Founded by Konchok Gyelpo in 1073, Sakya Monastery is the seat of Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. During its heyday in the 13th and 14th centuries, Sakya abbots were the actual governors of Tibet under the Mongol’s rule. There are actually two monasteries in Sakya at either side of Trum-Chu River. While the older north monastery (1073) with its 108 structures has been reduced to ruins over the years, the fortress like south monastery (1268) survives and remains as one of the largest in Tibet. The impressive fortress like monastery washed with ash grey and white and red vertical stripes symbolizes the trinity of Bodhisattva, and had became the symbol of Sakya. Everything at Sakya is large in size, from its 16m high main assembly hall to the extensive defensive walls.
Many refers Sakya Monastery as Dunhuang (敦煌) of Tibet because of its remarkable murals, artefacts, and medieval scriptures. Sealed behind a wall and rediscovered in 2003, the 60m long by 10m tall library wall (拉康欽莫大經堂) behind the altar in the main assembly hall is particularly impressive. It contains a huge variety of text, 84000 in total, made of different materials and about different subjects from the Yuan Dynasty when Tibet was under Mongol rule. The equally important murals made in the Mongolian style are also a rarity in China nowadays. In the main assembly hall, the most valuable object is probably the white conch shell (海螺). Legends has it that the conch shell originally belonged to the Buddha. Then it went into the hands of an Indian king, and later became an offering to Kublai Khan (忽必列). Kublai Khan gave the sacred object to Sakya and it remained in the monastery until present day. Still capable to make a soft low sound, the conch is still blown by the monk to give blessing to pilgrims. While we were visiting the main assembly hall, we did see a monk took out the conch to offer blessing to the pilgrims, who were so excited and eager to get as close as possible to the sacred object. Also from Kublai Khan was one of the huge wood columns in the assembly hall. With a diameter ranging from 1m to 1.5m, these wood columns are quite impressive disregard who its donor might be.
As soon as we arrived in Sakya, our driver Sangzhu took us to the large dining hall of Manasarovar Sakya Hotel Restaurant for lunch.
Unlike most other Tibetan monasteries, Sakya’s grey walls with red and white stripes offer a unique visual symbol for Sakya in the past 900+ years.
We headed into the entrance courtyard of Sakya and soon found out that almost all buildings were locked. Apparently the monks were having lunch somewhere else and we had no choice but to wait for their.
In front of the main assembly hall, we stood by the stone lion and wait for the monk’s return.
Soon more local visitors arrived and waited for the monk’s return. We decided to take a walk in the enormous compound.
We followed the long and narrow kora route around the central complex. There were prayer wheels on one side and the defensive high walls on the opposite.
The buildings in Sakya Monastery all seemed really large to us.
The Western style lamppost and the ash grey wall with red and white stripes somehow didn’t seem too coherent visually.
At last the monk with the keys showed up and led us into the inner monastery.
Beyond the gate, a dark hallway with beautiful murals and old prayer wheels led us into the inner courtyard.
Going through the dark hallway with religious murals on both sides felt like going back in time.
Without extensive renovations, many murals in Sakya were gradually fading.
From the inner courtyard, we walked into the main assembly hall. In the main hall, we saw the famous white conch shell, wood columns, historical murals and most impressive of all, the 10m high library wall behind the altar. Just like most other monasteries in Tibet, photography of the interior is prohibited.
After seeing the interior of the main assembly hall, we climbed the adjacent stair up to the flat roof of the complex.
The flat roof offers another unique angle to admire the robust architecture of Sakya.
Via the flat roof, we could walk to a variety of side chapels.
The small chapels are accessible via doorways in the otherwise fortress like walls.
Layers of eaves form a series of interesting lines on the flat roof.
As we departed from Sakya Monastery, more pilgrims arrived to pay respect to this once most powerful monastery in Tibet.
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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet