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Jokhang Temple – Most sacred temple in Tibet

The Jokhang Temple also referred to as “Tsuklakang”, is situated in the heart of the historic district of Lhasa. The temple was initially named “Rasa”, which later became the name of the city and eventually transformed into the present-day “Lhasa”. Over time, the Jokhang Temple underwent numerous alterations and expansions during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, eventually reaching its current grandeur.

The Jokhang Monastery is a prominent centre of Tibetan Buddhism, where you can observe numerous sculptures from various periods. Its construction dates back to 647AD. The principal statue found inside is the life-sized depiction of Sakyamuni at the age of 12, which was brought over by a Chinese princess from the Tang Dynasty. It is believed that Sakyamuni himself consecrated the statue, which was modelled after his own appearance.

Initially, the Ramoche Temple was built by Songtsen Gampo to house the statue of Princess Wencheng. and, he constructed the Jokhang temple to house another life-sized statue of Sakyamuni at the age of 8, which was brought by the Nepalese Princess Trizun. However, these two statues were misplaced during the civil war in Tibet. After many years of expansion, the Jokhang Monastery has reached its present size.

Location: center of old Lhasa city
Admission Fee:  85 RMB per person.
Recommendation Rate: ☆☆☆☆

Construction Layout of Jokhang Temple

From the gilded summit of the Jokhang Temple, one can observe the Jokhang Temple Square. Positioned on the distant right is the Potala Palace. Adjacent to it stands the “Princess Willow,” a willow tree believed to have been planted by Princess Wencheng. The arrangement and orientation of the Jokhang Temple differ from other Buddhist temples. The main hall is situated facing both east and west and is four stories tall, with auxiliary halls on either side. The temple’s architectural plan emulates the ideal universe model of the Buddhist mandala. The temple’s Buddhist halls include the Sakyamuni Hall, the Tsongkhapa Master Hall, the Songtsan Gampo Hall, and the Palden Lhamo Hall (the Gelug Sect’s guardian deity), among others. The temple features various wood carvings and murals.

Monlam Chenmo Festival and Geshe Lharampa Examination

Leaving the main entrance of Jokhang Temple leads to a courtyard designed in a patio style. The main hall of the Jokhang Temple is surrounded by 380 prayer wheels. Upon entering the temple through the main entrance, visitors should proceed clockwise into a spacious outdoor courtyard. This area was once the venue for the grand Lhasa Monlam Chenmo. During this event, tens of thousands of monks from the three major monasteries in Lhasa would gather here to pray for the well-being of all living beings and social stability. Additionally, they would engage in activities such as debate, exorcising evil spirits, and welcoming Maitreya Buddha.

The “Monlam Chenmo” tradition began in 1409 AD. In honour of Sakyamuni’s accomplishments in defeating six heretics through supernatural power. Master Tsongkhapa invited monks from various monasteries and sects to hold a meeting during the first month of the Tibetan calendar.

This courtyard is known as the obtaining of the “Geshe” degree, which is the highest degree in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and metaphysical, equivalent to a doctorate. During the Monlam Chenmo, the outstanding monks will display their debate skills in front of monks from major monasteries. This assembly became the most significant religious event in the Tibetan Buddhist circle, leading to the fame of the Yellow Sect.

Jokhang Temple Courtyard

The Jokhang Temple was constructed to conduct blessing ceremonies. The collonaded walls surrounding the courtyard and the murals on the walls of the turning corridor are known as the Thousand Buddha Gallery, as they are adorned with thousands of Buddha statues. The murals covering the entire Jokhang Temple span over 4,400 square meters.

Butter lamps are arranged in several rows on the east side of the courtyard, which are kept lit throughout the day. Families from different backgrounds will offer butter to these lamps.

The main entrance to the Jokhang Temple’s main hall is located behind the butter lamp. The earliest buildings of the temple were constructed from this entrance, with the outer courtyard added later and the main hall built over 1,400 years ago. The stone floor at the door is polished to a mirror-like shine from years of believers’ friction.

Main Chapels inside Jokhang Temple

The main hall features two enormous Buddha statues, with Padmasambhava, the founder of the Red Sect, on the left and the future Buddha on the right. A mural depicting the Jokhang Temple’s construction can be found on the right side of the entrance to the main hall’s passageway. The mural highlights the early appearance of the Potala Palace in the 7th century and the process of filling the lake to build the temple. Proceeding clockwise from left to right, the first small hall contains statues of Tsongkhapa and his eight disciples, who played a significant role in promoting the Yellow Sect. Among the Eight Great Disciples are the first Dalai Lama and the first Panchen Lama. Tsongkhapa himself built Ganden Monastery, one of the six major temples of the Yellow Sect, while his disciples constructed Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, and Tashilhunpo Monastery.

White Stupa from Lake

At the intersection of the west wall and the north wall stands a white Stupa. Legend has it that this stupa emerged from Wotang Lake prior to the construction of the Jokhang Temple. The first small hall on the southern side houses the eight Medicine Buddhas, a Buddha Shakyamuni who is also one among them. Adjacent to the small hall is a statue of Milarepa, one of the founders of Kagyu School, covering his ears with his hands. Buddha Shakyamuni and Maitreya are enshrined in the small hall. Turning around, the second hall is the Avalokitesvara Hall. The locals offer their prayers to the Buddha with great devotion. In the temple, one can often find local families applying gold powder to the face of Guanyin Bodhisattva. On the right side of this hall, there are statues of Songtsan Gampo, Trizun and Princess Wencheng.

In the Tibetan people’s minds, Songtsen Gamp, Princess Wencheng, and Princess Trizun were Bodhisattvas. The two princesses are distinguished and honourable. Princess Wencheng, in particular, embodies the fashion of the Tang Dynasty with a tall hair bun in front. Tsongkhapa and other spiritual leaders are depicted on the south and east walls. The Amithaba Buddha is in the first chapel on the east wall.

The mural displays a celebration organized by Songtsen Gampo and the princess during the seventh century to consecrate the completion of the Jokhang Temple. Have a scene of traditional sporting event from that era, encompassing wrestling, yak and mask dances, archery, and more. The mountain on the left side of the painting is Chakpori Mountain. The white pagoda that once served as the west gate of Lhasa city. The mural’s right side showcases the earliest Potala Palace with only two main buildings, constructed by Songtsan Gampo.

Chapels on the Second floors

Starting from the courtyard, there are stairs that lead directly to the platforms on the second and third floors through the side entrance. The second floor is accessible only in the morning, and it houses the Dharma King Hall of Songtsan Gampo. The hall features statues of King Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wencheng, Princess Trizun of Nepal, Minister Gar Dongzan, and other ministers.

The Palden Lhamo Dharma Protector Temple, which is the Dharma Protector Goddess of the Jokhang Temple and the entire Lhasa city, is located between the second and third floors. A ladder in the northeast corner of the second-floor patio leads to the small door on the third floor, which is the entrance to the golden roof. The third floor of the main hall is usually closed to the public and is used by monks for meditation and practice. The four huge golden domes on the top floor were built between the 14th and 17th centuries.

Main Statue of Jokhang Temple – Shakyamuni Buddha

Continuing further, one can pass through the Dakhani Hall and Naga Hall on both sides to reach the famous Jokhang” Buddha Hall. This hall is not only the main body of the Jokhang Temple but also the place where the Mian Statue of Shakyamuni Buddha resides. The Chapel is in the form of a closed courtyard with a four-storey building and a large Sutra hall in the centre. Tibetan Buddhist believers consider Lhasa the centre of the world, and the core of the universe lies here. This is the place where the monks of the Jokhang Temple chant scriptures and practice Dharma.

From the Great Sutra Hall, visitors can see the beautifully shaped statue of Avalokitesvara with thousands of hands and eyes. There are two Buddha statues on both sides, with Padmasambhava on the left and the statue of Jamba Buddha on the right. The Sutra Hall is surrounded by small Buddhist halls, and except for the Sakyamuni Buddhist Hall in the centre, the rooms are not large but have a simple layout. The Shakyamuni Buddha Hall is the ultimate yearning for pilgrims and is the core of the Jokhang Temple. The Sakyamuni statue enshrined in this hall is the Buddha statue brought by Princess Wencheng.

Barkhor Street – market around the Jokhang temple

The area encircling the Sakyamuni Buddha Hall at the centre of the Jokhang Temple is referred to as “Nangkor,” while the area encompassing the outer wall of the Jokhang Temple is called “Bakhor.” The street that extends beyond the Jokhang Temple is known as Bakhor Street. which is an ancient and vibrant commercial street – Barkhor Street. The “outer circle” encircling the Jokhang Temple, Chakpori, Potala Palace, Kundeling and Ramoche Temple is known as “Lingkhor”, which covers the centre of Lhasa city. The three rings from the innermost to the outermost are the paths that Tibetans take to perform the prayer-turning ceremony.

Lhasa people refer only to the area of the Jokhang Temple and Ramoche as “Lhasa”, which means Land of Gods in Tibetan. It is common to see devotees prostrating themselves at the Jokhang Temple gate. The temple holds a significant place in the hearts of Lhasa residents, and a large number of people circumambulate the Jokhang Temple daily. Several monks also take up positions near the Jokhang Temple, chanting scriptures and seeking alms from passers-by.

History Of Jokhang Temple

During the 7th century AD, Emperor Songsten Gampo led Tibet to become the most dominant country in central Asia, unrivalled by any other nation. Songtsen Gampo was a visionary leader who dispatched his minister Thomi to India to restructure and improve the Tibetan language and writing system. He also created the first-ever set of laws in Tibet, constructed numerous temples, and married the Nepalese Princess Tritsun and Tang Princess Wencheng to foster friendly relations with neighbouring countries.

One of Songtsen Gampo’s most significant accomplishments was the construction of the Jokhang temple to house the Sakyamuni Statue, brought from Nepal by his wife Tritsun. Detailed historical accounts of this event can be seen in the wall paintings of the Potala Palace and Jokhang temple. The temple, built with a combination of Nepalese, Chinese, and Tibetan architectural styles, was founded by Songtsen Gampo’s Nepalese wife in honour of her homeland. The monastery’s entrance faces westward, symbolizing the princess’s longing for her native land. According to the Bon Master, Tibet’s topography resembles a Rakshas witch lying on her back, which led to the creation of the monastery, which has a centuries-old history.

During the Cultural Revolution, Jokhang Monastery suffered significant losses, with many of its statues being melted or sold to foreign nations. The destructive impact of this period is still visible today.

The Jokhang Temple holds a rich history of over 1300 years and holds the highest position in Tibetan Buddhism. It is the most magnificent structure of the Tubo era in Tibet and is the earliest civil structure in Tibet.

The Jokhang Temple integrates the architectural styles of Tibet, Tang Dynasty, Nepal, and India, and has become an exemplar of Tibetan religious architecture. Devout believers leave deep marks on the bluestone floor in front of the gate as incense lingers throughout the day. Tens of thousands of butter lamps are always lit, bearing witness to the passing of time and the arrival of pilgrims.

According to the records in historical books, Princess Wencheng built the Ramoche Temple to subdue the “door of evil”. She placed the twelve year Buddha statue, in Ramoche and erected four pillars to offer sacrifices to Sakyamuni Buddha. The female rock demon knew that if she could greet the Buddha statue and offer it to the top of the Dragon Palace, she would be able to suppress it. To achieve this, Princess Wencheng recruited skilled craftsmen from the inland to build the Ramoche temple.

Historical records about Changing Buddha statue in Jokhang temple

To prevent the Tang military from taking away the statue of Jowo Sakyamuni, it was concealed within the Jokhang Temple, sealed with mud, and a Manjusri was painted over it. Later, Princess Jincheng discovered the Jowo Sakyamuni statue in the Jokhang Temple, enshrining it in the Room. When they arrived at the Hall of Transformation, they uncovered the Buddha image, which was situated in the centre of the incense purification room at the back of the hall and had been hidden behind the south mirror gate.

According to the records, Princess Wencheng left the Jowo Buddha statue in Ramoche Temple. The Tibetan people moved and concealed the Jowo Buddha statue in the Jokhang Temple to protect it from being stolen. Princess Jincheng then bring out the statue from hiding and enshrined it in the Jokhang Temple. Princess Jincheng did not transfer the Jowo Buddha statue to the Ramoche Temple, she move the Ashobiya Buddha (which portrays Sakyamuni as an eight-year-old boy) to the Ramoche Temple.

However, more credible historical records indicate that battles between the Tang and Tibet armies primarily transpired near Qinghai Lake and the Western Regions, far from Lhasa, and weren’t severe enough to warrant hiding or replacing Buddha statues. Furthermore, the chapters that mention the replacement of Buddha statues are replete with fanciful and erroneous details, and there is no evidence to support their veracity.

In reality, no Buddha statues were replaced during that time. Additionally, according to reliable historical records, the Jowo Sakyamuni statue brought by Princess Wencheng, which was 12 years old at the time, did not undergo any changes upon its arrival at the Jokhang Temple. The “Cambridge History of Sui and Tang Dynasties in China” reveals that for a brief period between 650 to 750 years, Tubo seemed poised to join the Chinese cultural circle, but this aspiration was short-lived. In the 8th century, Tubo was culturally unified under a local culture, and the influence of the Han people on Tibet waned. Therefore, it is unlikely that anyone would have replaced the Buddha statues brought by the Han people at the Jokhang Temple. The only plausible explanation for the presence of the 12-year-old Sakyamuni statue at the Jokhang Temple is that it was brought there when it arrived in Tibet.

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