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Tibetan Monastery Architectures

November,26 2019 BY Chloe Xin 0 COMMENTS

The architecture art of the Tibetan temples and monasteries is the most Tibetan and times-relevant among all the Tibetan ancient architecture arts. Most of them were built on the mountains with delicate design and color and grand looking. From initial temple buildings to the formation of the architecture styles of the Tibetan monasteries, it has gone through three stages of temple, monastery and combination of monastery and palace.

At the beginning of Buddhism introduced into the Tubo Society, it was not accepted as a kind of ideology off-hand by the society. Instead it was only regarded as a kind of mysterious and auspicious treasures to be enshrined, just as one of the auspicious objects venerated by the Bon followers. The legend goes as that: during the time of Tho-tho-ri Nyantran (about 300 A.D.), the four treasures of Buddhism, such as the dagoba and scripture, fell down on the ground of the Yungbulhakang Palace. Then Tho-tho-ri Nyantranthe tranpo enshrined them in a temple hall in a corner of the palace and held regular rituals such as burning incense, sprinkling water and offering sacrificing objects and so on. This was the initiation of the Tibetan Buddhist temples. The architectures of Tibetan Buddhism gradually developed from just niches and ritual halls to independent building complexes, and eventually separated from the palace architectures, after the extensive spreading of Buddhism and strong supporting by Songtran Ganpo and his successors. The early Buddhist temples were built under the patronage of the Tubo rulers. But later on the Buddhist followers began to fund the construction of the monasteries.

JokhangTemple and Ramoche Temple of a l,300-year history were the earliest temples architectures. They were built originally for enshrining the statues of Buddha and other deities for the followers to worship. The main hall is the center of the building complex. Sakyamuni and the deities were enshrined in the main hall or side halls in accordance with their positions in hierarchical structures. These architectures are featured in assimilating the layout of India and Chinese Tang Dynasty.

JokhangTemple was built under the patronage of Princess of Bhrikuti Devi, while the site was selected by Princess Wencheng. The legend goes as that the site was originally a lake named ‘Wotang Lake’. Princess Wencheng, based on the law of “Yingyang” and the five elements, believed that the lake is the heart of Mountain Ogress. If a temple was built here, it can suppress the ogress. So she had goats transport earth to level up the lake. Therefore temple has a nickname ‘The Goat Earth Miraculous Appearance Temple’.

JokhangTemple has undergone four repairs and expansions. The first and second floors of the main hall are the original architecture relics, which were obviously influenced by the Indian temple architectures, and were similar in layout with the famous Indian temple, Nolanda Temple. The plan of the two floors is in square shape, with a west facing door, stone laid load-bearing walls, brick laid outer walls, and wooden inner structure. Thus makes a building with an inner court. The center front wall of the first floor is an outer-extended hallway. The gates are installed in the center part of the hallway. Inside the gates, there are four small halls in a row along the front wall. Along each of the reap left and right side walls, there are also five small halls respective1y built. Among them those in the center are 1arger. Especially the one along the rear wall has the same area with the hallway. Between the small halls along the four walls and the square courtyard in the center, there is a circular corridor, used as the praying passage. Thus forms a square-plan architecture style being symmetric in four sides and containing the circular corridor and courtyard. The hall gates, corridor pillars, door head and etc are beautifully decorated with engraved pictures depicting the Buddhist stories, such as stories about causes and results, about flying goddesses, about the powerful deities and so on. The design of the Ceremonial daggers on the pillars is very unique. The pillar is shaped in different cross section areas in three parts. The lower part is with a square shaped cross section and engraved with relief; the middle part is with a Octagon shaped cross section and with engraved pattern on its two ends; the upper pall is like a group of overlapping blocks of different shape from the top to the bottom: square, octagon, round, square and so on. There are treasures or flowers and leaf patterns engraved on the square block, some general patterns engraved on the octagon b1ock, and doub1e 1ayer lotus patterns engraved on the round bloc. Above the upper layer lotus there are a long and flat plate and an arching bolster. On the two ends of the bolster, there are flying goddesses, animals and plants patterns engraved, while on its central part, there are people engraved. Above the bolster, there is a rafter, on which l08 wooden lions are erected out of eave. The shaping of the lions is similar to that of sphinxes. A bell ting is installed on the chest of each lion. From each bell ring, a round mirror is suspended. The shape and size of the doorframe and corridor pillars as well as the relief style on them are similar to those prevalent in Avidhakar Cave in India in the sixth century.

Not far away from Jokhang Temples, the Ramoche Temple is a1so among the firs batch of temp1e bui1t in Tibet. According to the ancient documents, Ramoche Temple was bui1t under the patronage of Princess Wencheng. As Jokhang Temple, Ramoche Temple also was repaired and extended respective1y in four different periods. But it is impossible to trace the original outlook of Ramoche Monastery any more. However the documents in Tibetan provide us some valuable description about its original outlook. According to the documents, the original layout of it was like an upper jawbone of a lion, or a ‘U’ shape. The whole structure was east facing. For the construction, Princess Wencheng mobilized some carpenters and sculptors from Chinese hinterland area. She also had four pillars transport from the hinterland to Tibet. The outer wall was a brick and stone stricture, whi1e the inner was a wooden stricture. After the outer wall was laid and the pillars were erected, the workers began to install beams and rafters on the them and laid stone plates on the roof and hang silk curtain on its four sides. Because its outer walls was decorated with the colorful patterns like those in the body of tigers in Chinese Han re2ion. so the temple was also called ‘Han Tiger Ramoche Temple’. Since it was built by Chinese Han workers, it was also referred to as ‘Han Built Ranoche Temple’. After its construction was completed, it enshrined a statue of Sakyamuni brought by Wencheng from Chinese Tang Court, which was later on transferred to Jokhang Temple, becoming world famous.

During the reign of Songtsan Gampo, a dozen of temples were built, such as ‘Zhenbian Temple’, ‘Sizaizhen Temple’, ‘Sizhenzhi Temple’, ‘Jiuduizhi Temple’, and etc., for suppressing the body, limbs of the Mountaim Ogress and the local demons in name, but suppressing the pro-Bon forces in effect. Among the temples, only Chanzhub Temple and Gequ Temple in today’s Shannan Prefecture have remained till today. Meanwhile, Daklha Lubuk Cave Temple, the first cave temple in Tibet, was built up. After fighting against the Bon cultures for a long period, Buddhism eventually won its steady position during the reign of Trisong Detsan in middle of the 8th century. As a landmark of the victory, Samye Monastery, the first monastery accommodating, training and cultivating songhas in Tibetan history was inauagurated in 763 A.D. in Samye region, in today’s Shannan prefecture. From then on the Tibetan architecture art of Buddhism has gone a further step crossing from the temple architecture stage to the monastery architecture stage.

A monastery architecture is a large sized building complex consisting of temples and halls, residence quarters of monks, stupas and several colleges. In terms of shapes, it can be divided into three categories: temples, cave temples and stupa temples built surrounding the main hall. Samye Monastery is a typical representative of it. According to documents, the construction of Samye Monastery was up to the universal model described in the Buddhist doctrines. The main hall in its center, called Uze Hall, has three stories, incorporating three architectural styles: Tibetan, Chinese Central Plain and Indian ones. Frescos are full of inner walls and Buddha and deities are enshrined in it. The inner structure is en evolution from the earlier temple structure, which symbolizes the Mount Sumeru in the Buddhist world. The main hall is composed of several units: the central Buddha hall, sutra hall, circumambulation passage, inner circumambulation passage, side halls, circumambulation passage outside the hall, circular corridors and so on. The Buddha hall is the center of the entire construction, enshrining Vairocana, the head of the Five Dhyani Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas and deities. The sutra hall is for monks to study and gather. The arrangement of the circumambulation passages is for people to prostrate before Bhudda, the bodhisattvas and deities at any time. The layout of the buildings around the main hall is according to the layout of four continents and eight subcontinents in the Buddhist world. Four groups of constructions and four dagobas of different colors, green, black, red and white, are located respectively at the east, west, south and north sides. The monastery is enclosed by a fencing wall, representing the Mount Cakravda (meaning Mount Iron Fencing). The entire complex plan is a representation of the mandala of the Buddhist world. The construction units of different heights and sizes are arranged harmoniously. The main hall is prominent but coordinated with the surrounding subordinate buildings. The subordinate buildings are symmetric and balanced. Thus each construction unit becomes an inseparable part of the whole. Samye Monastery today, though the renovation and extension respectively during the reigns of Sakya Sect and Regent Razheng, still keeps the basic style of its original constructions. Since 1980s, under the patronage of the government, the monastery has been renovated again. The previous outlook are basically restored, and the previous layout and style are represented perfectly.

The layout and construction pattern of Samye Monastery has given significant influence on the later Tibetan monastery architectures. Toding Monastery located in today’ Zanda County, Nagri Prefecture fully followed the features of Samye Monastery. It was built in the middle of the 10th century. The Gyasa Temple in it is an imitation of Samye Monastery. The temple is east facing and consists of two circles of buildings: an inner one and an outer one. In the inner circle, there are five Buddha halls, arranged in ‘+’ shape. In the center is the main hall, representing the Mount Sumeru; in the four ends the other four halls represent each of the four continents respectively. Around the four Buddha halls, there is a circular corridor know as ‘circumambulating passage’. In the outer circle, apart from the east side which is used as the gateway, along each of the other three sides, there are three Buddha halls. At each of four corners of the outer circle, there are two Buddha halls and one dagoba, representing each of the four continents and eight subcontinents. In this way it concentrates successfully the layout and concept of the huge building complex of Samye Monastery into a single building, setting a brilliant example for the monastery architectures. In 1999, the state government invested a large sum of money to renovate the buildings of Toding Monastery, especially the Gyasa Hall, restoring its previous brilliance.

Since the beginning of the Latter Prosperity of the Latter Prosperity of Buddhism (in the turn of the 11th century), most of the Tibetan monasteries had been built with the mode what arranged the main hall in the center. This character can be easily found out in the monasteries, such as North Sakya Monastery, South Sakya Monastery, Xalhu Monastery, Palkor Monastey and Tashilhunpo Monastery in Xigaze; Chatang Monastery and Minzholing Monastery in Shannan and Ganden Monastery, Sera Monastery and Dreprung Monastery in Lhasa. In these Monasteries, the main hall is normally used as the gathering hall or grand sutra hall known as ‘Coqen Hall’ or ‘Utse Hall’. Compared with the square shaped halls in the earlier constructions, the halls in this period had massive variations and expansions. Especially since the 13th century, the way of building an outer circumambulating passage and adding the sutra halls, rear chambers, side chambers and gateway, and so on, thus developing the coqen hall into a oblong shaped. In the 15th century, another kind of design: building a left and a right hall respectively at each of the two sides of the main hall. With the gradual development of all sects of Tibetan Buddhism, the number of monks increased, the main hall previously used as the shrine of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas was gradually changed to the important arena for the monks to study, meet and meditate. The designers paid more attention on both the enlargement of the space and the lightening effect. They added top windows and courtyard in the hall. They alternatively used the large block of red and white colors to decorate the outer walls of the buildings, making the hall more sublime-look. Since beginning of the 13th century, Tibetan designers had substantively assimilated the hip & gable roof, as well as the continuous-span components from Chinese hinterlands for the roof construction. They also decorated on the golden roofs of the buildings with the sculptures of animals and objects, such as the double deer, dharma wheels and victory banners, making the whole constructions glittering with the golden shine. Surrounding the main hall, the building s for monk schools, administrative office and residence quarters as well as the dagobas, fencing walls are outward extending. Just because most of the monasteries were built by the mountains, therefore all buildings were rising and lowering with the terrain of the hills but in good order, forming a harmonious, unitary and magnificent and huge building complex.

The cave temples are also one of the Tibetan monastery architecture arts with a distinctive style. But its prevailing period was rather short and spreading region was narrow. The existing cave temples in Tibet are only two, which were built between the period of the former prosperity and the early period of the latter prosperity of Tibetan Buddhism. Daklha Lubuk Cave located in the east side of Chakpori Hill, southwest of Potala Palace is the earliest pattern. Now the wooden structures in the cave all are devastated. The plan of the cave is in a near oblong shape. The cave has a east facing doorway. In the middle rear part of the cave, a central pillar with its cross section being in square shape is erected. On each of the four sides of the pillar, there is a niche. Around the pillar there is a narrow circumambulating passage. On the outer wall of the cave there are niches built on the four sides of the cave, for enshrining of Songtsan Gampo and Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This pattern is similar to those prevailing in Gansu of Chinese hinterland. Nagri Prefecture is the region where ancient caves are most found today in Tibet. Among the all, the Donggar Cave and Piyang Cave Zanda County are most typical. The wooden structures in the caves have been devastated. On the ceiling of the cave, an “overturn- bin” shape was adopted. The overturn-bin and four-sided overturn slope structure together with frescos forms a huge mandala. There is no central pillar. As a substitute, there is a central niche enshrining Sakyamuni. On the front wall and two sidewalls there are niches for clay sculptured Buddhas. There are more frescos than sculptures in the caves. These patterns were mainly prevalent in the latter prosperity of Tibetan Buddhism.

The pagoda architecture art is another beautiful flower in the Tibetan monastery architecture art garden. Being different from the pagoda affiliated to the monastery complex, the pagoda here became the center of the monastery architectures. The pagoda architectures were prevalent in Tsang region between the 14th and 15th centuries. The most famous are the Jorlung Pagoda, Gyang Pagoda, Riwoqi Pagoda. But the most typical and well preserved one is the Palkor Pagoda (also called Baike qoidain by locals) in Palkor Monastery in Gyangze. The Palkor Dagoba has thirteen storeys. Its plan is mandala. From its bottom to top, thre are several components, such as: thirteen stone stages, a pedestal, an inverted-bowl shaped lower body, a bottle like upper body and a neck known as ‘thirteen heavens’ and so on. Around the lower and upper bodies, the ‘inverted-bowl’ and the ‘bottle’, there are many chambers enshrining Buddhas. The ‘inverted-bowl’ has five storeys and each of the first four storeys has 20 Buddha chambers, among which the central chambers in the first and third storey are so spacious that their ceiling extend to the second and fourth storey respectively. So in fact, the re are only 16 chambers in each of the two storeys. The ‘bottle’ has four chambers. There are 108 chamber doors and 76 chambers in the pagoda. There are many sculptures and frescos in the chambers, which make the pagoda brilliant. Outside the pagoda in each storey, there is a fencing with stone wall and clay packing as well as a eave. The cross section of the lower part of the dagoba is in square shape, while that of the upper part is in round shape. From the bottom to the top, the areas of the cross section are gradually reduced. Its design is very smart taking into consideration of both aesthetic appreciation and practical usage. Therefore it deserves the title of the ‘rare work of Chinese architecture arts’.

Chloe Xin

About the Author - Chloe Xin

My Name is Chloe, Senior Trip Advisor for Tibet trip with 5 years working experince in Tibet tourism. Loving Tibet, loving all beautiful thing around.A great funs of nature, with piercing eyes to find beauty in both Nature and People. Patient, Warm Hearted , Considerate, Easy- going , Knowledgeable and always ready to offer help to some one in need.

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