China Information

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Labrang Monastery

The best time to visit the monastery in Tibet is during the Tibetan festivals which will be held various times each lunar year, especially duirng the Great Prayer Festival (Monlam) held in late February or early March, 3 days after the Tibetan New Year. This is a time for prayer, processions and festivities such as the display of butter sculptures (that are still considered medicinal food, many years after they are made).

The Yellow Hat Sect (Gelukpa) of Tibetan Buddhism, has six very important monasteries in China. Most are situated in Tibet (Ganden, Sera and Drepung monastery in Lhasa and Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse), one is in Qinghai Province's Huangzhong (the Ta'er Monastery), and the last is in small Xiahe Town (the Labrang Monastery). The last monastery is situated about 1.5 kilometers west of the bus station, along the main road in the town. In terms of size, it is second only to the Potala Palace in Lhasa and it is called as Tibetan Labrang meaning the place where the Buddhist palace is.

The Labrang Monastery (Labuleng si) has its fair share of woes and golden times. It was built in 1709 by a monk from the nearby village of Ganjia named E'angzongzhe, and this monk was the first living Buddha (Jiemuyang). The place was in peace until 1920s when Muslims and Tibetans had numerous battles in and around this region, turf wars both bloody and prolonged. Again in the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), with Mao's indictments against non-communist religion and traditional customs, here was again in chaos. More than 4000 monks disappeared and many temples and buildings were destroyed. The monastery was shut down, and not reopened until 1980, when Deng Xiaoping came into power. Nowadays there are about 2000 monks, mainly from Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Inner Mongolia, and the reconstruction and extension of the monastery is being done rapidly. The present head monk, only under Dalai and Panchen Lama, is the sixth incarnation of the Jiemuyang.

The monastery consists of 18 resplendent halls, six prestigious Buddhist institutes (the Institute of Esoteric Buddhism, the Higher & Lower Institute of Theology, the Institute of Medicine, the Institute of Astrology and the Institute of Law), and about 500 bedrooms for both the living Buddhas and the ordinary monks. In total, the monastery holds over 60,000 Tibetan sutras and thousands of rare Buddhist relics, including a statue of the most famous Tibetan king, Songtsen gampo.

There are two halls here, the Main Hall and the Shouxi Prayer Hall.

The Main Hall bears a horizontal wooden board inscribed with three large Chinese characters Juehui si, meaning a temple where self discovery is made. On religious occasions, the hall may hold 4,000 people for prayer.

Of the six prayer halls in the Labrang, the Shouxi Prayer Hall is the largest, with a total of six storeys rising to 20 meters. Within it is housed a huge statue of Sakimonia, and the whole hall, with a golden dragon on its roof and silver lions on its walls, is the most grandiose structure here.

The temple has many good features and, beyond taking the obviously requisite tour, a stroll around is both peaceful and enjoyable. Most of the best sights in the temple are on the north of the main road, through the entrance that approximately bisects the road between the prayer wheel circle. The hills above are also a good area to get away from the crowds, although you may want to avoid the sacrilege of stumbling upon a sky burial.

How to get here? Turn right at the bus station onto the main road. The monastery entrance is on the right about 1.5km from Xiahe.

Cost: general entry is free. Tours will cost RMB40.

Tour Information: you can be guided only when you visit the main temple. Some monks speak English and will show you around in the Institute of Medicine, the Ser Kung Golden Temple, the Prayer Hall and the museum. The ticket office is on the right of the monastery park (at break between noon and 23pm).

Opening hours 9am-12am, 2:30pm-4:30pm for a guided tour and until 4:30pm for general visit.

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