Situated in Shigatse, is one of the most historically and culturally significant monasteries in Tibet, Tashilhunpo Monastery. Founded by the First Dalai Lama in the 15th century, Tashilhunpo is one of the six Gelug (or Yellow Hat Sect) monasteries in Tibet. For centuries, this has been considered one of the most exquisite monasteries ever built. Tashilhunpo is also the seat of successive Panchen Lamas (second only to the Dalai Lama in importance). With its rich history and cultural significance, Tashilhunpo Monastery is a must-see attraction that cannot be missed when visiting Tibet.
- Tashilhunpo Monastery is situated on a hill in the centre of Shigatse, Tibet’s second-largest city.
- The monastery complex covers a total area of 70,000 sq metres (753,473 sq ft).
- Housing over 950 monks, Tashilhunpo is now the largest functioning religious institution in all of Tibet.
- Located within the complex is an enormous golden statue of the Future Buddha, which is the largest gilded statue in the world.
- In Tibetan, Tashilhunpo translates into “all fortune and happiness gathered here”, or “heap of glory”.
History Of Tashilhunpo Monastery
Gedun Drub (1391-1474), a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa, founded Tashilhunpo Monastery in 1447 CE. He would later be named the First Dalai Lama. Construction for the monastery was funded by local noblemen, and completed within a few years.
In the subsequent century, Losang Chö kyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662), who was the Fourth Panchen Lama, made an extensive expansion to the complex. Additional halls, palaces, chapels, and dormitories were constructed. During this period, Tashilhunpo housed over 5,000 monks, and became the largest temple in Shigatse. Thereafter, it officially became the seat of all Panchen Lamas and further expansion on the complex occurred.
In 1791, an army from the Kingdom of Gorkha (now present-day Nepal), attacked and looted Tashilhunpo Monastery. Said army captured Shigatse and sacked the monastery, however, an army of Tibetan and Chinese forces later drove the invaders back as far as Katmandu. Eventually, the Gorkha warriors were forced to agree to peace, pay tribute for half a decade, and return all property that had been pilfered from Tashilhunpo.
During the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Red Guards let a mob into the complex to destroy statues, burn Buddhist texts, and desecrate the stupas containing the relics of the 5th to 9th Panchen Lamas. However, local people saved some of the remains from being destroyed. Roughly two-thirds of the dormitories in Tashilhunpo were damaged during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), however, the remainder of the complex was relatively unscathed. In 1985, Choekyi Gyaltsen (1938-1989), the 10th Panchen Lama, initiated construction on a new stupa to house the remains of his predecessors.
In the early 1980s, several parts of the monastery complex were opened to the public. Since then, Tashilhunpo Monastery has become and popular and important tourist destination in Tibet.
Culture Of Tashilhunpo Monastery
As the largest monastery in Shigatse with a rich history spanning almost 600 years, Tashilhunpo houses numerous cultural relics and treasures. Some of the highlights in the complex include the enormous Future Buddha Statue, the Stupas of Panchen Lamas, and the Kelsang Temple, among others.
The Future Buddha: Enshrined in the western section of the complex in Maltreya Hall, this is the largest gold-gilded statue in the world. Constructed in 1914 by Choekyi Nyima (the 9th Panchen Lama), the incredible Future Buddha Statue is the main feature in the 5-storey hall. This extraordinary statue is 26.2 meters (85 ft) high, and 11.5 meters (37 ft) wide across its shoulders. The Future Buddha took 900 artisans and laborers four years to complete. Considered a priceless treasure, more than 300 kg of gold coat the entirety of the statue, in addition to the precious stones that are studded throughout.
Stupas of the Panchen Lamas: The stupas (or tombs) of past Panchen Lamas are another main highlight of Tashilhunpo Monastery. The magnificent stupas in the complex contain the relics of the 4th to 10th Panchen Lamas. The stupa of the Fourth Panchen Lama, Losang Chö kyi Gyaltsen, was the only mausoleum not destroyed in the complex during the Cultural Revolution. The phenomenal 11 meter-high structure contains 85 kg of gold and is inlaid with semiprecious stones. Likewise, the tomb of the 10th (who died in 1989) enshrined in Shisongnanjie Hall, is an incredible structure completely covered in gold. At 11.5 meters high, this stupa took three years to complete, and is studded with many precious jewels and stones.
Kelsang Temple: This is one of the oldest and largest buildings located in the Tashilhunpo complex. Essentially, it is a collection of structures, with a large courtyard in the centre. Monks congregate in the courtyard in the afternoon to practice debating. In addition, pilgrims also gravitate to the courtyard to pray.
- Visitors to Tashilhunpo Monastery must always remember that it is functional religious institution, therefore be respectful.
- Severe restrictions have been placed on photography within the monastic buildings in the complex. Always ask permission before taking a photo.
- During the morning is the best time to visit Tashilhunpo, as more chapels are open. Monks begin locking chapels for lunch after 12:30 pm.