Potala Palace is located in the heart of Lhasa city. Potala Palace has become a landmark for the city. Potala Palace is located on the side of Marpo Ri hill, the Red Mountain at an altitude of 3,700 m. The Potala Palace was named after Mount Potala, the abode of Chenresig or Avalokitesvara. The first palace was built by King Songtsen Gampo in 637 in order to greet his bride Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty of China. This extravagant palace was once used by Dalai Lamas as winter retreat and is also known as the Winter Palace. But now it is used as a museum to showcase precious articles of history, culture and arts. You will also find the most sacred items of Buddhist religion like amazing statues of Lord Buddha and many religious paintings. In 1994, the palace was recognized as world heritage site by UNESCO and named as the “New Seven Wonders” by American media. Now, it is also on the list of Chinese national key protected cultural relics. Being one of the oldest structures in Tibet, Potala Palace has also become the most visited monument in Tibet. You can visit the palace between 9.30 AM to 1 PM and from 3 PM to 6 PM.
The construction of the palace was started by King Songtsen Gumpa in the 7th century for his two newly wed wives. The palace was used by the king as a retreat for meditation till his death. The palace also suffered heavy loss due to several wars and lightning strike and later reconstructed by the order of 5th Dalai Lama in 1645. It gave a new look to the structure as the palace was not only mended, but was completely restructured, thus becoming a holy seat of Dalai Lamas gaining the important political center. After the 7th Dalai Lama, who constructed a summer palace in Norbulingka, Potala Palace was only used in winters. It stopped being abode for Dalai Lamas after the 14th Dalai Lama was ousted from here to Dharamshala in India due to a failed uprising against the invading Chinese in 1959. Since then it is used as a State museum of China and is now a famous tourist destination. The construction of the present palace began in 1645 under the fifth Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso. In 1648, the Potrang Karpo known as White Palace was completed, and the Potala became the winter palace of Dalai Lama from that time. The Potrang Marpo or the Red Palace was added to the complex between 1690 and 1694.
Potala Palace generally comprises of two portions, the White Palace which is the administrative block and the Red Palace – a religious block. You will be entering the Palace from East portal which will lead you to Deyang Shar courtyard. This is the place where Dalai Lamas used to enjoy Tibetan Opera. To the west of it is the White Palace.
The White Palace is the part of the Potala Palace that makes up the living quarters of the Dalai Lama. The first White Palace was built during the lifetime of the fifth Dalai Lama in the 1650s then was extended to its size today by the thirteenth Dalai Lama in the early twentieth century. This palace was used for secular uses and contained the living quarters of monks, offices, the seminary and the printing house, on the fifth and sixth floor. On the fourth floor, there is a longest hall of the White Palace called the Great East Hall. It is a brilliantly decorated hall that was once used for holding any big religious or political functions. A central, yellow-painted courtyard known as a Deyangshar separates the living quarters of the Lama and his monks with the Red Palace. The yellow building at the side of the White Palace in the courtyard between the main palaces houses giant banners embroidered with holy symbols which hung across the south face of the Potala during New Year festivals. From the balcony of the White Palace, you will get a panoramic view of Lhasa City.
In the Red Palace, you will find relics and antique of 7th century. The Red Palace is full of statues and gorgeously carved stupas that will completely justify your effort to come to Potala Palace. The Red Palace is part of the Potala palace that is completely devoted to religious study and Buddhist prayer. Here also you will find a gigantic hall in the middle, the Greatest West Hall, which is the largest hall in entire Potala Palace. The walls of the halls are filled with portraits about the life and works of fifth Dalai Lama. Apart from the halls, you can also visit the other five chapels, The Saint’s Chapel, The
Red Palace Potala Palace Lhasa
North Chapel, The South Chapel, The East and The West Chapel. The North Chapel is dedicated to Sakyamuni Buddha along with the fifth Dalai Lama. Similarly, all other chapels are also dedicated to some important personalities in the course of history. It consists of an intricate layout of many different halls, chapels and libraries on many different levels with a multifaceted array of smaller galleries and winding passages:
The Great West Hall
The great West Hall is the main central hall of the Red Palace, which consists of four great chapels that proclaim the glory, and power of the builder of the Potala, the Fifth Dalai Lama. The hall is illustrious for its fine murals reminiscent of Persian miniatures, depicting events in the fifth Dalai Lama’s life. The famous scene of his visit to Emperor Shun Zhi in Beijing is located on the east wall outside the entrance. The numerous columns and pillars of the hall are wrapped with a special cloth from Bhutan.
The Saint’s Chapel
On the north side of the great west hall is this holiest shrine of the Potala. The 19th century Tongzhi Emperor of China wrote a large blue and gold inscription over the door. It contains a small ancient jewel encrusted statue of Avalokiteshvara and two of his attendants. On the floor below, a low, dark passage leads into the Dharma Cave where Songsten Gampo is believed to have studied Buddhism. In the holy cave are images of Songsten Gampo, his wives, his chief minister and Sambhota, the scholar who developed Tibetan writing in the company of his many divinities.
The North Chapel
The North Chapel centres on a crowned Sakyamuni Buddha on the left and the Fifth Dalai Lama on the right seated on splendid gold thrones. Their equal height and shared aura entails an equal status. On the far left of the chapel is the gold stupa. This tomb belongs to the Eleventh Dalai Lama who died as a child and has rows of benign Medicine Buddhas who were the heavenly healers. On the right of the chapel are Avalokiteshvara and his historical incarnations including Songsten Gampo and the first four Dalai Lamas.
The South Chapel
The South Chapel centres on Padmasambhava, the 8th century Indian magician and saint accompanied by his two wives. His Tibetan wife, a gift from the King is by his left knee and his other wife from his native land of Swat is by his right. On his left, eight of his holy manifestations meditate with an unturned gaze. On his right, eight furious manifestations wield instruments of magic powers to subdue the demons of the Bon faith.
The East Chapel
The East chapel is devoted to Tsong Khapa the founder of the Gelug tradition. Lamas from Sakya Monastery who had briefly ruled Tibet and formed their own tradition until converted by Tsong Khapa surround his central figure. There are also some other statues on display that are made of various different materials and exhibit noble expressions.
The West Chapel
This chapel contains the five golden stupas. The massive central stupa contains the mummified body of the Fifth Dalai Lama. This stupa is built of sandalwood and is amazingly coated in 3,727 kg of solid gold and studded with semi-precious jewels. It is almost 50 feet high and rises to three storeys. On the left is the funeral stupa for the Twelfth Dalai Lama and on the right that of the Tenth Dalai Lama.
The First Gallery is on the floor above the West chapel and has a number of large windows that give light and ventilation to the Great West Hall and its chapels below. The Second Gallery provides access to the central pavilion which is used for visitors to the palace for refreshments and to buy souvenirs. The Third Gallery has a number of dark rooms branching off it containing enormous collections of bronze statues and miniature figures made of copper and gold worth a fortune.
The Tomb of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama
The tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama is located west of the Great West Hall. Built in 1933, this 14 metres high giant stupa holds priceless jewels and one ton of solid gold. Devotional offerings include elephant tusks from India, ceramic lions and vases and a pagoda made from over 200,000 pearls. The elaborated murals of stupa exhibit the traditional Tibetan style and depict many events of the life of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama during the early 20th century.
By Anil Blon