Drepung Monastery lies in the west of Lhasa under Mount Gambo Utse, clustered all around by the black mountain, with its grand white buildings shining under the sun.
Built in 1416, it is considered one of the largest monasteries of the 6 principle monasteries of the Gelu Sect in China. Drepung Monastery used to be the living palace of Dalai Lamas before the reconstruction of Potala Palace (after the 5th Dalai Lama was bestowed by Qing emperor Qianlong).
The monastery was founded in 1416 by a disciple of Tsong Khapa, Yangjiangque Jie. Yangjiangque Jie was born in a poor family in Shannanyedi, Tibet. He studied hard in his childhood and later became a disciple of the famous Tsong Khapa (renowned as one of the leading teachers of Tibetan Buddhism), specializing in sutra, and at last becoming well-known for his mastery of Xianzhong, part of the Esoteric sect. In order to spread abroad the tenet, Tsong Khapa entrusted Yangjiangque Jie to build a grand monastery and presented him with a lucky symbol: a conch shell. Under the patron of a noble family, Yangjiangqu Jie started to build this monastery in 1416.
Drepung Monastery was first named "Baidenzhehe" which means Rice Heap in Tibetan. After its construction, Yangjiangque Jie was appointed as the first tripas (a Buddhist spiritual leader). There are 23 tripas altogether. In 1464, colleges were set up to teach Tantra in this monastery. Drepung Monastery is called the original monastery of Lamaism because it has been the living place of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Dalai Lama. The 2nd Dalai Lama built a palace (named Gedanpozhang) inside where he took over the administrative power of Tibet.
The 3rd Dalai Lama was invited here as the first living Buddha in Drepung Monastery, who later went to Qinghai to sermon after Andahai (the leader of Mongolia) invited him. In the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), in the 6th year of Yong Le, Andahai bestowed the honor name "Sheshiyiqianwaqierdalaierlama " which bought the saying of Dalai Lama into being. After he got this honor name, he admitted posthumously the former two with the 1st and 2nd Dalai Lamas. The 5th Dalai Lama also lived there until he received the appointment of the Qing Dynasty.
The revered religious center is also called the original monastery of Lamaism for its most honorable status and deep influence. Ganden Potrang Palace (one of the palaces within) is thought to be the place where Gelug took the administrative power of both the Lamaist sect and local area.
The main structures of the monastery include the Main Assembly Hall (known as Tshomchen), 4 Tantric colleges, and Ganden Palace (Ganden Potrang). Walking along the west stairs of Drepung Monastery, one will find a 3-storied palace with flowered windows, indicating the famous Ganden Potrang. It was built in 1530 by the 10th tripas during the time of the 2nd Dalai Lama.
Before the 5th Dalai Lama received the appointment of the Qing Dynasty, this palace used to be the living palace of Dalai Lamas from the 3rd to the 5th. Tshomchen, covering 4,500 square meters and supported by 183 pillars, is located at the center of the monastery. In the hall, there are many Thangkas, murals that make a religious and mysterious atmosphere. In addition, there are many lifelike statues of religious figures such as Tsong Khapa and his 2 disciples, and so on. In the front of the hall, a conch shell with an important status is worshiped. It was said that it was once used by Sakyamuni and was hidden at Mount Gambo Utse. Later, Tsong Khapa discovered it and bestowed it to his disciple to be the monastery's treasure.
Silver tombs for the second, 3rd and 4th Dalai Lama are respected in the rear of the palace. Upstairs, a collection of valuable scriptures is kept. There are 4 Tantric colleges, which are Loseling College, Ngapa, Rongyangzachang (Xian and Mi sets of Buddhism), and Abazachang (Mi sets of Buddhism). Each of them has a chanting hall and its own monks that cannot mix with others.
Each college has a strict study system which requires studying together 8 times per a year, meaning once every 15 days to a month. The monks learn Tantra by recitation and debating. Before their graduation, they must take an examination held by Kabu, who will give them different ranks according to their mark. Those with excellent results will take part in the Buddhist service and be given a highest degree of Gexi.
1. If taking bus 3,301 or 3O2 to access Drepung Monastery, you will have to walk a long distance from the bus stop to the gate. A taxi can bring you directly to the entrance and costs 20 Yuan RMB.
2. In this monastery, the most important project is Shaidafo (a Buddha), which holds the grand Shonton Festival ceremony in the early part of August every year. This is thus the busiest day of the year with heavy crowds and traffic. When the sun rises, the huge Thangkas will extend to half of the mountain. The Tibetans will pray under the Thangkas and encircle it in a long queue. At last, Giant Living Buddha will touch their heads to give blessings to them.
3. The best place to take photos of Giant Living Buddha is from the flat on the opposite mountain.