Jokhang Temple

Jokhang Temple

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The Jokhang, also called the Jokang, Jokhang Temple, Jokhang Monastery or Tsuklakang (gTsug lag khang), is located on Barkhor Square in Lhasa. It was built during the reign of king Songsten Gampo (605?-650 CE) to celebrate his marriage with Chinese Tang Dynasty princess Wencheng, who was a Buddhist.

During the Bon period of Tibet the temple was (and sometimes still is), called the 'Tsuklakang' (Tsulag Khang) - 'House of Religious Science' or 'House of Wisdom.' The term tsuklak refers to the 'sciences' such as geomancy, astrology, and divination which formed part of the pre-Buddhist shamanistic religion now referred to as Bon. It is more commonly known today as the Jokhang, which means the 'House of the Buddha'.

For most Tibetans it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. It is in some regards pan-sectarian, but is presently controlled by the Gelug school.

Jokhang Temple

Jokhang Temple

Along with the Potala Palace, it is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Lhasa. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace," and a spiritual centre of Lhasa.

Architecture of Jokhang

The Jokhang temple is a four-story construction, with roofs covered with gilded bronze tiles. The architectural style is based on the Indian vihara design, and was later extended resulting in a blend of Nepalese and Tang Dynasty styles. The rooftop statues of two golden deer flanking a Dharma wheel is iconic. Jokhang's interior is a dark and atmospheric labyrinth of chapels dedicated to various gods and bodhisattvas, illuminated by votive candles and thick with the smoke of incense. Although some of the temple has been rebuilt, original elements remain: the wooden beams and rafters have been shown by carbon dating to be original; the Newari door frames, columns and finials date from the 7th and 8th centuries.

The Jokhang temple sits on Barkhor Square in the old section of Lhasa . The entire temple complex occupies approximately 25,000 sq.meters.Pilgrims circumambulate the temple as part a pilgrimage to the site. The circumabulation route is known as the "kora" in Tibetan and is marked by four large stone incense burners placed at the corners of the temple complex. After circumambulating the exterior, pilgrims make their way to the main hall of the temple which houses the Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha statue, perhaps the single most venerated object in Tibetan Buddhism. There are also famous statues of Chenresig, Padmasambhava and King Songtsan Gambo and his two foreign brides, Princess Wen Cheng (niece of Emperor Taizong of Tang China) and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. Many of the statues were destroyed during the "cultural revolution" but have since been recreated-often including broken pieces of the original statues. A chapel to the south of the main hall houses many statues of various Bodhisattva many in yab-yum pose.

Golden Roof of Jokhang Temple

Golden Roof of Jokhang Temple

A walled enclosure in front of the Jokhang contains the stumps of willows known as the Jowo Utra ('Hair of the Jowo') which according to tradition were planted by Queen Wen Ching at the time the temple was consecrated. Two doring or inscribed pillars flank the north and south entrances to the temple. The pillar on the south side was erected by the Chinese in 1793 during a smallpox epidemic and records advice on hygiene measures to prevent smallpox. On the north side another far older pillar sits. It records the Sino-Tibetan treaty of 822 concluded by King Ralpacan and includes the following inscription: "Tibet and China shall abide by the frontiers of which they are now in occupation. All to the east is the country of Great China; and all to the west is, without question, the country of Great Tibet. Henceforth on neither side shall there be waging of war nor seizing of territory. If any person incurs suspicion he shall be arrested; his business shall be inquired into and he shall be escorted back,"

The third floor contains an image of Palden Lhamo, fierce protector of both Lhasa and the Dalai Lama.

Jokhang Collection of Buddhist Sculptures

The Jokhang owns a large and very important collection of about eight hundred metal sculptures, in addition to thousands of painted scrolls known as thangkas. The statues are hidden away in temples closed to the public and access is almost impossible. During numerous visits to the Jokhang between 1980 and 1996, Ulrich von Schroeder managed to take photographs of about five hundred metal statues of interest. Among them are some extremely rare and important brass and copper statues originating from Kashmir, Northern India, Nepal, Tibet, and China. However, the most important statues of the Jo khang collection are those that date back to the Yar lung dynasty (7th-9th century).

Taking photographs of art objects inside the Jokhang is very difficult if not outright impossible. To facilitate access for all scholars to a large number of photographs of Buddhist statues in the Jokhang collections, Ulrich von Schroeder has attached a DVD to each copy of his book: 108 Buddhist Statues in Tibet (2008).This DVD contains digital photographs of the 108 illustrated statues and of the 307 most important Buddhist sculptures in the collection of the Jokhang, previously published in Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet (2001). The DVD includes in addition digital photographs of some 108 previously unpublished sculptures of the collection of the Jo khang/Lhasa gTsug lag khang. These statues are published in Jokhang-Tibet's Most Sacred Buddhist Temple (2010). In total the DVD contains digital photographs of 523 Buddhist statues, including 411 Jokhang sculpture. The DVD is public domain and the digital pictures can be downloaded free of charge by anyone.