The Potala Palace: A Stunning Symbol of Tibetan Heritage and Culture

Discover the Majestic Potala Palace: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Potala Palace,(ཕོ་བྲང་པོ་ཏ་ལ་) known as the “Pearl of the Plateau,” is a majestic structure located in Lhasa City, Tibet, atop Mount Marpori (Red Mountain). This renowned palace, a National 5A Scenic Spot, was included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in 1994. Its name, “Potala,” is derived from Sanskrit and refers to the mythical abode of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin). In Tibetan culture, the Potala Palace holds a similar reverence as Mount Putuo, the sacred island of Guanyin in the South China Sea, often called the “Second Putuo” or “Buddhist Holy Land.”

The palace’s rich history dates back to the 7th century AD, making it over 1,300 years old. It’s the largest and most well-preserved ancient palace complex in Tibet and a key cultural relic of national importance. The original construction of the palace began under the reign of Songtsen Gampo (629-650 AD), the ruler who unified Tibet and established the powerful Tubo regime. It was during his rule, following the capital’s move to Lhasa that the Potala Palace was first erected.

However, the original palace from the Songtsen Gampo period didn’t survive intact due to natural disasters and man-made calamities, including lightning strikes and military rebellions. Only the Fawang Cave and Paba Hall remain from that era. The current Potala Palace was rebuilt on the same site after the 17th century. In 1642, the fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, re-established Lhasa as the political centre of Tibet with the formation of the Ganden Phodrang local government.

Explore Potala Palace’s Rich History and Cultural Significance

Sonam Chompel reconstructed the palace after the death of the fifth Dalai Lama in 1645. The White Palace was completed during that time. The Red Palace and the central stupa during the tenure of Diba Sangye Gyatso (1653-1705). This extensive project engaged over 7,000 craftsmen and incurred a significant silver expenditure, with contributions from Han and Manchu craftsmen appointed by the King and Nepalese artisans. The Red Palace, completed in 1693, was marked by a grand inauguration ceremony and the erection of a “no-word monument.”

The Potala Palace served as the residence and political hub for successive Dalai Lamas until 1959, symbolizing the Kashag governance of Tibet. Its architectural grandeur and historical significance continue to draw admiration and intrigue from around the world, standing as a testament to Tibet’s rich cultural and religious heritage.

A Symbol of Tibetan Resilience and Artistry

As the largest and best-preserved ancient palace in Tibet, it stands as a national key cultural relic protection unit. Its unique position in the heart of Lhasa makes it a must-visit destination for those exploring Tibet’s rich cultural tapestry. Its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national 5A scenic spot underscores its global importance.

potala Palace Details
Potala Palace Details

The Potala Palace: Architectural Marvel on Red Mountain

Location and Layout

The Potala Palace, an architectural gem, is strategically situated on the southern slope of Red Mountain in Lhasa, extending to the mountain’s summit. This magnificent structure encompasses various components such as Sutra Hall, Buddha Hall, Lingta Hall, Larang (a seminary), and monk residences. It spans approximately 360 meters in length from east to west and about 140 meters in width from north to south. The total built area of the palace is an impressive 910,000 square meters. When including the city walls at the mountain’s base and the Dragon King Pond (known as “Lukang” in Tibetan) at the rear, the total area expands to a staggering 41 hectares or 360,000 square meters.

City Structure and Walls

In front of the palace lies the urban area known as “Xue,” encircled by mountains to the north and tall structures on the other sides. The palace is fortified by a city wall, which stands 6 meters high, with a bottom width of 4.4 meters tapering to 2.8 meters at the top. This wall features a parapet along its upper edge. A distinctive three-story stone gate tower marks the center of the southern city wall, behind which lies a stone screen wall, allowing pedestrian access around its sides. Additionally, there are turrets on the southeastern and southwestern corners of the city wall and side gate towers in the middle sections of the eastern and western walls.

The Palace Structure

The Potala Palace captivates the eyes with its towering 13 floors and impressive height of 119.4 meters. Inside, it accommodates 34 Buddhist halls and more than 2,000 rooms of various sizes. Crafted mainly from granite stone, the palace walls, with a thickness of 5 meters at the maximum, securely anchor into the mountain’s rock formations, revealing a distinct segmented structure.

To fortify the building’s integrity and earthquake resistance, some wall interlayers cleverly incorporate iron juice. The palace showcases ingenious design, making the most of the natural terrain and available space. Its multi-layered, interconnected structure is both intricate and awe-inspiring.

This detailed description underscores the architectural brilliance and historical significance of the Potala Palace, highlighting its importance as a cultural and religious symbol in Tibet.

Inside the Potala Palace

The Potala Palace spans 13 levels and measures an impressive 110 meters from base to summit. It consists of the White House, located in the eastern part, and the Red Palace in the centre. The White House serves as the residence of the Dalai Lama, while the Red Palace houses the Buddha Hall and the Stupa Hall used by the Dalai Lama in the past.

The Potala Palace: White and Red Palaces

Exterior Design

The Potala Palace stands out with its distinctive colour scheme, showcased in its two main structures: the White House and the Red Palace. The White House boasts white exterior walls, while the Red Palace stands out with its ocher-red walls. A noteworthy architectural feature of the Red Palace is its large vertical pane that spans multiple floors, creating a stark contrast with the smaller windows and narrow ventilation openings found throughout the rest of the building and the White House.

The combination of robust stone walls and golden roofs gives the structure a staggered and majestic appearance. The interplay of light and shadow, the balance between void and solidity, and the colour variations highlight the central main building, achieving a high level of harmony and unity in its overall design.

Deyangshag: The Approach to the Palace

The journey to the Potala Palace begins at Deyangshag, a zigzag-shaped stone staircase leading up to the east and west gates. This expansive stairway, reaching up to 10 meters at its widest point, is a dramatic approach to the palace. The main entryway, known as the “Pingcuo Corridor,” features four red carved wooden pillars in a “Ya” shape within the entrance courtyard.

Adding to the grandeur, the walls display huge images of the “Four Heavenly Kings.” These include Dhrtarastra (white, holding a pipa), Virudhaka (green, holding a treasure banner), Dhanada (red, holding a rope), and Virupaksa (also green, holding a sword). Each image stands impressively at 6 meters in height and 2.5 meters in width. Additionally, statues of goddesses adorn the front walls on either side of the inner door, complemented by a series of lion statues on the lintel.

Deyang Building: The Grand Platform

Upon entering the gate, visitors encounter the large “Deyang Building” (meaning “East Happy Plaza”), a spacious platform of about 1600 square meters outside the main entrance of the White House. This area, with its smooth and clean surface made from rammed “Aga soil,” is designated for the Dalai Lama, senior monks, and lay officials to observe festival activities such as singing, dancing, and spiritual dances. One of the highlights of this location is the Potala Palace Cham (Tse Guthor) Festival, held every December 29th on the Tibetan calendar, known for its vibrant festivities.

Surrounding the Deyang Shar are cloisters to the south and north. The east and west buildings on the site, formerly a Monk School established in 1749, now serve as the Kashag (the Tibetan government body responsible for training mid-level monks and officials). Teachers selected from the Shannan Mindrol Ling Monastery bring expertise in history, Buddhism, Tibetan culture and history, ensuring a rich educational experience.

These architectural and cultural details illustrate the Potala Palace’s deep historical significance and its role as a centre of Tibetan religious and political life.

Red Grass on the wall of Potala palace

In Tibet, the material used for constructing walls is red grass, a type of tamarisk branch dried in the sun during autumn. After peeling off the tips, the grass is bundled together with cowhide ropes. These bundles are then neatly stacked under the eaves, creating the illusion of an additional wall outside the main one. The grass is compressed layer by layer, secured with wooden nails, and finally dyed.

Crucial to the parapet wall of the Potala Palace, as well as the eaves of temples and castles, are straws with plush. These grasses, woven with plush, exhibit an ochre-red colour, lending a dignified and solemn appearance. Beyond aesthetics, the grass serves a structural purpose, allowing the top floor of a building to have thinner walls, thereby reducing the overall weight of the structure.

However, due to the intricate production process and low utilization rate, this grass became a symbol of social class in old Tibet, being too expensive for common people to afford.

Phuntsok Dulang Gate

The confluence path “Phuntsok Dulang Gate” is located at the east entrance of the White House. The door frame flaunts eight Auspicious carvings and seven lions, representing the political treasures. A plaque with the Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese inscription “Hundreds of Consummation Convergence” is fixed below the lintel. The gate wall is two meters thick.

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The White House of Potala Palace

Entrance and Foyer

The entrance to the White House in the Potala Palace is located directly west of the Deyang Building and is easily identifiable by three parallel wooden escalators. These escalators serve as the gateway, with the central one exclusively reserved for the Dalai Lama, while the general public typically uses the ones on either side. Upon ascending these wooden stairs, visitors step into the White House, historically the residence and administrative center for past Dalai Lamas. It also housed the offices of the regents (rgyal-tshab) and the local government.

Within the White House, the foyer of Sumgyalygo is particularly noteworthy. It features four intricately carved and painted “Ya”-shaped wooden pillars. The walls of this foyer are adorned with exquisite murals, showcasing themes like the “Reincarnation Picture,” “Mandala Picture,” and depictions of folk customs. The east wall vividly portrays the prosperity of Chang’an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty, through the “Chang’an Scenery Picture” and “Princess Wencheng’s Entry into Tibet.”

Adding historical richness, the south wall holds an edict from the Fifth Dalai Lama, printed on his palm, directing Dipa Sangye Gyatso to act on his behalf. This edict, consisting of 22 lines with an additional 2 lines in Sanskrit and bearing the handprint of the Fifth Dalai Lama, holds immense historical value.

East Hall: The Center of Religious and Political Activities

Passing through the foyer and corridor leads to the East Hall, also known as “Eastern Peaceful Perfection Hall” (Tsokchen Shar Sishi Phuntsok in Tibetan). Constructed in 1645, it is the largest palace within the White House and has been the site of significant religious and political events, including enthronement and inauguration ceremonies of successive Dalai Lamas, since the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The hall is spacious, covering an area of 717 square meters, and contains 44 pillars. The craftsmanship displayed in the carved patterns on the beams, columns, and brackets is remarkably intricate.

In the northern part of the hall stands the Dalai Lama’s throne, above which hangs a large plaque of “Zhenxi Suijiang” featuring a red seal inscribed “Treasure of Tongzhi Imperial”. The hall also showcases a statue of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug Sect, surrounded by dozens of small gold Buddha statues. Preserved within the hall are the gold book and seal bestowed by Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty, officially recognizing the Fifth Dalai Lama. Adjacent to the main hall is a smaller sutra hall, housing a statue of Padmasambhava, the founder of the Nyingma sect. The walls surrounding the main hall are embellished with vibrant, colourful murals, adding to the hall’s sacred and historical ambience.

These aspects of the White House in the Potala Palace underscore its profound significance as both a religious sanctuary and a centre of historical governance in Tibet.

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East and West Sunlight Hall of Potala Palace

Overview

Positioned on the 5th and 6th floors of the Potala Palace, the East and West Sunlight Halls represent the pinnacle of the White House. These halls were historically the centre of power, housing the local government and the regent’s office. The Dalai Lama’s private quarters, including a sutra hall, practice room, study room, living room, bedroom, and more, were located here. The interiors are resplendent with murals, thangkas, and an array of luxurious items like gold basins, jade pots, silver bowls, and silks. Notably, a single gold pot used by the Dalai Lama weighs 120 jin (a traditional Chinese unit of weight), and a cloak can be valued at tens of thousands of yuan.

East Sunlight Hall

The East Sunlight Hall, known as “Gandan Nangse” in Tibetan (meaning “Happy Light Palace”), served as the bedroom of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. It was expanded by the 13th Dalai Lama. Flanking the main entrance are “tiger skin power sticks,” emblematic of power and majesty. Inside the worship hall, the Dalai Lama’s throne takes a central position, backed by a statue of Tsongkhapa. The east room houses three statues of Tara and figures of Tsongkhapa’s masters and disciples.

A portrait of the 13th Dalai Lama adorns the wooden pillar to the left of the throne, accompanied by a pair of two-meter-tall blue and white porcelain vases dating back to 1934. The hall’s east, west, and south walls are covered with murals.

Traditionally, the Dalai Lama would meet monks and lay officials in this hall during the Tibetan New Year. From the southeast corner of the worship hall, one can access the reception hall and the Dharma Protector Temple (known as “Gongkang” in Tibetan), as well as bedrooms and other chambers. The reception room also referred to as “Dadan Baizi” in Tibetan, is where the Dalai Lama greeted distinguished guests. The Dharma Protector Temple is a space for spiritual practices and chanting, while the bedroom, called “Melange” in Tibetan, was the Dalai Lama’s daily living space. Notably, the north niche of this area houses three longevity statues of Buddha (tshes-lha-rnam-gsum).

These details of the East and West Sunlight Halls illuminate the intricate blend of spiritual significance and opulent design that characterizes the Potala Palace, reflecting its role as a sacred and administrative hub in Tibetan history.

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West Sunlight Hall of Potala Palace

Overview

The West Sunlight Hall, known in Tibetan as “Sonam Legye”, is an earlier structure within the White House of the Potala Palace. This hall includes various areas such as a worship hall, sutra hall, practice room, Dharma protector temple, bedroom, and kitchen. It houses the thrones and ritual implements used by the Dalai Lama and the regent, as well as cushions for senior officials like the Kalon (the former chief officer of Kashag, third grade) and the patron saints and protectors like Nechung.

One of the notable artefacts in the hall is the “Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea” tapestry, renowned for its lifelike imagery, strong three-dimensional effect, vivid colours, and significant artistic appeal. The hall also features the auspicious Heavenly Mother Thangka in the Dalai Lama’s palace, and the Dharma Protector Temple contains statues of various important deities.

Red Palace: Center of Buddhist Activities


Overview

The Red Palace is the focal point of Buddhist activities within the Potala Palace, housing the pagoda halls of all generations of Dalai Lamas and various Buddhist temples. This building was constructed after the death of the fifth Dalai Lama, Depa Sanggye Gyatso (1653-1705), with a substantial investment of over 213 thousand taels of silver.

Maitreya Buddha Hall

Known as “Jamkhang” in Tibetan, the Maitreya Buddha Hall is accessible through a corridor leading from the White House in the Potala Palace. Inside, a dedicated throne for the eighth Dalai Lama, Jambai Gyatso, is present, accompanied by a beautifully crafted gold-plated bronze statue of Maitreya Buddha. This statue is renowned for its slender form and endlessly kind facial expression.

Within the hall, silver statues of White Tara, Amitayus Buddha, and the Supreme Buddha adorn the right side, while gilded bronze statues of Earth Heart Mother, Dhondup Drolma, and Fudo Myra grace the left. A painted statue of Tsongkhapa is positioned on the south side of the skylight, and a statue of Atisha is placed on the north side. Notably, a silver pagoda within the hall holds precious cultural relics, including the skull of Maitreya.

The tall scripture bookshelf in the hall contains the Tripitaka “Tengyur” and the works of Tsongkhapa and the fifth Dalai Lama. The “Tengyur,” a handwritten Nathang edition in Tibet, is recognized for its clarity and immense value, featuring eight kinds of treasures.

These elements within the West Sunlight Hall and the Red Palace at the Potala Palace showcase a delicate blend of religious significance, historical value, and artistic beauty. This combination solidifies the palace’s status as a monumental site in Tibetan culture and Buddhism.

Golden Summit of Potala Palace

Potala Palace, situated at its highest point, is a breathtaking feature accessible by ascending from the Maitreya Buddha Hall. Renowned for its 22 golden domes in the Lingta Hall, designed in the Xieshan style, the Golden Summit is a true spectacle. These domes boast large and small rosettes on the roof, bell-shaped brakes, and raised corners adorned with Capricorn fish heads.

The “Golden Dome” atop the Red Palace Roof is a standout feature. Each golden dome is a masterpiece, reflecting the architectural and artistic pinnacle of Tibetan culture:

  1. Seventh Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Hall: Crafted from 900 jin of pure gold, supported by 33 high-quality gold bars.
  2. Eighth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda: A combination of gold and silver totaling 2700 jin.
  3. Ninth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Hall: With a golden roof supported by pure gold weighing 3574 jin, standing 30 meters high.
  4. Tenth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Hall: Weighing 1379 jin, with decorations made from 18870 jin of gold.
  5. Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Hall: Supported by 3000 jin of gold, standing 30 meters high.
  6. Twelfth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Palace: Using 9000 jin to support its structure, reaching a height of 32 meters.
  7. Eleventh Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Hall: Supported by 3534 jin of gold and standing 37 meters high.

In addition, the Golden Dome Lhakhang stands out with its hexagonal pavilion form. Instead of a traditional peak, it features a hexagonal platform on its roof. Atop this golden roof platform is a remarkable Dharma building made of yak hide, silk, brass, alloy, and other materials, placed on top of the south wall, adding to the grandeur of the summit.

Mandala Hall and the Hall of the Three Realms in the Potala Palace

Mandala Hall

Known as “Lulangkang” in Tibetan, the Mandala Hall stands as a significant part of the Red Palace, gaining fame as one of its most prominent halls. Visitors access this hall by descending from the Golden Dome and traversing the grand corridor. Also referred to as the “Oath Hall,” it boasts a large three-dimensional golden mandala dedicated to the seventh Dalai Lama. This mandala symbolizes dense, blissful, and mighty virtues, serving as a focal point for the worship of Tantric “Guyasamaj” and “Yamantaka” Three Buddhas.

The entrance to the Mandala Hall is adorned with 12 gold arches, a generous gift from Emperor Gaozong (Hongli) of the Qing Dynasty. Inside, the eastern side features a Kalachakra statue made of gold and silver, while a clay statue of the seventh Dalai Lama resides in the Buddhist niche. The northern niche showcases alloy and copper-plated statues of Indian great sages, the sixteen masters, the Thirty-Five Tathagatas, and the Eight Medicine Buddhas. The walls come alive with murals depicting Tibetan historical figures, enhancing the hall’s cultural and historical significance.

The Hall of the Three Realms (Sasum Namgyal)

The “Sasum Namgyal” (ས་གསུམ་རྣམ་རྒྱལ་ ), the Hall of the Three Realms, is located at the core of the Red Palace and is one of its oldest parts. Constructed during the reign of the seventh Dalai Lama, this hall is pivotal for the Red Palace, having hosted numerous important events involving the Residence of the minister, the Dalai Lama, and the Kashag government.

On the northern side of the hall stands Emperor Kangxi’s “Eternal Life Throne,” inscribed in Tibetan, Han, Manchu, and Mongolian languages with the phrase “Long live the current emperor, long live the emperor.” Behind this artistic display is a thangka portrait of Emperor Qianlong, adorned in red and yellow cassocks along with a red monk’s hat. In Tibetan Buddhism, Emperor Qianlong is believed to be the incarnation of Manjushri Bodhisattva, with his master identified as the sixth Panchen Lama, Lobsang Pedhan Yeshi.

The hall’s altar is resplendent and magnificent. On the western wall, there is a silver statue of Avalokitesvara of Compassion, featuring eleven faces and one thousand hands, cast in 1903 from pure silver. The eastern Buddhist niche in the hall contains over 3000 gold Buddha statues of various forms, further accentuating the spiritual and artistic richness of the Hall of the Three Realms.

These halls within the Potala Palace, with their intricate designs and deep religious significance, showcase the blend of Tibetan Buddhism and the region’s rich cultural heritage.

Longevity Hall

The Longevity Hall, is a significant part of the Potala Palace. It features the throne of the Sixth Dalai Lama and houses thousands of gold-plated bronze statues of Amitayus. In the northern part of the main hall, there is a gold-plated bronze statue of Sakyamuni Buddha from the time of the eighth Dalai Lama. The hall also displays images of Kadampa masters and the original Yidam Buddha Mother. In the western section, visitors will find statues of the Thirty-Five Tathagatas and Dharma protectors, including “Egezedi” and Tsongkhapa.

Golden Pagoda Hall – Sertung Gelek Doejo

The Pagoda Hall, known as “Sertung Gelek Doejo”(གསེར་གདུང་དགེ་ལེགས་འདོད་འཇོ་) in Tibetan, is a dedicated space for the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. This pagoda palace, the newest addition to the Red Palace, is accessed by descending a 38-step wooden or stone staircase from the third floor’s southwest corner.

Thubten Gyatso, recognized as the 13th Dalai Lama in 1877 without the need for drawing lots, hailed from Langdun Village in Lang County. A crucial religious figure in modern Tibetan history, he assumed political and religious power in Tibet at the age of 20, holding it for 38 years. His historical significance is underscored by his meeting with Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu in Beijing on August 20, 1908.

Built in 1934, the pagoda stands 12.97 meters high with a base width of 7.83 meters. Wrapped in gold, consuming a total of 589.69 kilograms, and adorned with over 100 diamonds, 27,455 pearls, lapis lazuli, and other precious stones and treasures, the pagoda serves as the final resting place for the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. It contains relics of Sakyamuni Buddha, a complete set of Kangyur and Tengyur classics, and various other valuable cultural relics. It is considered the most valuable among the eight Dalai Lama pagodas in the Potala Palace.

Important Treasures and relics in the Hall

Adjacent to the pagoda is the “Mandala,” a hidden secret offering vessel made from 200,000 pearls, corals, and gold wires, adding to the hall’s splendour. Colourful prayer flags and prayer pillars adorn the wooden pillars, while the walls feature murals depicting the life and deeds of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, including his significant visit to Beijing in 1908 to meet Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu.

The hall is adorned with additional treasures and relics, showcasing the richness of Tibetan culture:

  1. Mandala Offering Vessel: Adjacent to the pagoda, this hidden secret offering vessel is made from 200,000 pearls, corals, and gold wires, adding to the hall’s splendor.
  2. Decorative Elements: Colorful prayer flags and prayer pillars festoon the wooden pillars, creating a vibrant and sacred atmosphere.
  3. Murals: The walls are covered with murals depicting the life and deeds of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, offering a visual narrative of his significant historical moments.

These halls within the Potala Palace not only serve as repositories of religious heritage and historical depth in Tibetan Buddhism but also showcase the intricate artistry and deep reverence for the Dalai Lamas. The pagoda, with its opulence and cultural significance, stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. The entire ensemble reflects the profound spiritual and cultural significance embedded in this iconic landmark.

Guru’s Hall (Lama Lakhang)

Known as “Lama Lakang” in Tibetan, the Guru’s Hall is located on the third floor of the Potala Palace. Visitors reach this hall by walking northward along the west side of the corridor. The hall prominently features silver statues of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug sect, and statues of masters from various sects. Among these are the silver statue of the Sixth Dalai Lama and clay statues of the Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Dalai Lamas, as well as a seated statue of the Second Dalai Lama. Additionally, there are statues of Tibetan King Nyech Tsenpu and other lineage masters, totaling 11 each.

The hall contains over 1000 statues and more than 300 pagodas. The walls are adorned with thousands of White Tara and Shengsheng Buddha statues, outlined in cinnabar lines and covering an area of 117 square meters. This hall serves as a testament to the rich spiritual heritage and diverse lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

Auspicious Light Hall : Tomb Stupa of Seventh Dalai lama

The Auspicious Light Hall, or “Tashi Woebar Kang” (གསེར་གདུང་བཀྲ་ཤིས་འོད་འབར) in Tibetan, is situated north of the Guru’s Hall. This hall is dedicated to the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso (1708—1757), known for his modest lifestyle and contributions to the promotion of the Yellow Sect (Gelug).

The pagoda built in his honour in 1757 stands 11 meters tall, wrapped in gold and consumes 498 kilograms (15,950 taels) of gold. It is inlaid with nearly 10,000 jewels, making it a magnificent and radiant structure. The pagoda houses the remains of the Seventh Dalai Lama, and a statue of Guanyin Bodhisattva is enshrined in the Buddhist niche. In front of the pagoda are Mandalas, treasure bottles, and other sacred objects.

Flanking the pagoda are life-size silver statues of the Seventh Dalai Lama (costing 800 taels of silver), Maitreya Buddha, the Heavenly Lama, and the Bodhi Light Pagoda. The hall also displays the Tripitaka “Kangyur” and other classics, written in gold.

These halls within the Potala Palace, with their profound spiritual significance and exquisite craftsmanship, illustrate the deep reverence for the Dalai Lamas and the rich tapestry of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Phakpa Lhakang, (Avalokitesvara Chapel ) in the Potala Palace

Overview

The Holy Guanyin Hall, known as “Phakba Lhakang”(འཕགས་པ་ལྷ་ཁང) in Tibetan and also referred to as the “Extraordinary Buddha Hall,” is the oldest structure in the Potala Palace. Built-in the 7th century during the reign of Songtsen Gampo, it serves as the primary worship hall of the palace. A plaque titled “Futian Wonderful Fruit,” gifted by Emperor Tongzhi of the Qing Dynasty, adorns the lintel. This plaque, inscribed in Chinese, Tibetan, Manchu, and Mongolian, is noted for its vigorous and powerful script.

Main Hall and Statues in Phakpa Lhakang

The centrepiece of the main hall is the “Phakpa Lokiteshri” (འཕགས་པ་ལོ་ཀེ་ཤྭ་ར) Bodhisattva statue, uniquely crafted from alloy and believed to have been naturally formed from sandalwood. This revered statue, dating back to the seventh century, is considered the deity of Songtsen Gampo, the treasure of the Potala Palace, and the soul of this ancient temple. Flanking the statue are two significant figures: on the left, a sandalwood statue of Avalokitesvara blessed by the seventh Dalai Lama, and on the right, a bronze statue of Avalokitesvara blessed by the eighth Dalai Lama.

In the Buddhist niche on the west side of the hall, visitors will find an ancient alloy statue of the seven-faced King of Yama (gshin-rje), first sculpted during the period of Trisong Dezan in Tubo. Additionally, the hall houses a bronze and gold-plated statue of the mother who saved the eighth difficulty, a sandalwood statue of a disciple of Buddha, an alloy Sakyamuni Buddha, a gold-plated copper six-armed protector and Dakinis, a bronze lotus flower and Manjushri Bodhisattva, and a jade Phakpa. The hall also contains hundreds of other statues, including wooden White Tara, Eleven-faced Avalokitesvara, ceramic Marpa, clay sculptures of Tsongkhapa, Atisha, Drom Tonpa, and the eighth Dalai Lama, Sakyamuni Buddha.

Murals and Meditation Cave of King

The back wall of the Buddhist niche in the temple is covered with murals, adding to the hall’s spiritual and artistic depth. Below the Phakpa Lhakang is the Meditation Cave. Both Phakpa Lhakhang and Meditation Cave are the sole surviving structures from the Songtsen Gampo period, holding immense historical and cultural value.

These features of the Phakpa Lhakang underscore its significance within the Potala Palace, reflecting the deep religious and cultural heritage of Tibet and the enduring reverence for Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Sertung Gelek Seebar (Tomb stupa of 8th Dalai Lama)

Overview

This Hall, known as “Gelek Sebar”(དགེ་ལེགས་གཟི་འབར) in Tibetan, is the spiritual pagoda hall dedicated to the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso (1758—1804), who hailed from Namling County. Recognized as the reincarnation of the Seventh Dalai Lama by the Sixth Panchen Lama, he was enthroned in the Potala Palace in 1762 and began his official duties in 1781.

Historical Significance

In 1791, the Eighth Dalai Lama played a crucial role in mobilizing support for the Qing army against the Gorkha invasion. This led to the formulation of the “Imperial Regulations for Dealing with the Aftermath of Tibet,” which included twenty-nine articles. These regulations established the “drawing lots from the golden urn” system for the reincarnation of significant figures like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.

The Spiritual Pagoda

Constructed in 1805, the spiritual pagoda of the Eighth Dalai Lama stands at a height of 9.4 meters with a base width of 4.55 meters. This majestic structure is sheathed in gold, utilizing 175 kilograms (or 5573.35 taels) of the precious metal, and adorned with over a thousand diamonds, emeralds, agates, and various other jewels. Notably, it is celebrated for its unique craftsmanship, ranking among the most sophisticated and beautifully shaped pagodas within the Potala Palace. Serving as the final resting place for the Eighth Dalai Lama, the pagoda houses his dharma body along with priceless relics.

The pagoda’s aesthetic features are a testament to its intricate design:

  1. Eleven-faced Guanyin Statue: Adorning the pagoda is an eleven-faced Guanyin statue, radiating spiritual significance and grace.
  2. Mandala (“Kyikhor” in Tibetan): In front of the pagoda, a mandala adds to the sacred ambiance, symbolizing spiritual wholeness and completeness.
  3. Aquarius and Offerings: The pagoda is complemented by an Aquarius, cups, and lamps for offerings (“Choekhung” in Tibetan), enhancing the ritualistic aspect of the structure.
  4. Statue of the Eighth Dalai Lama: Positioned to the right of the pagoda is a dedicated statue of the Eighth Dalai Lama, serving as a visual representation of the spiritual leader.
  5. Statue of Auspicious Heavenly Mother (“Palden Lhamo” in Tibetan): On the left, a statue of the Auspicious Heavenly Mother, the protector of the Dalai Lama, stands as a remarkable example of exquisite craftsmanship.

This pagoda, with its opulent adornments and spiritual significance, stands as a shining example of Tibetan religious and artistic heritage within the revered halls of the Potala Palace.

Three Realms Fulfil Joy Hall (Sasum Ngonga Lhakang)

The Three Realms Fulfil Joy Hall, also known as “Sasum Ngonga Lhakang” in Tibetan, is the spiritual pagoda hall dedicated to the Ninth Dalai Lama, Lungtok Gyatso (1805—1815), hailing from Shiqu County, Sichuan. Recognized as the reincarnation of the Eighth Dalai Lama at the tender age of three, Emperor Jiaqing issued an edict in 1808, forgoing the traditional golden urn lottery for his enthronement. Unfortunately, Lungtok Gyatso passed away at the remarkably young age of 11, making him the Dalai Lama with the shortest lifespan.

Constructed in 1815, the pagoda boasts a resplendent gold skin, utilizing a total of 112 kilograms of gold and adorned with an array of precious jewels. Standing at 7 meters tall with a base width of 4.15 meters, it serves as a repository for scriptures and cultural relics, earning the poignant moniker “the joy of the three realms.” In front of the pagoda, Buddhist offerings are meticulously arranged, flanked by statues of the Ninth Dalai Lama on the right and Tsongkhapa, the revered founder of the Gelug sect, on the left. The hall stands as a testament to the brief yet significant spiritual presence of the Ninth Dalai Lama within the sacred confines of the Potala Palace.

The Time Wheel Hall

The Time Wheel Hall, known as “Dukhor Lakhang” (དུས་འཁོར་ལྷ་ཁང་།) in Tibetan, is a significant feature of the Potala Palace. Visitors enter this hall from the southeast corner of the cloister on the second floor. The hall’s centrepiece is a massive three-dimensional gilt-bronze Kalachakra mandala model. In the middle of the mandala is a detailed and complex structure made of copper, wood, and clay, representing “Shambhala,” a city in the Buddhist Pure Land of Paradise.

This mandala, constructed during the period of the Fifth Dalai Lama, showcases layered design and extraordinary momentum. It exemplifies the high artistic skill of Tibetan craftsmen, with beautiful craftsmanship and intricate design. The main hall’s eastern niche houses over 100 small Buddha statues, and the southwest corner features a very exquisite statue of Master Padmasambhava.

These halls within the Potala Palace – the Three Realms Miaoxi Hall and The Time Wheel Hall – embody the rich spiritual essence and artistic heritage of Tibetan Buddhism, showcasing the reverence for the Dalai Lamas and the profound cultural legacy of Tibet.

Sakyamuni Hall

The Sakyamuni Hall, known as “Tsewang Lhakang” in Tibetan, is located west of the Kalachakra Hall and forms part of a group of smaller halls. This hall, which once served as the residence of the Seventh Dalai Lama, features a sterling silver statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. Flanking this central figure are statues of the eight disciples of Sakyamuni. Additionally, the scripture shelf in the hall houses 115 volumes of the “Kangyur” Tripitaka, transcribed during the period of the Eighth Dalai Lama.

Infinite Life Buddha Hall

Continuing west from the Sakyamuni Hall, visitors reach the Infinite Life Buddha Hall, known as “Ttsephak Lhakang” in Tibetan. This hall boasts nine bronze and gold-plated statues of Amitayus, along with life-size alloy statues of White Tara and Green Tara on its east and west sides. The hall features gold-plated bronze statues of Bodhi Lam Rim lineage masters, fasting and ascetic lineage figures, Sixteen Supreme Beings, Four Heavenly Kings, Thirty-five Tathagatas, and Five Transfigurations of Tsongkhapa. It is surrounded by thousands of high-quality statues and Eight Buddha Pagodas, complemented by murals depicting scenes like the landscape of Guanyin Bodhisattva and “The Biography of Sakyamuni Buddha.”

Adjacent to the Amitayus Hall is the “Potala Palace Fine Cultural Relics Exhibition Hall,” showcasing 100 original fine cultural relics. This exhibition hall is divided into three parts, featuring alloy (red gold) Buddha statues, thangkas (scroll paintings), pagodas, classics, and more. These artifacts embody the “mind” of the Buddha and contain spiritual relics.

The Sakyamuni Hall, Infinite Life Buddha Hall, and the adjoining exhibition hall emphasize the Potala Palace’s role as a repository of Tibetan Buddhist art, history, and spirituality. The presence of these halls and their contents reflects the rich cultural tapestry and deep religious significance held by the Potala Palace.

Pearl Mandala Pagoda and Cultural Relics Exhibition

The Potala Palace’s Fine Cultural Relics Exhibition Hall houses numerous rare and historically significant items, including the “Eight Thousand Ode” Shell Leaf Sutra and the Pearl Mandala Pagoda.

  • “Eight Thousand Ode” Shell Leaf Sutra: This ancient Indian scripture, now extinct in India, is over a thousand years old. It features Sanskrit writing on bay leaves, with handwriting that remains remarkably clear and legible, making it a highly valued relic.
  • Pearl Mandala Luobao Pagoda: A gift from Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in the early 20th century, this pagoda stands 50 cm high and consists of 77 stories. It is strung with 220,000 pearls and corals, earning it the distinction of being “the best pearl tower in China.”

The exhibition hall also displays various seals, edicts, and titles granted by the central government to the Tibetan local government since the Yuan Dynasty, along with folk cultural relics like the costumes of monks and lay officials. Additionally, it showcases an array of historical Tibetan weapons, daily utensils, and ethnic handicrafts.

Meditation Cave of King

Meditation Cave of King, known as “Choegyal Druphuk” in Tibetan, is located at the northwest end of the corridor on the second floor of the Potala Palace. It is also referred to as the “Dharma King’s Meditation Palace.” Positioned at the highest point of Red Mountain and flanked by two small white towers, this cave-style palace covers approximately 30 square meters. Historically, it was the site where Songtsen Gampo practised Dharma and included artefacts like his stoves, stone pots, and mortars.

Inside the cave, there is a statue of Songtsen Gampo. To the left are statues of Princess Trizun, The Tibetan Wife Mongsa Tricham, Chinese Concubine Wencheng and Prince Gongri Gongtsen. To the right are figures including His Ministers Gongtun, Gar Tongzan, and Thonmi Sambhota, as well as statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, Patriarch Tsongkhapa, and Maitreya Buddha. These statues are characterized by vivid imagery, smooth pleats, and bright colours, representing the art treasures of the Tubo period.

Samantabhadra Hall

The Samantabhadra Hall, known as “Kunsang Jedro Lakhang (ཀུན་བཟང་རྗེས་འགྲོ་ཁང་)” in Tibetan, is situated adjacent to Meditation Cave. The main attraction in this hall is a life-size gilt bronze statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. Accompanying this central figure are a statue of Guanyin Bodhisattva on the left and a statue of the Fifth Dalai Lama on the right. The hall also features exquisite statues, including Avalokitesvara with Thousand Arms and Thousand Eyes, and the Guru.

Alloy Hall (Lima Lakhang)

Adjacent to Samantabhadra Hall is the Alloy Hall, or “Lima Lakang”(ལི་མ་ལྷ་ཁང་།) in Tibetan, also commonly referred to as “Alloy Buddha Hall” or “Golden Bronze Hall.” This hall is home to an alloy statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, surrounded by over 3000 additional Buddha statues on the east and west sides.

Highlights of the Alloy Hall include:

  • Alloy statues of Sakyamuni Buddha and Maitreya Buddha, totaling more than 50 in number.
  • Manjushri Bodhisattva statues were cast during the Ming Dynasty’s Xuande and Yongle periods.
  • About 1600 alloy statues of eminent monks from the Nyingma sect and the founder of the Kagyu sect, Thangong Gyalpo.
  • A silver statue of Sakyamuni Buddha and Sakya Pandita.
  • Gilt bronze statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, Maitreya Buddha, Infinite Life Buddha, and more, totalling around 30.
  • Bronze statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, Vajra Haimu, Palden Lhamo, and others, amount to about 300.
  • Crystal statues of Sakyamuni Buddha and Immeasurable Light Buddha, amber statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, and various stone-carved, ivory, ceramic, and
  • Clay and Procelian statues, including the eight-armed Guanyin, Green Tara, Amitayus Buddha, and its lineage masters, Patriarch Tsongkhapa, Sakyamuni Buddha, Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Detsen, and more.

The Alloy Hall can be described as a veritable museum of Tibetan Buddhist statuary, showcasing a wide array of artistic styles and materials, and reflecting the rich spiritual and cultural heritage of Tibet.

Western Peaceful Auspicious Hall (Tsomchen Sishi Phuntsok)

The Western Peaceful Auspicious Hall, or “Tsomchen Sishi Phuntsok”(ཚོམས་ཆེན་སྲིད་ཞིའི་ཕུན་ཚོགས་།) in Tibetan, commonly referred to as the “Western Hall,” is a significant area in the Potala Palace where Dalai Lamas have historically held religious ceremonies and important ritual activities. Located on the second floor and accessible via a 13-step ladder, it is the largest hall in the Red Palace, covering an area of 725 square meters and featuring 44 huge pillars.

The hall’s design resembles the auspicious Kalachakra mandala, with intricately crafted door tacks, pillars, beams, and brackets. At its centre are the Dalai Lama’s throne, ritual utensils, and tea sets. Above the throne hangs a golden plaque titled “The First Place of the Emerging Lotus,” a gift from Emperor Qianlong. The hall and its inner courtyard cloister are adorned with murals covering 280 square meters, including a notable depiction of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s diplomatic visit with 13 old Shunzhi.

A pair of large brocade embroidered curtains in the hall, sent by Emperor Kangxi in 1696 as a tribute, are particularly noteworthy. Woven with gold thread from the emperor’s special weaving factory, they cost 16,000 taels and are considered rare treasures of the Potala Palace.

Bodhi Lamrim Hall

Adjacent to the Western Hall on the east side is the Bodhi Lamrim Hall, or “Lamrim Lakhang”(ལམ་རིས་ལྷ་ཁང་།) in Tibetan. The main feature of this hall is a 2-meter-tall silver life-size statue of Tsongkhapa, flanked by statues of Manjushri and Maitreya Buddha, representing the masters of deep contemplation respectively. Additionally, there are statues of King Namsey and King Yama.

Rigzin Lhakhang

Located on the south side of the Western Hall, Chiming Hall, known as “Rigzin Lhakhang”(རིག་འཛིན་ལྷ་ཁང་།) in Tibetan, houses a 2.3-meter-tall silver statue of Padmasambhava, with statues of his Indian concubine Mandrava and Tibetan concubine Yeshe Tsogyal on either side. The east side of the Padmasambhava statue features gilt bronze statues of the eight great Vidyadharma Masters, while the west side displays gilt bronze statues of the eight transformation gurus. In front of the hall are eight silver Buddha Pagodas and statues of the three Tantric parents, along with the gold and silver “Ganyur” Tripitaka written during the Diba period.

The Fifth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Hall and Surrounding Pagodas

The Fifth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Hall

Known as “Sertung Zamling Gyenchik”(གསེར་སྡོང་འཛམ་གླིང་རྒྱན་གཅིག་) in Tibetan, which translates to “the only solemn in the world,” this hall is located on the west side of the Western Hall. Dedicated to the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, a native of Qiongjie, Shannan, it stands as a significant monument. Recognized as the reincarnation of the Fourth Dalai Lama in 1621, he was enthroned at Drepung Monastery the following year. In 1653, Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty paid respect to him by sending tribute and offering him Dalai Lama Vajra Dara.

The spiritual pagoda in this hall, built in 1690, is a four-layer square structure, standing 12.6 meters high with a base width of 7.65 meters. The Dalai Lama’s body is preserved within the pagoda, which is covered in gold skin, consuming a total of 3724 kg of gold. Adorned with pearls, orbs, dzi beads, gems, corals, agate, and other jewels, it is regarded as “the first decoration in the world” for its opulence and magnificence.

Decorative items and relics in the Hall

In front of the pagoda, eight auspicious signs and objects, along with the Seven Treasures of the Wheel King, are displayed. The hall includes mandalas, water cups, offering lights, and more.

The stupa-tombs are intricately designed with lively patterns and adorned with precious stones like amber, pearl, coral, agate, and diamond, adding significant value. Cultural relics housed in the stupas, such as the stupa of Sakyamuni, a thumb from his figure, a piece of King Songtsan Gambo’s posthumous decree, a portrait embroidered by Princess Wencheng, and belongings of previous high-rank monks, enhance their worth. The mummified and perfumed bodies of Dalai Lamas are kept in stupas, following the Tibetan custom of Stupa Funeral.

The stupa-tomb chapel of the Fifth Dalai Lama is surrounded by chapels that house thousands of precious books and scriptures in Chinese, Manchu, and Mongolian. It also contains numerous handwritten copies and printed books covering history, medicine, culture, Buddhism, and more, totaling over 200,000 books.

Surrounding Pagodas

Flanking the Fifth Dalai Lama’s pagoda are the pagodas of the Tenth and Twelfth Dalai Lamas, along with eight silver pagodas, including the Lotus Pagoda, Auspicious Multi door Pagoda, Demon-Conquering Pagoda, Zunsheng Pagoda, Bodhi Pagoda, Divine Transformation Pagoda, Clutch Pagoda, and Nirvana Pagoda.

  • Tenth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda: Known as “Serdung Kamsum Gyenchok”(གསེར་གདུང་ཁམས་གསུམ་རྒྱན་མཆོག་) in Tibetan, it was built in 1837 for Tshul-khrims-rgya-mtsho (1816–1837) from Litang, Sichuan. The pagoda, standing 7 meters high and wrapped in gold skin, houses the body of the Tenth Dalai Lama, along with classics and cultural relics.
  • Twelfth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda: Called “Tsejin Woebar” (གསེར་གདུང་ཚེ་སྦྱིན་འོད་འབར་) in Tibetan, meaning “Tower of Light with Longevity,” it was constructed in 1875 for Chengye Gyatso (1856–1875) from Shannan. The pagoda, adorned with gold, silver, copper, and various treasures, houses the statue of Guanyin Bodhisattva, the King of Heaven, and the Twelfth Dalai Lama.

These halls and pagodas within the Potala Palace represent a rich tapestry of Tibetan Buddhist history and art, honouring the memory and legacy of the Dalai Lamas and showcasing the palace’s deep cultural and religious significance.

Trungrab Lhakhang: History of Birth

The Hereditary Hall, known as “Trungrab Lakang” (འཁྲུངས་རབས་ལྷ་ཁང་།) in Tibetan, is situated on the north side of the Western Hall. This hall features a pure gold statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, with a silver statue of the Fifth Dalai Lama on the left. Accompanying these are statues of Guanyin Bodhisattva, Songtsen Gampo, Drom Tonpa, and the first to fourth Dalai Lamas. On the right side, there are gilt bronze statues of the Eight Tathagatas, the Medicine Master, and the Third Buddha. The hall also houses a statue of Master Drakchen Losel from the Sakya Sect and stores the Tripitaka of Tengyur on the sutra bookshelf on the north wall.

Adjacent to the Hereditary Hall is the pagoda of the 11th Dalai Lama, “Serdng Phende Woebar” (གསེར་གདུང་ཕན་བདེ་འོད་འབར་) in Tibetan. Master Khedrup Gyatso (1838—1855), a native of Taining, Sichuan, was recognized as the reincarnation of the 10th Dalai Lama in 1841. He assumed office in 1855 but passed away at the Potala Palace later that year.

Constructed in 1885, the pagoda stands 6.9 meters high with a base width of 3.55 meters. It is wrapped in gold skin and adorned with diamonds, right-handed conches, and various other treasures. Inside the shrine of the pagoda is a statue of Songtsen Gampo, and in front of the pagoda are various offerings and a statue of the 11th Dalai Lama.

The Medicine Master’s Hall

The Medicine Master Eight Tathagata Hall “སྨན་བླ་ཁང” is dedicated to the Medicine Master Eight Tathagata. The central feature comprises a mandala surrounded by 310 statues of the Medicine Master from mainland China, India, Tibet, and other regions, along with Tsongkhapa and a life-size statue of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The hall’s four walls are covered with extremely exquisite murals.

Both the Hereditary Hall and The Medicine Master’s Hall in the Potala Palace showcase the intricate artistry and deep spiritual significance of Tibetan Buddhism. These halls, with their revered statues and detailed murals, represent the rich cultural and religious heritage preserved within the palace.

Restoration and Preservation of the Potala Palace

The Potala Palace, a symbol of majesty, faced decay and structural challenges. Issues included rot, insect damage, cracked walls, and murals affected by pollution. Recognizing its historical value, the Chinese government initiated a restoration project in 1989. President Jiang Zemin emphasized national unity during his inspection in 1990. With a total allocation of 53 million yuan, the project was completed in 1994, covering 34,000 square meters. Post-restoration, the Potala Palace hosts tourists daily, promoting Tibetan culture globally.

Highlights of the Potala Palace: A Treasure Trove of Art and History

The Potala Palace, an architectural marvel and grand art museum, houses a valuable collection of artifacts pivotal for studying Tibetan politics, economy, history, culture, and art. The collection features:

Sculptures:

  • Vast Collection: Boasting 200,000 to 300,000 Buddhist statues, the Potala Palace stands as the crown jewel of Tibetan sculpture.
  • Diverse Representations: Spanning historical periods, the sculptures range from the Tubo period to refined statues from various dynasties. Noteworthy figures include Avalokitesvara with Thousand Hands, Maitreya Practitioner, and Manjusri in Lotus.
  • Wide Range of Figures: Representing Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Patriarchs, Arhats, the ferocious Heavenly Mother, and Vajra Demons, the statues capture expressions from majestic elegance to terrifying mystery.

Notable Statues:

  • Pure Gold Sakyamuni Buddha: Located in the Hereditary Hall, this statue embodies solemnity and grace.
  • Silver Statue of Padmasambhava: Found in the Mingming Hall, Padmasambhava exudes serenity.
  • Silver Statue of the Fifth Dalai Lama: Portraying the Dalai Lama with a crown and monk’s robes, offering salutes and holding a treasure wheel.
  • Life-Size Silver Tsongkhapa: In the Bodhi Lamrim Hall, Tsongkhapa strikes a dignified pose.
  • Bronze Gilt Maitreya Buddha: Standing 3.66 meters tall in the Maitreya Hall, adorned with heavenly clothes and jewelry, holding a gold wheel and an Ashoka flower.
  • Silver Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara: In the Hall of Three Realms, this 3-meter-tall statue, consuming 10,000 taels of silver, features a gold-painted face and an elegant form.
  • Alloy Avalokitesvara: A rare treasure in the Holy Guanyin Hall, known for its intricate craftsmanship.
  • Clay Sculptures of Songtsen Gampo: Preserved in the Dharma King’s Cave along with statues of Princess Wencheng and Princess Trizun, believed to be from the early days of the Potala Palace.

The Potala Palace’s collection serves as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Tibet.

Murals of the Potala Palace: A Rich Tapestry of Tibetan History and Art

Adorning the Potala Palace are extensive murals covering the walls of its halls and corridors. Each mural depicts a rich tapestry of Buddhist stories and significant historical events, with divisions mainly between those of the White House and the Red Palace.

White House Murals

  • Origins: The painting of the White House murals began in 1648, involving 63 skilled artisans.
  • Content: These murals illustrate the origins of Tibet, the development of various sects of Tibetan Buddhism, and the biographies of the first to fifth Dalai Lamas.
  • Key Features:
    • A depiction of a palace from the seventh century in the Songgekuo foyer.
    • Scenes of Princess Wencheng entering Tibet and the proposal of Songtsen Gampo to the Tang Dynasty through minister Ludongzan.
    • The East Hall features the legend of “Macaque turning into a human” and murals of Princess Jincheng, showcasing the historical marriage alliances and close relations between Tang China and Tibet.

Red Palace Murals

  • Creation Period: Painted at the end of the 17th century with 236 painters, including 162 from the Mentang School and 74 imitating the Qinzi painting school.
  • Content: The Sixi Phuntsok Hall alone houses 698 murals, predominantly focusing on the life of the Fifth Dalai Lama.
  • Highlights:
    • A prominent mural depicting the Fifth Dalai Lama’s audience with Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty.
    • Scenes from the Fifth Dalai Lama’s visit to Beijing in 1652, including various activities and grand ceremonies.

Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Hall Murals

  • These murals depict the main achievements of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, particularly highlighting his audience with Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu in 1908.

West Hall Second Floor Murals

  • Scenes depicting the construction of the Red Palace, including craftsmen working, supervisors overseeing the work, and labourers carrying materials.

The murals in the Potala Palace stand as a testament to the artistic excellence and creativity of the Tibetan people. They offer a vivid and authentic portrayal of Tibetan history, culture, and religious narratives, making the palace a repository of invaluable art and heritage.

Thangkas of the Potala Palace: A Collection of Exquisite Tibetan Art

The Potala Palace houses an extraordinary collection of thangkas, which are traditional Tibetan Buddhist paintings on fabric. These thangkas are not only religious artefacts but also artistic masterpieces, representing various aspects of Tibetan culture, history, and spirituality.

Famous Thangkas in the Potala Palace:

Pama Dun Yuezhupa Thangka:

  • Features Drakpa Gyaltsen, the third of the “Five Patriarchs of Sakya.”
  • Custom-made by Jiangcun Zha, it depicts the main deity with childlike features symbolizing protector loyalty.

Gongtang Lama Xiang Thangka:

  • Dating back to 1187, this Kesi-style thangka portrays Lama Xiang (1123—1194).
  • Valuable artefact from the Song Dynasty, surrounded by 26 lamas and various animals.

Milarepa’s Biography Thangka:

  • Illustrates the legendary life of Milarepa (1040—1123).
  • Depicts his journey from practicing black magic to attaining enlightenment, with the central figure shown in meditation.

Lotus Mesh Guanyin Thangka:

  • Yuan Dynasty masterpiece showcasing Guanyin Bodhisattva with 33 incarnations.
  • Depicts Guanyin with a high bun, exposed upper body, right hand supporting the lotus platform, and left hand holding a lotus.

Portrait of Zhu Di, the Founder of the Ming Dynasty:

  • Large Ming Dynasty Chengzu portrait (3.6 meters high, 1.87 meters wide).
  • Depicts Chengzu in a yellow dragon robe, red royal belt, and sitting on a jade-inlaid dragon throne.

Largest Thangka in the World:

  • Buddha Amitayus of the Tang Dynasty, measuring 8 meters by 46.8 meters.
  • Hosted by Diba Sangye Gyatso, and produced in 1996 by Tibetan painting master Tashi Tsering.
  • Guinness World Records’ largest thangka.

These thangkas showcase the Potala Palace’s status as a repository of Tibetan art and culture.

Red Mountain Cliff Statues and Inscriptions at the Potala Palace

Red Mountain Cliff Statues

Situated at the eastern foot of Red Mountain, these statues primarily consist of reliefs, creating a expansive ensemble with diverse themes. Among them are depictions of Padmasambhava, Eleven-faced Avalokitesvara, Tara, and various other Buddha figures.

  • First Group: Features the Yubao Buddha Mother emerging from a chariot, with a height of 1.77 meters and a width of 1.16 meters. The Buddha Mother sits in a cart pulled by six pigs.
  • Third Group: Depicts the three fathers with Vajradhara in the center, flanked by Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva and Manjushri Bodhisattva. There are sixteen images of Sakyamuni Buddha and his disciples, along with seven Buddha statues above them.
  • Fifth Group: Showcases Sakyamuni Buddha and Tara arranged in the character “一”, with a height of 39 cm and a width of 3 meters.
  • Seventh Group: Contains ten Buddha statues with Amitayus, Avalokitesvara, Tara, Vajradhara, and others. The main image is Sakyamuni Buddha, standing 1.3 meters tall.
  • Eighth Group: Features Master Padmasambhava and two concubines, with the main statue standing 43 cm tall.

Tips for Visiting the Potala Palace

Dalai Lama Reincarnation System

  • Origin of “Dalai Lama”: The term “Dalai Lama” combines Mongolian and Tibetan words, meaning “Ocean of Wisdom”. It started with the recognition of Sonam Gyatso as the “Holy Consciousness All Wazir Dalai Lama” by the Mongolian Tumote tribe leader Altan Khan.
  • History: The first two Dalai Lamas, Gendun Drubpa and Gendun Gyatso, were posthumously recognized. The fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, became the first to combine political and religious leadership in Tibet.

Visiting Tips:

Access and Navigation:

  • Climb via the main entrance involves strenuous zigzag stone steps.
  • Elderly or altitude-sick visitors are advised to take a taxi to the top.

Photography Rules:

  • Restricted photography and filming inside; payment required.
  • Allowed at the Golden Summit. Recommended spots: Yaowang Mountain Observation Deck, pool east of the square, Longwangtan Park, and hillside near Lhasa Bridge for stunning views.

Facilities:

  • Toilets within Potala Palace are limited; use the restroom before the visit.
  • The “deepest toilet in the world” is north of the Deyang Building of the White House.

These tips enhance the Potala Palace visit, ensuring a comfortable exploration of this significant landmark.

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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