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Palcho Monastery and Kumbum

Updated: Apr 7, 2019

Gyantse County is strategically located between the Himalayas and the Gangdise with the Yarlung Zangbo River flowing through the county. Palcho Monastery is the main monastery in Gyantse and is surrounded by mountains on all sides. In 1436, Pelkhor-tsen (the prince of Gyantse) and Gendun Drup (recognized as the first Dalai Lama) began to build the Palcho Monastery and it took almost 10 years to finish it. There is a nice coherent entity of monastery and stupa, because you can see stupa in the monastery and monastery in stupa.

Palcho Monastery, also named Pelkor Chode Monastery or Shekar Gyantse, is the main monastery in Gyantse County, Tibet, China. The main reason for the popularity of Palcho monastery is the combination of characteristics of Han, Tibet and Nepali Buddhist architecture. Palcho Monastery is also popular for its high status in Tibetan Buddhism. The important reason for its high status is that it houses three sects of Tibetan Buddhism, Gelug, Sakyapa, and Kadampa together.

The Bodhi Dagoba is about 32 meters high and has a nine-tier building which has 108 gates, 76 chapels and shrines. It symbolizes the Pelkhor Choede which has two other names, ‘kumbum’ and ‘Ten Thousand Buddha Pagoda’. In the pagoda, ten thousand figures of Buddha are celebrated in the chapels and shrines, therefore, it is also called the Ten Thousand Buddha Pagoda.

The precinct of Palcho Monastery is quite a complex structure and is considered as the largest structure similar to Tshuklalang Monastery which also includes Kumbum. Being the largest of such structures, Palcho Monastery is the destination for thousands of Buddhist pilgrims and is also considered as one of the important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Tibet.

The main attraction of the whole Palcho monastery is the gigantic statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha which is around 8 meters and was made of 14000 kilograms of Copper. Three Buddha (Past Buddha, Current Buddha and Future Buddha) are enshrined in the north chapel. The smiling Shakyamuni with eyes closed as if he is thinking of meaning of life deeply.

The Main Assembly Hall, also named ‘Tshomchen’ in Tibetan, has a history of about 500 years. It is a three-stories building with the Main Chapel, Eastern and Western Chapels on the first floor. The first floor is the supported 48 columns with many ancient Thangkas hanging on them.

The entrance of Tsochin is decorated with lively statues of Four Guardian Kings, rather than ordinary paintings.

Murals in Palcho Monastery are rich in various forms. When looking at these murals, you may feel everything turns to be intricate and fascinating as if you place yourself in a magical labyrinth kingdom. The murals can be classified into three categories: Esoteric Buddhism, Exoteric Buddhism and human figures. Esoteric Buddhism and Exoteric Buddhism both have their distinctive classics. The murals of human figures reflect the Tibetan ideal human proportions and aesthetic characteristics of Tibetan.

The fierce-looking Warrior Attendant will terrify you by the first sight. The image of Tara is charming and pretty and you can feel her gentleness and kindness. These images and statues of Buddha show a Gyantse style containing the essence of Indian and Nepalese artistic expression and make a far-reaching influence on Tibetan statuary art.

There are exclusive chapels for the leaders of Bon Sect, Mongolian Lamaism, White Sect, Yellow Sect and some other renowned Lamas. Apart from numerous exquisite Thangkas, there are also many clay sculptures, golden statues and silver statues. All the Buddha and Bodhisattva are in different shapes and expressions. .

Pilgrims also supply lamp oil to gain merit. The butter lamps help to focus the mind and aid meditation. It is the practice in Buddhism to offer flowers as a tribute to Buddha statues on altars. However, in winter when no fresh flowers can be found, flowers sculpted from butter are made as an offering.

Gyantse Fort built on the rugged hills surrounding the Gyantze town (once the third largest town in Tibet) has an arresting presence behind the town. The fortress is dated to 1268 and a castle was also built inside by local Prince Phakpa Pelzangpo (1318–1370) who was influential with the Sakyapa overlords.

Photos cost ¥10 to ¥20 per chapel; pay a monk directly as you go through.

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