Driving on the road far away from Shigatse, from the west city you can see the gold roof of Tashilunpo Monastery shinning under the sunshine. Experiencing five centuries, it still maintains the magnificent vigor. Tashilhunpo Monastery (meaning auspicious) is one of the Six Big Monasteries of Gelugpa (or Yellow Hat Sect) in China and the biggest Tibetan Gelugpa Buddhism monastery in back Tibet area. Also called the Heap of Glory, the monastery is located at the foot of Drolmari (Tara's Mountain), Shigatse.
Gendun Drubpa, the first Dalai Lama and a most outstanding disciple of Tsong Khapa founded Tashilhunpo Monastery in 1477. In 1600, the Fourth Panchen Lama started a large-scale expansion and his successors carried on. In 1713, the Chinese emperor finally ascertained the Fifth Panchen Lama’s title and status. The monastery became the seat of Panchen Lama. At its climax, there are 3,000 rooms with more than 5,000 lamas, above 50 underling temples and over 30 manors. From the Fourth Panchen Lama, all the successors take it as seat. The monastery now has a building space of 300 thousand square meters (3,229,279 sq. ft.). The main structures found in the Tashilhunpo Monastery are The Maitreya Chapel, The Panchen Lama's Palace and The Kelsang Temple. Tashilhunpo is the seat of the Panchen Lama since the Fourth Panchen Lama took charge in the monastery, and there are now nearly 800 lamas.
The Stupa-tomb of the Tenth Panchen
The Stupa-tomb of the Tenth Panchen Lama lies east of the chapel. Covered by 614 kg (1,354 pounds) gold, 868 precious stones and 246,794 jewels, the Stupa-tomb also called Songshinajie built in 1993 is the most splendid and costly mausoleum in China since the 1950s. It is said that in 1989, after a long leave from Tashilhunpo Monastery, the tenth Panchen Lama came back and it’s pity that there are only three main buildings except a space in the middle. Beyond thinking, his words came true. Just after several days he passed away because of overtired. And his Stupa-tomb lies at the middle space in the monastery. The Panchen Lama's Palace that stands nearby the Stupa-tomb is a grand white palace mainly built during the reign of the Six Panchen Lama (1738-1780). It is not open to tourists and local visitors alike. To the east of the Panchen Lama's Palace lies the Stupa-tomb of the Fourth Panchen Lama who is one of the most famous Lamas in Tibetan history. He is also the teacher of the Fifth Dalai Lama. His gorgeous stupa-tomb decorated with gold and silver was built in 1662. The Stupa-tomb of the Fourth Panchen Lama is the first stupa-tomb in Tashilhunpo. You can also find the combine buried Stupa-tombs of Panchen Lama from fifth to ninth, which is called Tashinanjie. This combined Stupa-tombs finished in January 1989 was sponsored by the Tenth Panchen Lama, in which lies the body of the last Panchen Lama and also the bronze of the Ninth Panchen.
The Kelsang Temple
The Kelsang Temple is one of the oldest and biggest buildings in Tashilhunpo. It is a colossal compound. The Main Chanting Hall is a place for lamas to learn the sutras and listen to the Panchen Lama's sermon. On the back end of the hall lies a 5 meters (16 ft) high statue of Sakyamuni. It is said that a part of Sakyamuni's relics was placed in it. Two chapels sit on both sides of the Main Chanting Hall. The left one is devoted to Tara, the goddess who is believed to be the avatar of Avalokitesvara. A White Tara is in the middle and two Green Taras on each side. The right chapel is dedicated to Maitreya Buddha. With a height of 11 meters (36 ft), one can find the statue of Maitreya Buddha in the middle of the chapel. The statues of Avalokitesvara and Bodhisattva Manjusri created by the First Dalai Lama stands near the statue of Maitreya Buddha. The Great Courtyard of the Kelsang Temple is the place for lamas to practice and debate. The wall around the courtyard is covered by thousands of images of Sakyamuni in different postures and expressions.
The biggest Jonba Buddha Bronze in the World
Standing at the entrance of Tashilhunpo, visitors can see the grand buildings with golden roofs and white walls. The First Dalai Lama built the remarkable Thangka Wall in 1468, which is nine floors high. The wall displays the images of Buddha on the 14th, 15th and 16th of May every year following the Tibetan Lunar Calendar. The images are so humongous that one can easily see it in Shigatse City. Visitors can find The Maitreya Chapel by strolling into the monastery on the west side of Tashilhunpo. One can find the biggest statue of a sitting Maitreya Buddha inside the chapel and also the biggest sitting Bronze Buddha in the world. The statue stands 26.2 meters (86 ft) high. The statue is seated on a 3.8 meters (12 feet) high lotus throne. A single finger is 1.2 meters (about 4 feet) long, while foot is 4.2 meter (about 14 feet) long. The statue costs about 280 kilograms (614 pounds) of gold, 150 tons (330,000 pounds) of brass, above 300 pearls, and about 1400 precious gems like huge diamonds, ambers, coral and other precious stones. A ladder leads to chapels reaching its lotus throne, waist, chest, face and crown. 900 craftsmen handcrafted the statue in 9 years. The chapel has been divided into five floors. Visitors can tour the upper floors of the chapel by a wooden staircase to see the statue more clearly and appreciate the superb skill of the Tibetans.
Free Captive Dogs
At Tashilhunpo Monastery visitors can see another amazing sight that lost of homeless dogs gathering here which are called freed captive dogs. You can see freed captive sheep, chickens or other animals, which are casually under the sunshine, stay harmoniously with human beings. The concept that everything on earth has spirit and the idea of protecting every life on earth permeate through everyone’s thinking. Besides the grand palace and gigantic statues, the Tashilhunpo Monastery also treasures characteristic wall paintings. Because of the variety of shapes, resplendent colors and exquisite painting, the murals are considered to be another masterpiece of Buddhist art. Rare sutras, thangka, china and glass services of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911) are also invaluable assets found in the monastery. These are good relics for researching the history and society of Tibet.