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  • Luo Wenhua

Happiness and Longevity of Sumeru: Tashilhunpo Monastery as a Palace of Arts and Culture

Luo Wenhua

Translated by Guoying Stacy Zhang

The Gelug tradition, also referred to as the “Yellow Hat Tradition”, founded by Tsongkhapa, played a very important role in the history of China since the 17th century. In 1645, Güshi Khan, ruler of the Mongolian Khoshut Khanate, bestowed the title “Panchen Bogd” on Losang Chökyi Gyaltsen (Blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1570–1662), known as the 4th Panchen Lama today – an event that marked the beginning of the Panchen (Paṇ chen) title. In 1713, the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing dynasty conferred on the 5th Panchen Lama Lobsang Yeshe (Blo bzang ye shes, 1663-1737) the title “Panchen Erdeni” (Paṇ chen er te ni), together with an imperial edict written in gold and a gold seal, which symbolised that the reincarnation lineage was officially recognised by the Qing court. Tibetan historians of later generations traced the first to third Panchen Lamas.

The Tashilhunpo Monastery was founded in 1447 by Gendun Drub (dGe 'dun grub, 1391–1474), a principal disciple of Tsongkhapa who was posthumously recognised as the 1st Dalai Lama. The monastery is located on the hillside of the Nyima Mountain at an altitude of 3,900 metres, overlooking the valley of the Nyang Qu (Myang chu) River. Having been expanded and developed over time, the architectural complex has an imposing presence. Since 1607 when the 4th Panchen Lama Losang Chökyi Gyaltsen acted as the head abbot, the Tashilhunpo Monastery has been the traditional seat of successive Panchen Lamas as well as the largest monastery in the Tsang (gTsang) region (1).

The year 2020 marks the 600th anniversary of the establishment of the Forbidden City, the 95th anniversary of the Palace Museum housed in the Forbidden City, and the 240th anniversary of the first visit of the 6th Panchen Lama Lobsang Palden Yeshe (Blo bzang dpal ldan ye shes, 1738-1780) to Beijing. The Palace Museum, the Cultural Relics Bureau of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the Tashilhunpo Monastery joined hands and launched exhibition “Happiness and Longevity of Sumeru: An Encounter between the Tashilhunpo Monastery and the Forbidden City”. As far as the author is concerned, it was the first major exhibition worldwide on the themes of Panchen Lamas and Tashilhunpo Monastery.

Maitreya, Gilt-copper, with pearl, turquoise, glass, emerald inlays, 18th century, H: 180 cm, Tashilhunpo Monastery Tashikitsel Workshops, Tashilhunpo Monastery

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More about Arts of Asia Nov to Dec issue 2020:

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