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5 October 2011 / leggypeggy

Tibet’s holiest place—the Jokhang Temple

Some of the elaborate and intricate decorative work at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet.

The guidebook has 16 pages of information about the Great Temple of Lhasa and its surrounds, so it’s a real challenge to give a brief summary of the most interesting highlights, but I’ll try.

Considered to be Tibet’s most sacred shrine, the Jokhang Temple is the focal point for pilgrims from all over the Tibetan plateau. Worshippers flock there in their thousands, and the temple and its surrounds are a constant sea of people. Every day we visited—three days in a row—the area around the outside of the temple was packed with pilgrims circling clockwise before and/or after going in to the temple to offer prayers, candles and money.

Located in the heart of Tibet’s old city, the temple was founded by Nepali Queen Bhrikuti, on a site chosen by Chinese Queen Wencheng (both were wives of King Songsten Gampo). The latter queen believed the site was the ‘geomantic power-place’ of Tibet. Before the main temple could be built, in the mid-600s), certain ‘obstacles’ had to be eliminated to ensure the temple’s longevity and sacredness. This included filling in Othang Lake (with earth carried by goats) and building 12 temples in rings around where the Great Temple would stand. Poor John read somewhere that these 12 temples were need to hold down an ogre that would cause mayhem if left uncontained.

When the main temple was completed in 647, it was formally named Rasa Trulnang (magical apparition of Rasa) and also Gazhi Trulnang (magical apparition endowed with four joys). At that time, the old city was called Rasa (Place of Goats) and the four joys related to the fact that construction of the temple was believed to have brought joy to the four classes of the populace.

The entire temple covers 2600 square metres. Today the name Jokhang refers to the three-storey inner sanctum of the temple, which forms a square (82.5 square metres) enclosing a main hall and the inner circumambulation pathway. It houses the Jowo Rinpoche image, Tibet’s holiest image. The complex has numerous other courtyards, walkways and structures—many of which are open to visitors.

The temple has been renovated many times over the last 1500 years. Much of the complex suffered major damage during the Cultural Revolution, and this was repaired between 1972–82. Some murals and partition walls were replaced during the 1990s. Murals in the outer courtyard are still being restored. The temple is a Unesco World Heritage site.

There’s an entrance for visitors and a separate entrance for pilgrims. There are also separate areas in which to walk, once you’re inside the temple. Pilgrims circle the inner sanctum and are closest (which is more than fair) to the elaborate murals decorating the labyrinth of walls. It seems that one courtyard is also reserved for pilgrims.

We visited on a brilliantly sunny day, and spent about two hours exploring the many areas open to the general public. We visited all three levels, and I took plenty pictures from too many angles. I wish I could explain more about the pics in the slideshow, but after wading through all 16 pages of guidebook descriptions, I can still only just tell up from down. I don’t know if we were in a ‘forbidden’ area, but I did get an unexpected shot of people (volunteers?) working on a roof.

This blog entry and its accompanying photos are about the temple interior only. Photos are allowed in the outdoor areas of the temple, but not allowed in the inner sanctum. I’m writing another two entires about this temple—one about its surrounds and one about a celebrity sighting.

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