Jokhang Temple: The Religious Landmark of Lhasa

Jokhang Temple is the most important and revered religious site in the entire Lhasa. A 1,300 years old monastery is dedicated to the Buddhists throughout the world.


Overview

Jokhang temple, also known as Qoikang Monastery or Zuglagkang, is the most revered religious site throughout Lhasa. It means “House of the Lords” in Tibetan, and is located at the center of the popular Barkhar market. It was founded by the King Songtsan Gampo in 647, the first ruler of the unified Tibet, and his two wives who are credited with bringing the Buddhism in Tibet.

Gilt roof of the Jokhang temple
Gilt roof of the Jokhang temple

The two-storeyed Jokhang is best visited in the morning, though the crowds of pilgrims can be thick. Access inside the temple is possible in the afternoon through a side entrance, but only the ground-floor chapels can be viewed (and then only through a grille) when there are no pilgrims.

It’s an important pilgrimage site for all the Tibetans. Most pilgrims arrive on foot often circumambulating around the Barkhar Street.

History

Constructed in the 7th century by the King Songtsan Gampo, it contains a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha that Chinese Princess Wen Cheng brought over 1300 years ago is the most venerated artifact in all of Tibet. The temple, a splendid four-floor building facing west under a guilded rooftop, is on Barkhor Square in the center of the old section of Lhasa.

Since the Chinese occupation in 1951, the temple has taken on a political role as the focus of Tibetan cultural identity and resistance.

During the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards (China) ambushed the Jokhang in 1966 and for a decade there was no worship in Tibetan monasteries. Renovation of the Jokhang began in 1972, and was mostly complete by 1980.


Legend

According to the legend, the temple was built on the lake site. It was profusely chosen because every time a monastery was built in the region, it would collapse. Princess Wen Cheng advised, they must demolish the hag, which was the main reason for crumbling buildings, by filling and leveling the lake using 1,000 goats to carry soil from a mountain far away.

When the construction was completed, the site was called Ra-Sa-Vphrul-Snang (‘ra’ meaning goat and ‘sa’ meaning earth) to commemorate those goats.

 

The Grandeur of Tibet

Tibet is nick-named the “Roof of the World” for its geographical significance. The average elevation is around 4,900 meters. Today, it is known as the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. The Tibetan plateau is signified by its vast arid landscape and deserts. Due to harsh weather and altitude, the vegetation remains scare throughout the region.

It has managed to intrigue foreigners for ages. Ever since, it opened for the tourists, the place has seen many social and economical advancements.

Tourist Seasons
Tourist Seasons

Lhasa

Lhasa is the capital of Tibet. A forbidden city during primeval time, Lhasa was completely inaccessible by the foreigners. News journalists and photographers could never make it inside the city despite crossing the border and entering Tibet.

Because of its discreet nature, the city rarely made any contact with the modern world for thousand of years. One couldn’t fly or ride to Lhasa before but walk. The first theater in the country was build at the time of 14th Dalai Lama.

By the 17th century, Lhasa became a home of not only native Tibetans but migrants and traders from Greater Indian subcontinent and mainland China, forming a community of Muslims, Hindus along with Han Chinese. It was only after the Chinese occupation, that Lhasa was opened for tourists.


Facts about Tibet

  1. Following the coup by Chinese government in the 1950s, the city of Lhasa was occupied by the Red Army and kept under strict supervision for decades. It was finally opened for international tourists in the mid 1980s.
  2. Tibet remains closed during February and March. May, June, July, August, September and October remains the best time to visit.
  3. Care to carry extra layers of clothing during winter.
  4. You must obtain Tibet Permit before entering the region. A Chinese VISA won’t be enough to visit Tibet.
  5. The country is wide and huge. You won’t be able to map each region and corners during your visit, thefore, keep only important places in your check-list.
  6. Due to its sheer altitude, the oxygen level throughout the area remains around 40%. Trouble in breathing and heart-rate fluctuation is common.
  7. Mount Kailash and Mansarovar are parts of the Tibet. These two constitute as the major pilgimage site for both the Hindus and Buddhists throughout South Asia. Thousands of pilgrims make a journey to Kailash on foot every year.

Guidelines for Tourists

  • Do not wear a hat inside the Jokhang, Potala or other sacred sites. Please no short pants or tank tops. When visiting shrines it is customary to leave a small money offering, especially where you do not have to buy a ticket!
  • Circumambulate stupas and other sacred objects in a clock-wise direction.
  • Do not climb onto statues, mani stones or other sacred objects.
  • Avoid eating garlic before visiting a temple. Tibetans find the garlic breath in a temple disrespectful.
  • Photography is NOT allowed inside the Potala Palace. You can take photos in the Jokhang temple. Some monasteries will allow photography upon payment of a small donation or fee. Monks begging will often allow a photograph after you make a small contribution. When in doubt, ask before snapping your camera.

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