A Brief Introduction to Norbulingka

The Norbulingka, in the western suburb of Lhasa in Tibet, is commonly called the Summer Palace of Lhasa. It is the summer residence for the successive Dalai Lamas and is considered to be the largest manmade park in Tibet, covering an area of 36 square meters. Every summer, Dalai Lama moves to the Norbulingka from the winter residence, the Potala Palace and deals with the official businesses. In Tibetan, the word "Norbulingka" means a "Jewel Garden". Norbulingka is a park of the largest scale and with the best sceneries and historical sites. It has been turned into a park for common people. As part of the "Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace", Norbulingka was adopted as the World Heritage Site by the UNSECO in 2001.

History of the Norbulingka

The construction process of the Norbulingka was started from the 7th Dalai Lama and ended in the 14th Dalai Lama period, lasting more than 200 years.

At the very beginning, here was a boscage where the Lhasa River passed. Since the river course was winding and wide, the water flow was mild and gentle. In summer, the dark green grasses and willows reflected in the river and form a beautiful and tranquil landscape.

In the 1740s, when the 7th Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso studied the scriptures in the Drepung Monastery, he often came here and escaped from the summer heat. For this reason, the resident minister of Tibet in Qing Dynasty pitched some tents on the bank for Dalai Lamas' resting and chanting sutra. This is the origin of the Norbulingka.

The earliest palace built by the resident ministers in Qing Dynasty was called Niaoxiao Potrang. In 1751, the 7th Dalai Lama built a three-storied palace named Kelzang Pozhang. In 1755, the 7th Dalai Lama was allowed to handle official business in the Kelzang Potrang in summer and was used continuously by the later Dalai Lamas. From then on, the Norbulingka was turned from a health resort into a summer palace for doing official businesses.

The 8th Dalai Lama expanded the Kelzang Potrang and built some new buildings such as the reading room and the sermon schola. He dug the primary pond into a lake and built the King Dragon Temple and Treasured Palace in the center of the lake and a bridge across the lake based on the architectural style of Han's pavilions, terraces and towers.

In 1922, the 13th Dalai Lama expanded the Norbulingka again and built several magnificent palaces in it. He also planted plenty of trees, flowers and grasses.

In 1954, the 14th Dalai Lama built new palaces in the Norbulingka once more, thus the Norbulingka forms today's scale.

Norbulingka 2

Attractions in the Norbulingka

The Norbulingka is the largest man-made park with the best sceneries and the historic sites. It is composed of the Kelzang Potrang, the Tsokyil Potrang and the Takten Migyur Potrang. There is a large collection of Italian chandeliers, Ajanta frescoes, Tibetan carpets and many other artifacts. Murals in the Norbulingka are of high artistic value as well as values for religious and historical research.

Kelzang Potrang, named after the Seventh Dalai Lama, is a three-storey palace with halls for worshiping Buddha, bedrooms, reading rooms and sanctuaries. Tsokyil Potrang, when the Eighth Dalai Lama was in power, is considered to be the most attractive in Norbulingka. Khamsum Zilnon built during that time is really a striking pavilion of the Han architectural style, where Dalai Lamas enjoyed Tibetan opera. In 1922, a wealthy benefactor had Golden Linka and Chensel Potrang constructed for the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, a lot of flowers, grasses and trees were planted. In 1954, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama built Takten Migyur Potrang, which is also called the New Summer Palace, means "Eternal Palace" in Tibetan. The architecture has combined the characteristics of temple and villa and is more magnificent than other palaces. The exquisite murals in the palace are well worth a mention and visit. The murals in the northern hall show the kind, calm Sakyamuni and his eight contemplative disciples. However, the murals in the southern hall vividly tell the development of Tibet in comic strips.

Festivals and Events of the Norbulingka

The Shoton Festival also called the Xuedun Festival is an annual festival celebrated in the Norbulingka. In Tibetan, "xuedun" means the yoghourt feast. The date for the festival is set in accordance with the Tibetan calendar, which is a lunar-based calendar. The festival is celebrated during the seventh month in the first seven days of the Full Moon period, which corresponds to dates in July or August according to the Gregorian calendar.

The most sacred and spectacular moment of the Shoton Festival is the dramatic unfurling of the 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. Countless Buddhists come from afar and watch the unfurling of the giant Thanka painting of the Buddha for they believe that it is the time the Buddha really appears and will bless them.

The week long festivities are marked by eating and drinking, with Ache Lhamo, the Tibetan opera performances as the highlight, held in the park and other venues in the city. On this occasion, yak races are a special attraction held in the Lhasa stadium.

During this festival, famed Opera troupes from different regions of Tibet perform at the Narubulingka grounds; the first opera troupe was founded in the 15th century by Tangtong Gyelpo, who was considered the Leonardo da Vinci of Tibet. Over centuries other opera formats of the "White Masked Sect" and the "innovative" "Black Masked Sect" are added to the repertoire, and all these forms and subsequent innovations are enacted at the Shoton Festival.

Best Season for Norbulingka

Summer is the best season for visiting the Norbulingka. At that time, Norbulingka is warm and humid with lush green vegetations. What's more, you can take part in the Shoton Festival during which the Norbulingka is the most interesting.