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Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Time: 27-02-2019 This Article is Composed by BudgetTibetTour

Potala Palace History and Construction

The Potala Palace is the largest and best preserved ancient palace-style architectural complex in Tibet. It is a landmark architecture in Tibet. The Winter Palace of successive Dalai Lama since the Fifth Dalai Lama was also the political center of the former Tibetan local government. The Winter Palace is located at the top of the Mountain Potala in the downtown Lhasa. It was first built in the 7th century during the period of Tubo Songtsen Gampo. The entire architectural complex covers an area of more than 400,000 square metres. It consists of the Red Palace and the White Palace which are the main buildings on the mountain, the Mini City down the mountain, and the Dragon King Lake behind the mountain. The main building is made of stone and wood, in the form of the traditional Tibetan fort, and has a total of 13 floors. All buildings are 119 metres high, 370 metres in wide, 100 metres in long, with a building area of 57,700 square metres and nearly 1,000 houses. The Potala Palace preserves precious murals, pagodas, sculptures, Thang-ga and so on. It is of great value to the study of Tibet's politics, economy, history and culture. In 1994, the Potala Palace was added to the World Heritage List.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

The Potala Mountain, originally known as “Red Mountain”, is a transliteration of the Potala Sanskrit in Tibetan, meaning “the boat out of the sea of suffering”. The original meaning refers to the residence of Arya Avalokiteshvara in Buddhist legends. During the Tubo period, the Potala Palace existed only as a royal palace, and there was no any worship or pilgrims. Since the Fifth Dalai Lama was conferred by the Qing Emperor Shunzhi and became the leader of Tibetan politics and religion, it was not only a place of religious activities, but also a place of residence of Dalai Lama. Since then, the Potala Palace has become a palace building with the unification of the state and the religion in Tibet.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

In 631, the Potala Palace was built during the Songtsen Gampo period, and it was called “Red Palace”. On the south side of the palace, a sleeping palace for Princess Bhrikuti Devi was built, and the two palaces were connected by an iron bridge. Murals on the corridors of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa and on the north wall of the White Palace Hall of the Potala Palace, the image of the Hongshan Palace during the Songtsen Gampo period are preserved. At the end of the 7th century, the Potala Palace was destroyed by a fire. In the 8th century, it was once struck by lightning. Since then, Tubo has gone through Dharma’s persecution of Buddhism in the last generation of Btsan Po and civil strife in the Tubo period. The Potala Palace has been repeatedly destroyed and its scale has been gradually reduced. After the Potala Palace was incorporated into the Jokhang Temple, it was managed as a branch of the Buddhist temple. Kadam’s Geshe, Sakya guru, Karmapa, Tsongkhapa and their disciples all went to the Potala Palace to conduct religious activities. The Potala Palace once completely became a place for Buddhist activities.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

In 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama, who took power under the military support of Gushi Khan, decided to build the Potala Palace in the old city to consolidate the local regime of Ganden Phodrang which combined politics with religion. The reconstruction project began in 1645. Four years later, the main part of Potala Palace was basically completed. Ten years later, the reconstruction of the Potala Palace was completed. After reconstruction, the Potala Palace has a seven-storey White Palace and four castles, but the Red Palace has not been expanded. Mini City were built on the southern plain of Red Mountain. The Ganden Phodrang regime moved from the Drepung Monastery to the Potala Palace, with the White Palace’s main building as its main body. The White Palace has a hall for political and religious activities, offices of local government agencies, residences of regents, the sleeping palace of Dalai Lama, rooms for Dalai Lama’s masters in interpreting and chanting of Buddhist scripture and servants. In 1682, after the Fifth Dalai Lama died in the Potala Palace, in honor of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the Red Palace and the Stupa Hall of Fifth Dalai Lama were expanded. During the expansion of Red Palace, Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty dispatched Han, Manchu and Mongolian artisans to Tibet to assist in the expansion project. Nepal also sent some artisans to participate in the construction work. The construction of the White Palace and the Red Palace has laid the basic outline of the Potala Palace that continues to this day. The Potala Palace became the political and religious center of Tibet and the place where Dalai Lama was stationed. Since then, expansions by successive Dalai Lama has added five more golden domes and some ancillary buildings. The subsequent expansion and reconstruction did not change the layout of the Potala Palace as a whole. The main buildings of the Red Palace are the Stupa Hall, the Buddhist Hall and the Sutra Hall of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The pagodas of Dalai Lama from the seventh to the twelfth are located on the top of the Stupa Hall of the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Guanyin Ereignis Hall. The 13th Dalai Lama’s Stupa Hall was built in another place. The main buildings of the White Palace include Dalai Lama's sleeping palace and the venue for the head Lama and the Bka Shag Government to handle government activities. During the period of the 13th Dalai Lama, the palace was expanded again, mainly to build the East Riguang Palace and some auxiliary buildings, which cost 1.33 million silver and took eight years to complete. After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama, Bka Shag built the “Great Auspicious” pagoda and the Stupa Hall on the west side of the Red Palace for the 13th Dalai Lama, which was the last building built in the Potala Palace.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Since the construction of the Potala Palace in the 7th century, it has been rebuilt in the 17th century. Although it has been continuously repaired, the Potala Palace has not undergone repair and maintenance in large scale for hundreds of years. Due to long-term weather erosion, insect and rat bites, smoke and fire, and earthquake disasters, the Potala Palace was seriously damaged. From 1985 to 1988, government sent experts and engineering technicians to the Potala Palace for on-the-spot investigation and mapping, and worked out maintenance plans. At the beginning of 1989, the large-scale maintenance project of the Potala Palace began and was completed in August 1994, which lasted five years. There were 110 maintenance projects with a cost of 53 million yuan, which was the largest investment in the maintenance of ancient buildings since the founding of the People's Republic of China. In 1994, the People's Government of Tibet Autonomous Region successfully applied for a state investment of more than 4.7 million yuan, and installed anti-theft automatic alarm system which was equipped with full-time personnels. In the same year, the nation invested 35 million yuan to repair some parts of the Potala Palace. In 2001, the local government again applied for more than 5 million yuan of state investment and installed an automatic fire alarm system which strengthened the construction of hardware facilities for the security work of the Potala Palace. The People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region specially invested in the construction of fire-fighting pipeline facilities and built a front-end firewall of more than 60 metres. At the same time, the Autonomous Region has carried out cataloguing research on Tibetan literature, published a number of large albums with both high academic and ornamental value, such as “A Mirror of the Murals in the Potala” which is a monograph focused on the murals of the Potala Palace and “Catalogue of Dge-Lugs-Pa School Classics of the Potala Palace”. The Potala Palace is the most representative tourist attraction in Tibet, receiving more than 500,000 tourists and pilgrims every year. In 2004, in order to protect it, the number of visitors was limited, with the maximum number of visitors per day not exceeding 2000.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

The Red Palace of the Potala Palace

The Red Palace is dedicated to the pagodas and statues of Dalai Lama. There are five Stupa Halls and many Buddha Halls in the Red Palace which basically is a religious building. The Red Palace is one of the main buildings of the Potala Palace, located in the center of the Potala Peak complex with the White Palace in the east and Dratsang in the west. Because the exterior wall is painted red, it is called the Red Palace. According to the “Catalogue of the Fifth Dalai Pagoda”, the materials and labor costs for the construction of the Red Palace were 1.6948 million silver; the Fifth Dalai Lama Pagoda cost 1.0418 million silver; the Buddha statues and musical instruments cost 0.3702 million silver; and the religious activities cost 6911 silver. A total of 3.176 million silver was counted. The Red Palace is a multi-story building with 8 floors originally but 9 floors at present. Its plane is roughly square. The first to fourth floors are built along the hillside with sleeper wall space as warehouse; the center of the fifth floor is the West Hall which is the center of the Red Palace, surrounded by another four halls; the sixth to eighth floors are adytum patio with cloisters in the middle, surrounded by Buddhist halls; the ninth floor has the golden dome and auxiliary rooms. It covers an area of about 3515 square metres and has a total construction area of 16,114 square metres. The Red Palace and the front Terrace for Adoration of a Sacred Tapestry constitute a group of architectural complex. To the south of the Red Palace is the West Pleasure Square, the Red Palace building can be divided into four parts: Buddhist Hall, Sutra Hall, Pagoda Hall and other buildings.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Functions: The Red Palace is both a monumental building and a center of political and religious activities. The designer combined different architectural space such as the Sutra Hall and the Buddhist Hall to meet the various needs of social lives with multi-functional, public characteristics and strong political and religious attributes. Many major events of Tibet Amban, Dalai Lama and the Bka Shag government, such as the golden urn, the enthronement ceremony, the Buddhist scriptures chanting, and the religious dance, were all carried out here.

Political activities: In 1728, the Qing government began to set up offices in Tibet, and the Red Palace became an important place for Tibet Amban to conduct political activities. In 1792, the Qing government formulated the system of golden urn. The ceremony of Lots Drawing was held in front of the Emperor Qianlong portrait in the main hall of the Red Palace. Some decision-making meetings of the Bka Shag government were also held in there.

Celebrations: Celebrations included the Dalai Lama's enthronement, coronation and celebrations for taking over the reins of government and celebrations for New Year. After Dalai Lama was confirmed as the successor to the living Buddha, the enthronement ceremony was held in the West Hall of the Red Palace to celebrate the ascension to the throne. After the seventh Dalai Lamas, the enthronement ceremony of successive Dalai Lamas took place in the East Hall of the White Palace. After reaching the age of 18, with the approval of the Qing Dynasty, Dalai Lama began to be in charge of political and religious affairs in Tibet and held a grand ceremony to celebrate him taking over the reins of government in the West Hall of the Red Palace. The annual New Year ceremony is very grand with Dalai Lama, Bka Shag’s monk and secular officials, the head Lama of three temples and Langyen Dratsang Lama gathering at the top of the Red Palace to worship at the imperial court. After the ceremony, the Dalai Lama went to the main hall to kowtow to the Emperor tablet and the Emperor Qianlong's portrait to show subordinate relationship. Afterwards, he went to different halls of the Red Palace to worship Buddha. In addition, whenever there was a joyous event, a ceremony was held at the Red Palace.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Religious activities: Many religious activities of Dalai Lama are carried out in the Red Palace, mainly as follows: ①paying respect to Buddha and chanting sutras. At the beginning of the spring or March of the Tibetan calendar every year, in order to wish a good harvest in agriculture, dispel and eliminate disasters, Dalai Lama led monk officials and Langyen Dratsang Lama, chanted Buddhist scripture in the Ljixuan Hall in the Red Palace for three days to pray for a bumper harvest year. Every year, the Dalai Lama led the newly appointed monk and secular officials to worship Buddha in different halls of the Red Palace, chant sutras in the Dkyil-Vkhor Hall and appreciate lanterns in front of Suseng Hall on the Lantern-lighting Festival,25th October of the Tibetan calendar which is also the Parinirvana day of Tsongkhapa. ②Being initiated into monkhood or nunhood and practicing Buddhism. The Fifth Dalai Lama practiced Buddhism in the Transcendency Buddhist Hall of the Red Palace for a long time. The murals on the south wall of the Western Hall depict the Fifth Dalai Lama practicing Buddhism in the Transcendency Buddhist Hall. The other mural is about the 5th Dalai Lama teaching Gelung-Pa to monks.③The religious dance. In some significant religious festivals, the West Hall of the Red Palace held large-scale activities of gatherings and the god dance. The mural gallery on the sixth floor of the Red Palace and the murals in the 13th Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Hall are descriptions of these activities. During the ceremony, the activity of Adoration of a Sacred Tapestry was the most spectacular one with Dalai Lama sitting in front of the main hall windows to watch the festival.

Sacrificial activities: One of the important functions of the Red Palace was to hold sacrificial activities. Sacrificial offerings were held in the Red Palace on the parinirvana day of Tsongkhapa, or on the memorial day of Dalai Lama throughout the ages. Except the sacrificial activities of the 5th and 12th Dalai Lamas were held in the West Hall of the Red Palace and their Pagoda Halls respectively, other activities were all held in the Sacrifices Hall in front of the Transcendency Buddhist Hall.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Living activities: Part of the top building of the Red Palace was the sleeping palace, where the sixth Dalai Lama once lived there. It was later gradually transformed into Pagoda Hall or Buddhist Hall.

The White Palace of Potala Palace

The White Palace is located in the center of the summit of the Potala Mountain, on the east side of the Red Palace, it is a complex which has a main building with courtyards and corridors in the front. Because the exterior wall is painted white, so it is called the White Palace. The White Palace was the place where Dalai Lama lived and handled religious and political affairs. The main building is situated in the west facing to the east, seven stories high, and has courtyard in the center. In front of the main building of the White Palace, there is a large courtyard named East Courtyard, flat and square, with an area of more than 1400 square metres. It is a venue for god dance, Tibetan opera and other performances. The East Building of the East Courtyard is a school for monk officials, which was founded by the seventh Dalai Lama in the nineteenth year of Qianlong (1754) to train monk officials. The buildings in the White Palace are various, with reasonable and compact layout. The whole complex has distinct primary and secondary layout which is convenient for connection. In the Potala Palace complex, the White Palace is an important group of palace buildings, built according to the needs of politics and religion at that time. Its architectural form and layout were based on traditional practices, such as drawing on the palace buildings of historical dynasties, the Zangsain buildings of local regimes after Ming Dynasty and the characteristics of some aristocratic manors. Its main buildings are the East Hall, East Sunray Hall and West Sunray Hall. In the east, Great Achievement Hall is the place where successive Dalai Lamas held many grand ceremonies, such as enthronement and celebrations for taking over the reins of government upon coming of age. The buildings in the White Palace can be roughly divided into three categories: one is the place serving political and religious activities, such as the East Hall, the Worship Hall, the offices of the Tibetan local government established in the Potala Palace, the second category is the place for Dalai Lama to live, such as the sleeping palace, and the third is the building for Dalai Lama’s service providers, such as rooms for masters of Buddhist scripture, housekeepers, attendants and management personnels.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Great Achievement Hall: Great Achievement Hall is also called the East Hal. Since there was also a hall in the later built Red Palace, the hall in the White Palace was called the “East Hall” and the hall in the Red Palace was called the “West Hall”. The East Hall is situated in the north and faces to the south, with 44 pillars in it. There are 7 rooms in the south and 9 in the north with a total length of 25.8 metres and 8 rooms in the depth with a total length of 27.85 metres. A courtyard was built in the middle. The East Hall is the main hall of the White Palace, where enthronement ceremonies, political and religious ceremonies or celebrations were held for Dalai Lama. On the north side of the Hall is the throne of Dalai Lama, and above it is the golden inscription of “Monks Appease the Territory” given by the Tongzhi Emperor. The four walls are painted with murals about religious stories and characters.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

The Worship Hall: Located on the top floor of the White Palace, the Worship Hall is in the Dalai Lama's sleeping palace, the East and West Sunray halls. The Worship Hall is the place where Dalai Lama usually handles religious and political affairs. There are worship halls both in the portico of the East and West Sunray Halls. There are 6 worship halls in West Sunray Hall with a total length of 14.7 metres and 6 deep halls with a total length of 15.1 metres, and a construction area of 222 square metres. In the Worship Hall, carpets were laid on the ground. There were no murals on all sides except the north wall where Thang-Ga with White Tara as its theme and satin-made scripture banner were hung. The throne of Dalai Lama Pao is situated in the north of the hall, while there is a courtyard in the west of the hall. The west of the hall has the Sutra Hall and the Hall for protecting and maintaining Buddha, while the East has storehouse and corridor leading to bedroom. There are five Worship Halls in the East Sunray Hall with a length of 14.75 metres and five deep halls with a total length of 11.7 metres, covering a building area of 172.6 square metres. The walls of the worship hall are painted with murals and carpets laid on the ground. The Dalai Lama's throne is situated in the north of the hall where the light is softer than the Worship Hall in the West Sunray Hall. The southern part of the worship hall has a sutra hall and a hall for protecting and maintaining Buddha.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Bka Shag Offices: There were two administrative institutions of the Tibetan local government, one located in Jokhang Temple in Lhasa and the other in Potala Palace. A two-pillar office was on the southwest corner of the fifth floor of the White Palace. The Bka Shag government was founded in Tibet after the White Palace was built. The Bka Shag office in the White Palace was mainly to strengthen the direct connection between Dalai Lama and the Bka Shag in the Jokhang Temple. Walls in the offices are covered with murals.

Houses for the services of Dalai Lama: Apart from the Halls serving the activities of politics and religion, there are also rooms for Dalai Lama to learn Buddhist scriptures, to practice Buddhism and the Dalai Lama's living room.

Auxiliary buildings: Auxiliary buildings of the Potala Palace include Mini City down the Mountain Potala and the Dragon King Lake behind the Mountain.

Mini City: Located at the foot of the south side of the Potala Palace, Mini City has a group of buildings with more than 300 metres in length from east to west and 200 metres in width from north to south. It is called “snow” in Tibetan. Facing to the south, the north of Mini City is surrounded by mountains, and the east, south and west sides were built with walls. The wall is 8 metres high and 4 metres thick. The northern part of the city wall on both sides of the East and West is connected with buildings of the Mountain Potala. In Mini City, there are institutions for printing Buddhist scriptures, the Tibetan army headquarter, prisons, direct subordinates of Potala and lower offices, mints, stables, mule yards,elephant houses and other institutions and houses for serving Dalai Lama. Later, aristocratic residences were also moved in for secular officials.

Buddhist Scriptures Printing Institutions There were mainly East and West Institutions for Printing Buddhist Scriptures.

  1. Located in the northeast corner of Mini City, the Institution has small scale, covering an area of 400 square metres, it was built in the period of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the same period when the White Palace of the Potala Palace was constructed. The East Institution for Printing Buddhist Scriptures is composed of Scriptures Printing Hall, Depository of Buddhist Sutras and Rtse-Drung Residence and other buildings. The main building is a two-story Tibetan-style building, with the Scriptures Printing Hall at the bottom,used for engraving and printing, covering an area of 225 square metres. In the middle of the second floor is a courtyard surrounded by nine rooms for the purposes of presiding Rtse-Drung and staff living. On the east side of the Scriptures Printing Hall are two depositories of Buddhist sutras, where have a large number of woodcut scriptures.
  2. The West Institution for Printing Buddhist Scriptures was founded in 1926, the scale of the building is larger than that of the East Institution for Printing Buddhist Scriptures. The main building consists of six floors with the first floor as warehouse, the second floor as depository of Buddhist sutras. The corridor wall is painted with four heavenly kings. The hall covers 560 square metres with 10 stories high shelves for storing scriptures placed around the walls. The scriptures are arranged in strict Tibetan alphabetical order. The West Institution for Printing Buddhist Scriptures was once the archive of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It kept a large number of official documents and archives of the local governments at all levels in Tibet. The 100,000 pieces of original woodcut scriptures are still well preserved, and the nearly 50,000 Buddhist editions of Ganjuur are precious cultural relics.

The Tibetan Army Headquarter: The Tibetan Army Headquarter is the supreme command of the Tibetan army. In 1793, Tibet formally established its local army. In the late 1940s, the Tibetan Army had more than 10 mdav-dpons, of which Gusong was the guard of Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Command is located on the east side of Mini City. It is a five-story stone building, sitting in the north and facing to the south, built on the step-shaped land along the mountain. It has two gates in the east and west. The main entrance is the West Gate, with blank stele on it. The armory is built on the north side of the ground floor.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Prison: It was built for the management and detention of prisoners in the Potala jurisdiction and other 18 subordinate jurisdictions. Located in the northwest corner of Mini City, founded after the Eighth Dalai Lama, it is a two-story yard. The yard was built on the slopes of the Mountain Potala, with basement at the bottom illuminated by patio. The central entrance in the north is the second floor platform. The whole yard is divided into eastern and Western parts. The eastern part is the prison which is not open to the outside world, only small doors are opened on the second floor platform and the western part of the wall. On the north side is corridor, which is used by warders to guard prisoners. The bottom floor are cells, divided into five cells according to size. Rooms for warders and soldiers are in the west half of the yard, houses and stables in the bottom, and a larger patio for ventilation and lighting in the center. On the West, there is a side door leading to the outside.

Residence: In Mini City, there are some residences for aristocrats and officials, built after the Eighth Dalai Lama. Most of the residences in Mini City are stone buildings with two or three stories. Generally, the bottom floor is used as servant housing, brewery, storage room, granary, courtyard (or patio), and the cloister is used as stables. Main living room, Sutra Hall and rooms for housekeepers are in the second or third floor. The building is a stone-wood mixed structure with one pillar in almost each room. Some residences with patio inside make the all-round patio as the cloister and the roof as the place where grass is sunned.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Dragon King Lake under the Potala Palace

Dragon King Lake is connected with the north gate of the Potala Palace by steps. It is a large pool formed when the Fifth Dalai Lama dug and built the Potala Palace. It is also one of the famous landscape architectures in Lhasa, now transformed into the Dragon King Park covering an area of 5 square kilometres. There is an islet in the Lake in the shape of irregular circle, with a diametre of about 42 metres, covering an area of only 1000 square metres. The Sixth Dalai Lama built a dragon palace in the center of the Lake according to the dkyil-vkhor model in the Tibetan Buddhist ritual, and built a five-hole stone bridge more than 20 metres long and 3 metres wide to link with the outside world. Dragon Palace, also known as “Waterside Pavilion”, was first built as the place for the Fifth Dalai Lama to practice Buddhist Dharma. Later, it was rebuilt into the Dragon Palace to worship the Dragon King and pray for rain. The Dragon Palace, a loft with Tibetan and Han styles mixed, is four stories high and has the shape of a Chinese character “亚” on the plane. The four floors are flat-roofed, with a Han-style gold-plated top built in the middle. The bottom palace is arranged as dkyil-vkhor, with one small hall on each side connecting each other. The second and third floor have the same layout, each with one hall with four pillars. The color paintings are carved and painted everywhere, and most are in Chinese style. There are murals on the central halls from the first to the third floor.

Murals inside the Potala Palace

Murals are an vital part of the architectural art of the Potala Palace. These exquisite murals were painted over 1000 years after the Potala Palace was constructed, reflecting the development of Tibetan painting art during this period. The murals of the Potala Palace were created by famous Tibetan painters of various schools, demonstrating the unique artistic style of Tibet. The murals of the Potala Palace not only constitute a splendid art treasure house, but also present a extraordinary historical roll.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

The Contents of murals: The murals of the Potala Palace are rich in content and have two distinct characteristics: one is that they have a wide range of subjects, such as historical events, biographies, religious doctrines, customs, folklores and myths, involving all aspects of social life like politics, economy, history, religion, culture and art; the other characteristic is that many paintings are full of strong flavor of life and have obvious secularization tendency, with religious paintings not taking a big proportion.

  1. Biographical portraitures: In the murals of the Potala Palace, many portraits of famous Tibetan historical figures are displayed, such as Songtsen Gampo, Chisong Dêzain, Wanzu Dêzain and other btsan po of the Tubo regime, the Dalai Lama from the fifth to the thirteenth generations and the Dalai Khan and other historical figures. In the portrait murals of the Potala Palace, a great focus was put on the characterization of the characters' appearance and inner character. Portrait murals took a quite vital proportion in all murals of the Potala Palace. For example, the biographical paintings of the Fifth Dalai Lama occupy four walls of the West Hall, with murals covering more than 200 square metres. The cloister of the Pagoda Hall of the 13th Dalai Lama are ornamented with his biographical murals, covering nearly 200 square metres.
  2. Murals with historical themes. These murals depict important political and historical events of Tibet based on historical facts. A large number of murals with historical themes focus on the praise of Tibetan-Chinese friendship, such as the painting of Princess Wencheng entering Tibet hung above the northern wall of the White Palace lobby. By depicting “the envoy of the Tang Dynasty proposing”, “going through five tests after getting beauty”, “Princess entering Tibet” and other stories, these murals demonstrate the historical events of Tang-Tibetan marriage in 641. Guanjin is a group of murals in the East Hall of the White Palace, depicts the story of the marriage between Princess Jincheng and Chisong Dêzain, which is a major event in the history of Tibetan-Han relations. A group of murals in the West Hall of the Red Palace reflects the Fifth Dalai Lama “going to the capital”, “presenting himself before court”, “receiving awards”, “having tour”, “watching performances” and various activities and grand welcoming occasions in 1652.
  3. Genre paintings: Genre paintings depict local customs and practices, including production activities like agricultural, hunting, grazing activities, cultural entertainment like dancing, juggling, touring, traditional sports like horse-riding and shooting, wrestling, swimming, bouldering. Genre paintings vividly show the lifestyle and features of Tibetan society. For example, a mural of “Traditional Garden Festival” on the north wall of the White Palace lobby depicts the real life in Tibet, people singing and playing the piano, making tea and wine.
  4. Construction Painting shows murals of the construction process of palaces. For example, the sixth-floor cloister of the Red Palace is surrounded by murals displaying history of construction of the Potala Palace and celebration of completion of the Red Palace, which systematically and completely depict the whole construction process of the Potala Palace in the 17th century and the celebration after construction completed. These murals describing major events have great significance and value for the research of ancient Tibet’s construction technology.
  5. Painting about mythological stories and folklore. Among the numerous stories and legends, the most famous one is “monkey changing into human beings”, which is a story widely circulated among Tibetan people.
  6. Religious painting: it’s mainly about various Buddha statues and religious doctrines, it is the visualization and concretization of religious world view with a strong propaganda effect.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

The Origin and Characteristics of Art: The murals of the Potala Palace are vivid, colorful and have rich themes. Their content mainly reflect various masters in Tibetan Buddhism, leaders of different sects, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in various forms, also reflect the history and customs of Tibetan society. The murals of the Potala Palace are strictly in accordance with the prescribed size in “Painting Metrics”, and receive abhiseca, paying special attention to the paintings’ genre style and form characteristics. During the period of Tubo, Songtsen Gampo successfully married Princess Bhrikuti Devi of Nepal and Princess Wencheng of Tang Dynasty, which strengthened the political, economic and cultural ties among Tubo, Nepal and the Tang Dynasty. When the two princesses entered Tibet, they brought a large number of Buddhist classics, craftsmanship, astronomical calendar, medical books and craftsmen from Nepal and the hinterland of the Central Plains, which played a positive role in promoting the development of Tibetan culture. It was under this backdrop of the era when Tibetan painting art entered a prosperous period. The murals of the Potala Palace are mainly produced by folk painters of the Mengtang School in Tibet. During the construction of the White Palace, 66 well-known painters were gathered to paint murals in 1648, which took more than 10 years to complete. While the Red Palace was being built, 237 artists were reconvened to participate in the creation and production of murals. The murals of the Potala Palace can be counted as the classic works of Tibetan Buddhist paintings, their expressive techniques are very rich. For example, the screen portraits of the West Sunray Hall of the White Palace are extremely lifelike with the same size just like real people. The murals in Great Achievement Hall of the Red Palace are large pictures with overlooking composition, spectacular in their magnificent scene, numerous figures and full composition. The cavalier perspective is used in the karma map of the Fifth Dalai Lama of the West Sunray Hall of the White Palace. The whole painting is laid out in the shape of “Z”, with mountains and rocks, trees, clouds and running water alternating, so that the whole picture is both independent and coherent. There are thousands of Buddha statues, solemn and full of mysterious and changeable feelings, in the Red Palace’s Master Hall and the 7th Dalai Lama’s Pagoda Hall. The murals of the Potala Palace are generally well preserved due to the use of local mineral pigments. And with the abundant sunshine and moderate temperature in Lhasa, these murals can stay in bright color for hundreds of years.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Stupas inside the Potala Palace

Stupa was originated from Tintu (India) and spread to China along with Buddhism. There are hundreds of stupas of different sizes and shapes in the Potala Palace. Among them, 8 silver stupas are the most famous. The white stupa on the west side of the Dharmaraja Cave in the Potala Palace is an existing stupa of early period in Tibet. It was built at the same time as the Dharmaraja Cave and is 2.48 metres high. This stupa is the treasure of the Potala Palace, not open for worship. The white stupa on the east side of Dharmaraja Cave is modeled after the white stupa on the West side, where people can go to worship. The Potala Palace’ stupas can be divided in terms of texture into pure gold, pure silver, gold-clad, silver-clad, gold-plated, alloy, bronze, crystal, stone, wood and mud stupa. There are eight stupas on both sides of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s pagoda, designed and built at the same time as the Fifth Dalai Lama’s Pagoda. They are not only the symbol of Sakyamuni's handwriting, but also the material evidence of the Potala Palace embodying Buddhism. All kinds of scriptures, incantation scrolls and Buddhist Masters' cassock and rosary beads are preserved in the stupa. Eight Buddhas of the King of Medicine are worshipped in the Buddhist niches of bottle tower. The interior of the stupa is made of wood and its exterior is covered with silver. The construction material of eight stupa cost about 57,694 liang silver.

Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet

Pagoda: The pagoda is a special type of stupa. It is named for the preservation of Masters’ bodies or ashes. There are eight pagodas of Dalai Lama and several pagodas of masters in the Potala Palace. Among the past Dalai Lamas, only the sixth Dalai Lama did not build pagoda, while the pagodas of the first to fourth Dalai Lamas were located in the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Rikaze, Tibet, and Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, respectively. The pagodas preserved in the Potala Palace is an important part of the Potala Palace, and its cultural value is immeasurable.

More Tibet Attractions
Johkang Temple in Lhasa Tibet

Johkang Temple in Lhasa Tibet

Jokhang Temple is located in the center of the old Lhasa City, it is also regarded as the the center of Tibetan Buddhism across Tibet.
Drepung Monastery in Lhasa Tibet

Drepung Monastery in Lhasa Tibet

Drepung Monastery is 1 of 3 biggest monasteries in Lhasa, built in 1416, used to be the dwelling for the 3rd till the 5th Dalai Lama moved to Potala Palace.
Barkhor Street in Lhasa Tibet

Barkhor Street in Lhasa Tibet

Located in the old quarter of Lhasa, Barkhor Street is a famous pilgrimage and commercial center in Lhasa. Barkhor, means "middle circumambulation" in Tibetan l
Travelers' Questions Might Help

The questions raised by our past customers can help you get a more clear picture about tours to Tibet, read them or tell us your own questions via the form on the right side, our specialists will reply you within 24 hours.

user portrait Mr. Ju*** from: 4 Days Lhasa Holy Landmarks Express

Hi, I plan to arrive in Lhasa on the 9th of March in 2020 by train and would like to do a 4 day tour. Unfortunately there are no tours scheduled between January and April, will there be tours added or are there not any planned?

Kind regards

Julian Franz

Answered by Helen

Hello Mr. Ju***,

    Thanks very much for your inquiry. We currently have no group tour in February and March, if you would like to travel Tibet in these months, we are able to arrange a private tour for you. While there are several confirmed departure date for the group tour in January and April, if your time is flexible, you may consider joining a group tour in April. I will send detailed itinerary to your email, please check it. Warm regards.

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