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Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery - Introduction

Drepung Monastery is located at the foot of Mountain Gambo Utse, 10 kilometers from the western suburb of Lhasa. It was built in 1416 A.D by Jamyang Choje, a disciple of Gelugpa in Tibetan Buddhism. Before the liberation, there were over 10,000 monks in the monastery possessing 141 fazendas and over 540 pastures. It is the largest monastery in the Tibet with many white buildings overspreading on the mountain slope. Looking from afar, these white buildings look like rice heaps. It obtained its name because in Tibetan "Drepung" means piles of snow-white rice and "Drepung " represents prosperity and thriving. Drepung Monastery is the supreme monastery in the Gelugpa of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1962, it was listed the key cultural relics protection unit in the Tibet Autonomous Region. It 1982, it was listed the key national cultural relics protection unit.

Drepung Monastery - History

In 1416, a disciple of Tsongkhapa (Tsongkhapa is the founder of the Gelugpa school in Tibetan Buddhism)- Jamyang Choje Tashi Palden (1397-1449) built the Drepung Monastery. 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 Gelugpa monastic sect. So the tombs of the second to fourth Dalai Lama are at the Drepung Monastery. In 1645, when the fifth Dalai Lama established the Potala Palace as Tibet's political and spiritual headquarters, bodies of later Dalai Lamas were entombed here instead.

Since 1959, the feudal privileges and oppression and exploitation system were abolished in Tibet and the Drepung Monastery has become the site for the monks' and disciples' religious activities.

Drepung Monastery - Buildings

Buildings in Drepung Monastery are all of tight structure with palaces after palaces. Every building unit is divided into three floors, courtyard, scripture hall and Buddha hall, thus forming a layout of gradual elevating from the gate to the Buddha hall. The Drepung Monastery is mainly composed of the Coqen Hall, four Zhacangs, the Ganden Potrang and several courtyards.

Coqen Hall

Coqen Hall, located in the center of the Drepung Monastery, is the main building of the monastery with an area of 4,500 square meters. There is a square in front of it, occupying an area of about 1,850 square meters. 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. Among the colorful decorations, there are fine and vivid statues of Buddha. The second storey collects many precious sutras. There is a set of Gangyur Tripitaka written in gold powder, and woodcarving sutras of the Qing Dynasty. On the third storey, is enshrined a huge bronze statue 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 Coqen Hall also stores the pagodas of the second, third and fourth Dalai Lama and many exquisite murals on the wall. There is a small cave in the east of the hall named "Rangjiongma", which is the earliest building of the Drepung Monastery.

Four Zhacangs

The four Zhacangs function as the sutra-learning places and the subordinate organization. Loseling Zhacang is the largest covering an area of 1860 square meters with the most lamas who mainly come from Kam and Yunnan Province. The Gomang Zhacang is the second largest one while the Ngaba Zhacang is the smallest. The Loseling, Gomang, and Deyang Zhacang focus on the Esoteric Buddhism, while the Ngaba Zhacang on the Exotoric Buddhism.

Ganden Potrang

The Ganden Potrang, in the southwest corner of the monastery, was built under the supervision of the second Dalai Lama Gendun Gyaco in the year of 1530. It became the residence of the second, third, fourth, and the fifth Dalai Lamas. The fifth Dalai Lama established strong local regime and dealt with official businesses in this Patrang (Potrang means palace in Tibetan). Later, the fifth Dalai Lama moved to the Potala Palace, the Ganden Potrang served as the meeting place of the local regime for both politics and religion.


Several courtyards in the dense forests on the grounds of the Drepung Monastery are used for monks to debate on the sutras. The courtyards sites are always chosen near Zhacang and various trees are grown in them. After 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 (Geshi is a degree for the Buddhists in the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism).

Sutra Debating at Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery - Festivals and Events

There are many festivals and events in the Drepung Monastery. On major Buddhism anniversaries and the fifteenth and thirtieth day of the Tibetan lunar calendar, Buddhism rituals and activities will be held in the Drepung Monastery. Among them is the grandest Xuedun Festival or Shoton Festival.

In Tibetan, "xuedun" means the yoghourt feast. According to the Buddhist laws and regulations before the 17th century, the monks were required to stay in their temples for weeks in the summer. This discipline prevented them from stepping on small creatures outside for a time, and taught them to live in harmony with each other. When finally allowed to leave their confinement, monks went down to the mountains, where laymen would prepare yogurt for them as alms. The monks enjoyed the yogurt and celebrated happily their newfound freedom. This is the origin of the Shoton Festival.

Later, the content of Shoton Festival was expanded and enriched. Many recreational activities were combined with the religious activities and the scale of these activities was enlarged. Today, the Shoton Festival is a time for monks to go to the mountains for meditation, after which time their families will meet them on the mountainside. Many lay Buddhists make a pilgrimage to Drepung during this time and participate in the festivities, which include performances of he Tibetan Opera.

On the 30th day of the 6th month in the Tibetan lunar calendar, the Shoton Festival begins with the dramatic unfurling of a giant Thanka painting of the Buddha, amidst incense smoke, the sound of Bugles, and scripture recitations. Devotees rush to make offerings before it is rolled up again in less than two hours. In fact, the Shoton Festival has become a festival for both the Buddhists and the laymen.