, together with Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery. With incredible vistas of the surrounding Kyi-chu Valley, it provides a fantastic kora (pilgrim) route. Ganden Monastery makes for an unforgettable experience, and is an attraction that cannot be missed.
- Ganden Monastery is located 50 km from Lhasa Prefecture, Tibet, China, on Wangbur Mountain.
- It is situated at a staggering altitude of 3,800 m (12,467 ft), providing incredible views of the valley below.
- Ganden translates into “joyous” in Tibetan, and is the name for “Tushita”, one of the heavenly realms and home to the Future Buddha.
- After its completion in 1409, Tsongkhapa (the founder and first abbot) stayed there until his death in 1419.
History of Ganden Monastery
Tsongkhapa (1357 to 1419) established Ganden Monastery in 1409. His teachings led to a reformation movement in Tibetan Buddhism, and the formation of the Gelug Sect. Dissatisfied with the trajectory of other Buddhist sects, Tsongkhapa had emphasized the importance of austere monastic life and philosophical study. In order to distinguish themselves from other sects, he and his followers wore yellow hats. Hence, why the order is also referred to as the “Yellow Hat Sect”. The term “Gelug”, is an abbreviation of “Ganden Lug”, which means “Ganden Tradition”.
The monastery was divided into two colleges, located in the After his death in 1419, Tsongkhapa was buried in a gold and silver-encrusted tomb in the monastery. Before passing away, he gifted his robe and staff to the first Ganden Tripa, Gyeltsabjeythe (1364 to 1432). The Ganden Tripa is the designated nominal head of the Gelug order, although the Dalai Lama is its most influencial figure. Lasting seven years, 104 individuals have occupied the position of Ganden Tripa.
Together with the Drepung Monastery and SeraMonastery, Ganden Monastery became known as the “Three Great Temples” of Lhasa. By the mid-19th century, these three monasteries accommodated 20,000 monks combined. Each was supported by large fertile estates, which were tended to by labourers. At its peak, Ganden Monastery accommodated 5,000 monks.
During the 1959 Tibetan rebellion, Ganden Monastery sustained severe damage by the People’s Liberation Army. In 1966, the monastery complex was shelled. During the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) it suffered complete destruction. However, restoration efforts of Ganden Monastery have continued since 1980s. Major reconstruction on portions on the monastery complex included the holy stupa of Tsongkhapa. A stupa is a mound-like structure containing the remains of Buddhist monks, or nuns, which is often used a place of meditation. Scripture halls and Buddhist halls have also been rebuilt.
Culture of Ganden Monastery
Structures: The monastery complex is comprised of over 50 buildings, including assembly halls, chapels, shrines, pagodas, and Buddhist colleges called Myicun and Zhacang in Tibetan. The two largest buildings I the complex are Lagyi Hall and Yangbagyain Hall. Another must-see attraction is the Serdung, also known as the Holy Stupa Hall, which houses the tomb of Tsongkhapa. The year after he died, his disciples established the hall in his honour, in addition to a pagoda inside the space. Thereafter, whenever a Ganden Tripa died, a pagoda was erected.
Lagyi Hall: Also known as Coqen Hall, is the largest structure in the monastery complex. Measuring 44.7 m (146.7 ft) long and 43.8 m (143.7 ft) wide, it consists of three storeys. On the ground floor are the Entrance Hall, three Buddhist Halls, and the Sutra Hall. It is so vast, 3,000 chanting lamas can be accommodated within the space. It contains statues of Tsongkhapa, as well as Maitreya Buddha. A throne for the Ganden Tripa is also situated within the space.
Yangbagyain Hall: This structure is comprised of four storeys, and is located west of Lagyi Hall. Construction on this hall commenced in 1409, and ended in 1416. Lobsang Chökyi Gyaltsen, the 4th Panchen Lama, added a golden top to the roof in 1610.
The Clothing-Preserving Hall: This is one of the earliest Buddha Halls at Ganden Monastery, and is also known as Tri Thok Khang.It served as the bedchamber for Tsongkhapa and his successors. Built in 1409, an addition was added in 1720. The hall has many statutes and is ornately decorated.
Ganden Monastery houses many precious cultural and historical relics. One such item is a Qing Dynasty suit of armor gifted from Emperor Qianlong in 1757. It is carved with four languages (Han Chinese, Mongolian, Manchurian, and Tibetan) and decorated with jewels. There are also exquisite murals and sculptures located throughout the monastery complex. In addition, there are 24 thangka, Tibetan Buddhist paintings on cotton, or silk, depicting Buddhist deities or scenes. Each of these silk thangka paintings is displayed during the Ganden Silk Thangka Festival, in the first month of each Tibetan calendar year. In 1961, Ganden Monastery became a cultural relic unit subject to state protection.
- Visitors must remember that Ganden Monastery is a religious site, and always be respectful.
- Do not take photographs without permission, and never smoke within the halls of the monastery complex.
- If you have the time, take the Ganden Kora (pilgrim walk) is an incredible experience, offering stunning views of the Kyi-chu Valley.
- The best time to visit Ganden Monastery is during the summer months (June, July, and August), when the landscape is in full bloom.
- The monastery complex is open from 9 AM to 4 PM, except on holidays or during major events.