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Explore Popular and Serene Beauty of Gyirong Drakga Taso Monastery

Elevated Sanctity at 4200 Meters

Drakga Taso Monastery, བྲག་དཀར་རྟ་སོ་དབུ་མ་རྫོང gracefully perched on the cliffs around the now-desiccated Longda Lake, is a revered Buddhist site on the journey from Dzongga to Gyirong in Shigatse, Gyirong County. Resting at an impressive altitude of 4200 meters, this monastery was established in 1160 by Lhatsun Renzin Namgyal, an offspring of the Ngari King lineage. It serves as one of the significant meditation sites of Milarepa (1040—1123), the esteemed master in the Kagyu tradition. Milarepa’s intense nine-year meditation here led to his great spiritual achievements, inspiring the founding of this monastery in his memory.

drakga taso
Drakga taso

Architectural Harmony with Nature

Drakga Taso Monastery, spanning roughly 8400 square meters, integrates seamlessly with its mountainous surroundings. Constructed primarily from wood and stone, this historic edifice originally belonged to the Nyingma school before adopting the Kagyu teachings. It once housed a thriving community of over a hundred monks, along with a succession of twelve esteemed Khenpos (abbots).

A Pilgrim’s Haven with Artistic Richness

The monastery attracts annual pilgrims from various locales within Gyirong County, the Kham region, and even Nepal. Comprising both ancient and newer sections, separated by 300 meters, the old part focuses on Drakga Taso’s meditation cave and the monks’ quarters. The newer section features the scripture hall, Xianzong Hall, Assembly Hall, and Labrang. Despite historical ravages, surviving structures like the scripture hall, Assembly Hall, meditation cave, and monks’ quarters stand as symbols of its enduring spiritual relevance. The monastery’s treasured artifacts include nearly 2000 woodblock prints of the “Lotus Sutra” and “The Life of Milarepa,” along with ancient murals vividly portraying Milarepa’s journey, showcasing the site’s significant artistic heritage.

བྲག་དཀར་རྟ་སོའི་གནས་དེར་སྔ་རྗེས་སུ་གྲུབ་ཆེན་གླིང་རས་པ། འགྲོ་དགོན་གཙང་པ་རྒྱ་རས། རྒྱལ་བ་རྒོད་ཚང་པ། གྲུབ་ཐོབ་ཨོ་རྒྱན་པ། གྲུབ་ཐོབ་རྡོར་འཛིན་པ། གཡག་རུ་དཔལ་གྲགས། རྗེ་རེད་མདའ་བ། གྲུབ་ཐོབ་རྒྱན་མཚན་འབུམ།གཙང་སྨྱོན་ཧེ་རུ་ཀ། དབུས་སྨྱོན་ཀུན་དགའ་བཟང་པོ་སོགས་ཀྱང་གནས་དེར་བྱོན་བཞུགས་མཛད་ ཀརྨ་པ་རང་བྱུང་རྡོ་རྗེ་དགུང་ལོ་གསུམ་དུ་གནས་དེར་ཕེབས་ཏེ་ཞབས་རྗེས་བཞག་གནང་བ་ད་ལྟའང་མཇལ་རྒྱུ་ཡོད་པ་བཅས་ཡིན།

Drakga Taso Monastery: Architectural and Artistic Splendor


Overview of Drakga Taso Monastery

Drakga Taso Monastery, located in the Gyirong region, is a testament to the rich Tibetan Buddhist heritage. Its main structures, stretching from west to east, include the Lhatsun Renzin Namgyal Lhakang, Labrang, Drupuk, Dukang Chenmo, and Kangyur Lakang, Umtse, among others. The monastery’s murals are extensive and rich in content, featuring unique characteristics.

Lhatsun Renzin Namgyal Lhakang: The Earliest Structure

Lhatsun Renzin Namgyal Lhakang, the earliest building in the monastery, was established by Lhatsun Renzin Namgyal, a descendant of the Ngari King dynasty, towards the end of the 12th century. This north-facing, wood and stone structure features a small open courtyard accessed by a stone staircase, leading to a porch of about 16 square meters, with monks’ quarters of similar size on the western side.

The porch’s eastern, western, and northern walls are adorned with well-preserved murals depicting dragons, tigers, lions, elephants, Garuda birds, snow mountains, auspicious clouds, the sun and moon, and floral patterns. The monks’ quarters are decorated with Buddhist “Eight Treasures” motifs, including the Dharma Wheel, Victory Banner, Two Fish, Treasure Vase, Conch Shell, Lotus, Parasol, and Endless Knot.

Labrang: Residence and Auxiliary Buildings

Labrang, once the residence of Lhatsun Renzin Namgyal, is a two-story, Tibetan-style flat-roofed structure made of wood and stone, located in the middle of the monastery. The lower floor’s western end houses a protector deity hall with murals of deity Chana Dorje, among others, and images of dogs, leopards, inverted human heads, and exotic figures.

Simchung Yarwoe: A Revered Living Space

Simchung Yarwoe, the living quarters of Lhatsun Renzin Namgyal, faces south and covers about 10 square meters. The north wall inside venerates a statue of Lhatsun Renzin Namgyal, with Marpa the Translator, Milarepa, and a gilded Manjushri statue on the left. A shrine cabinet with offerings and a gilded Tara statue stands on the right.

The western wall features murals of Sakyamuni Buddha, Chana Dorje, Dorje Chang, Chenrezig, Strongpa Yang, and Nampa Nangzey. The south wall depicts Amitayus and Shakyamuni Buddha, while the east wall showcases multi-armed protector deities like Aga Zati. The exterior walls are decorated with the Four Great Vajras and the Wheel of Fortune.

Niwoe: The Abbot’s Residence

Niwoe serves as the abbot’s residence, situated south of Simchung Yarwoe, spanning around 10 square meters. The walls are embellished with the “Eight Treasures” of Buddhism. An open, narrow courtyard adjacent to the west side serves as a cooling area for the abbot. Chuga shar, another abbot’s residence, lies east of Niwei, adopting a slightly triangular layout.

Gonkhang: The Protector Deity Hall

Gonkhang, known as the Protector Deity Hall, is situated at the northeast end of Simchung Yarwoe in an irregular trapezoidal shape. Its interior walls are adorned with protector deity images, set against a black background and outlined in red and white, featuring skulls and ritual objects made of human bones.

Menzikang: The Tibetan Medicine Workshop

MenziKang, a square building north of Simchung Yarwoe, serves as the monastery’s Tibetan medicine workshop.

Drakpuk che: Milarepa’s Meditation Cave

Drakpuk Che, the meditation cave of Milarepa, utilizes the natural cliff for its northern wall, while the southern wall is constructed of stone blocks. The cave, accessible through a 1-meter-wide entrance in the southeast, is approximately 2 meters long, 2.5 to 3 meters high, and wider inside than at the entrance. The northern altar enshrines three Buddha statues: Mila Nisha, Mila Quxie, and Kanrise Tarjiang Cun. An adjacent scripture printing room on the east side covers about 16 square meters.

The Cave’s Early Murals

These early murals in the meditation cave depict “The Life of Milarepa.” The paintings start from the western end of the cliff, illustrating various phases of Milarepa’s life: his birth in Zelong, learning sorcery to avenge his enemies, competing with Tsering Jangyan and his five brothers, seeking teachings from Marpa, building a nine-story tower as a test of his resolve, enduring nine years of harsh asceticism, and finally achieving enlightenment.

The murals use a looping structure and scattered perspective, arranged in a “W” shape to create a continuous narrative. The scenes are interconnected with elements like mountains, trees, flowing water, and clouds, ensuring clear storytelling and visual coherence. The color palette predominantly features cold hues of Buddha blue, stone green, and white. The technique involves single-line flat painting and partial shading, resulting in smooth, varied lines and a strong realistic style. The figures are proportionately accurate, lively, and individualistic.

The South Wall’s Later Murals

The south wall features later period murals, with central images of Eight Nyiwai Saychen, Milarepa, Marpa, and eight Kagyu lineage masters and disciples, along with protector deity Dorje Pakmo. These murals are vivid and rich in color, adding a decorative quality to the space.

Dukang Chenmo: The Main Assembly Hall

Dukang Chenmo, (Tsochin Grand Hall), is located at the southernmost point of the complex. Originally a two-story building with 16 columns, it has since collapsed. The remaining walls, built of slate, stand over 10 meters tall. The irregularly shaped ground floor, covering 63 square meters, served as the Buddha hall, with a northern altar housing a gold-plated copper statue of Strongpa Buddha. Eight gold stupas and a gilded statue of Padmasambhava once stood on the left, with sandalwood statues of Marpa, Milarepa, and Tabu Rinpoche on the western wall, all of which no longer exist.

Traces of murals on the eastern, southern, and western walls depict protector deities like Jakang Langtui Se, Dorje Surupu Pa, Danmu Jue Youyong Ni, and Kagyu Ma, along with Marpa, Tsepakme, and Dolma figures. The western wall also features the “Eight Treasures” motif and protector deities like Guru Zabzha and Shendu Ma.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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