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Drepung Monastery

Jamyang Choje, a disciple of Tsongkhapa, founded Drepung Monastery in 1416. He is reputed to have been born to a wealthy family near the town of Samye and to have secured initial finances for the construction of the monastery from a wealthy childhood friend. Likewise, the immediate popularity of the monastery, which had some 2000 monks in residence within the first two years, is attributed to the support of wealthy family friends.

At its height, Drepung was the world's largest monastery, having over 10,000 monks in residence. In 1530, when the Second Dalai Lama made Ganden Palace his main residence, Drepung monastery became not only the primary residence of the Dalai Lama but also the political base for the Gelug monastic sect. As a result, the tombs of the Second to Fourth Dalai Lamas are at Drepung Monastery. From 1645, when the Fifth Dalai Lama established the Potala Palace as Tibet's political and spiritual headquarters, the bodies of later Dalai Lamas were entombed here instead.

At the time of Drepung's founding, seven tratsangs (or colleges) were instituted, each under the tutelage of one of Jamyang Choje's disciples. In the 18th century, however, the massive student body required the restructuring of the monastery into the current system of four colleges. Each tratsang had its own abbot, syllabus, dormitories, kitchens, etc., with Ngagpa specializing in esoteric teachings and the other three, Loseling, Gomang and Deyang, dedicated to esoteric disciplines. Of these, Loseling was the largest, at one time combining 23 khangtsen (or residences of study).

Drepung Monastery is of great historical importance not only in that it produced some of Tibet's most renowned spiritual leaders, but also in that it always enjoyed significant political influence. This was the case not only when the Dalai Lama ruled from the monastery itself but also afterwards, when the official residence was moved to the Potola Palace. For instance, the abbot of the Tshomchen wielded tremendous power within Lhasa's government.

While the monastery thankfully survived the Cultural Revolution relatively unscathed, more than half of its highest officials fled to India together with the Dalai Lama in 1959. A majority of the Drepung monks remaining in Tibet retired to secular life. As a result, there are now only about 600 monks in residence. Notwithstanding the paucity of its current monastic population, the continued preservation of Drepung's architectural structures make it one of Tibet's most important cultural legacies.

The ground of the monastery is organized on the caves and temples for Jamyang Qoigyi, together with two magnificent white pagodas. The buildings of the monastery are centered on these pagodas, The major buildings are Ganden Potrang, Coqen Hall, the four Zhacangs (or Tantric colleges), and Kamcuns.

The Ganden Potrang, in the southwest corner of the monastery, was built under the supervision of the second Dalai Lama Gendun Gyaco around the year of 1530. It became the residence of the second, third, fourth, and the fifth Dalai Lamas. After the fifth Dalai Lama moved to the Potala Palace, it was served as the meeting place for the local regime for both politics and religion.

The Coqen Hall is located in the center of the monastery. In front of it, is a square occupying an area of about 1,850 square meters (2213 square yards). Stepping on the wide stone stairs, you will see the grand Entrance Hall. Inside is the Sutra Hall supported by 183 pillars, and spanning 1,850 square meters. Amongst the colorful decorations, there are fine and vivid statues of Buddha. The second story houses collections of precious sutras. There are a set of Gangyur Tripitaka written in gold powder, and woodcarving sutras of the Qing Dynasty. On the third story is enshrined a huge bronze statues of Qamba Buddha, which is said to be the future appearance of the Qamba Buddha in his 8th year. It is worshiped by the disciples of Buddhism.

The monastery is composed of 4 Zhacangs, functioning as the sutra-learning places and the subordinate organization. Loseling Zhacang is the largest with the most lamas. The Loseling, Gomang, and Deyang Zhacang focus on the Esoteric Buddhism, while the Ngaba Zhacang on the Exotoric Buddhism.

Several courtyards in the dense forests on the grounds of the monastery are used for monks to debate on the sutras. The courtyards sites are always chosen near Zhacang and various trees are grown. After enduring the debating period in both Zhacang and the entire monastery, the winner will obtain the qualification to attend the test for the senior degree of Geshi.

Every year in early August, Tibetans celebrate their major festival - Shoton, the Yogurt Festival. The most important event of this festival - Giant Buddha Show is held in Drepung Monastery.

pilgrims and visitors.

Ganden Podrang (Ganden Palace)
Tsokchen (Assembly Hall)
Ngakpa Tratsang (College of Tantric Studies)
Jamyang Drubpuk (Jamyang Choeje's meditation cave)
Solar boiler. Photo: Pete & Brook.
Loseling Tratsang (College of Dialectics)
Tashi Gomang Tratsang
The pilgrimage trail then continues southeast down to the shadowy and enthralling Nechung Monastery (Naiqióng Sì), home of the Nechung Oracle, who is consulted by the Dalai Lama on important matters of state. Separate admission to Nechung is ¥10 ($1.25).

What to SeeTo the left (west) of Drepung's Assembly Hall is the kitchen, where butter tea is prepared in huge wooden vats. Make the much-needed donations to the monastery here.

Admission Fee: CNY 55
Opening Hours: 09:00-17:00
Recommended Time for a Visit: Three hours
Transportation: The best way is to take a taxi which costs about CNY 20