Jokhang (大昭寺) – Mecca of Tibetan Buddhism

Entrance of Jokhang

(9th June) No journey in Lhasa would be completed without visiting Jokhang, the inseparable place of Tibetan Buddhism.  As the tour bus sped from the Potala Palace for just a few miles, a magnificent monastery in shades of gold and claret appeared in our eyes, nearer and clearer.  Here we found ourselves wandering through its wooden columns and door frames, in search of the most sacred statue of Buddha at the heart of the city.

Jokhang could be found as early as the middle of the 7th century in which the powerful Tubo Empire stretched as far as northern India and Nepal, even threatening the prosperous Tang Dynasty in China. For upholding amiable relations with the neighbouring countries, Tubo King Songtsen Gampo successively married Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal and also Chinese Princess Wencheng who brought a statue of a 12 year-old Jowo Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, as her dowry.  Nonetheless, despite the desire to house the precious Sakyamuni Buddha, Jokhang had been repeatedly succumbed to fierce fire and burning ashes by the anti-Buddhists at night.

The location of the Jokhang was only consolidated in 647 A.D. until the avocation of feng shui by Princess Wencheng.  According to her thoughtful calculation, the geography of Tibet was very much like a hag, with the lake located in Wutang at its heart. To neutralise the source of inauspicious deeds, the lake should be first levelled up by using a thousand of goats to transport the nutritious soil from a faraway mountain, and the monastery needed to be constructed on the former site of the lake.  The town, named as Ra-Sa (‘ra’ meaning goat and ‘sa’ equating earth in Tibetan) to commemorate those scarified goats during the construction, bloomed around the Jokhang and over time, become widely known as Lhasa.  Over the next 900 years, as the Buddhism steadily gained royal patronage and a firm foothold on the Tibetan Plateau, Jokhang was further enlarged with the last renovation done in 1610 by the Fifth Dalai Lama.

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Feng shui map used by Princess Wencheng, from Tibet Museum

Today, standing four stories tall and covering an area of about 25,000 square metres, the architecture of Jokhang demonstrates an elegant mixture of Indian vihara design, with its coexistence with a broad diversity of graceful Tang Dynasty, Tibetan and Nepalese styles.  Circulating it is an open porch that is filled with swarms of prostrate Tibetan pilgrims making their way from their homeland thousand miles away, just in hope of expressing deepest dedication to the Buddha.  Keeping their palms together and humming heartfelt prayers, the devotees crawled on their knees on the ground, touch the forehead and bellies with a ritual kowtow in every three steps before striding forward.  Under the steamy sun in the early morning, neither did lines of them moan and groan about the sweltering weather, nor complain about their hard work, but to take pride in their dripping sweat and sleepless toil of labour.  Their tenacity finally paid off when they arrived here at least once in a lifetime, being in front of the home of Jowo Shakyamuni, their final destination.

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Similar to the faithful pilgrims, we also began to feel the vibrant power of Jokhang when hosts of spinning prayer wheels were welcoming us in our way through the circular courtyard.  Inside, with dusky smoke of wafting incense, we set eyes on a kaleidoscope maze of sculptures, including the portrays of Songtsen Gampo and his two princesses who together introduced Buddhism into Tibet.  In the other side, an atmospheric labyrinth of chapels were dedicated to various Buddhist guards, illuminated by butter candles and people’s offerings like white scarves as blessings.  To spice up our monastery journey, in the central hall was where the most precious treasure, adorned with jewels, enshrines: A sitting statue of a 12 year-old Jowo Shakyamuni, believed to be sculpted during his lifetime, was carried by Princess Wencheng as a dowry.

While reaching to the top, we saw the drifting white clouds above, bright midday sunlight and the turquoise sky acted as the perfect backdrop for the gorgeous Jokhang.  What swiftly caught our glance was its golden roof, crafted with flower and bell-shaped spires, dazzle with two deer flanking a Dharma wheel.  From there with splendid views below us, people, flowing like rivers,  were moving from every corner of the Barkhor plaza.  Surrounded by two-stories houses of crimson and pure white, this open square is lined with market stalls touting colourful Tibetan clothes and hand-made carpets, while visitors weaved through the crowds with purchased bags of souvenirs in delight.  Such hustle and bustle of the plaza, and also the milling throngs of people, prompted us to immerse ourselves in the lively pulse of the city.

For most of the pilgrims, their faith for pursuing a life of purity and devotion to the Buddha never wavers.  However formidable they have been in their long-distance journey, it was more than fruitful to conclude this Jokhang visit as both a discovery and spiritual inspiration, and so did we believe. ♦

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Intricate designs
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Gorgeous aritecture of Jokhang
Breathtaking view of Barkhor Square from Jokhang

More photos of Jokhang and its nearby:


Next travel post: Lake Namtso (納木錯) – A Lake Nearest to Heaven


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