Ganden Monastery is in Dagzê District, 40 kilometers (25 mi) northeast of Lhasa. It’s one of the "great three" Gelug university monasteries of Tibet. The other two are Sera Monastery and Drepung Monastery. It is the most typical one among the six major monasteries of Gelugpa as it’s founded in 1409 by Je Tsongkhapa Lozang-dragpa, founder of the Gelug sect. So it’s also the ancestral temple of Gelugpa.
Ganden Monastery is at the top of Wangbur Mountain, Dagzê County at an altitude of 4,300m. Wangbur Mountain is like a lying giant elephant, carrying a large-scale complex of buildings covered with the mountain, which fully reflects the traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastery architecture in accordance with local conditions. From the kora route around the monastery, there are dramatic views over the valleys that surround it.
Its full name is Ganden Namgyal Ling (dga' ldan rmam rgyal gling). Ganden means "joyful" and is the Tibetan name for Tuṣita, the heaven where the bodhisattva Maitreya is said to reside. Namgyal Ling means "victorious temple". This is the world enlightened by the future Buddha Maitreya.
Ganden Monastery was founded by Je Tsongkhapa Lozang-dragpa (1357–1419) in 1409. Tsongkhapa built Ganden's main temple, with large statues and three-dimensional mandalas. He often stayed at Ganden and died there in 1419.
After the master passed away, his eldest disciple Gyeltsabjey succeed Tsongkhapa’s robe, called the first Ganden Tripa. Tripa means "throne-holder of Ganden" and the head of Gelug school. Its religious status is second only to the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.
The monastery was destroyed after 1959 but has been partially rebuilt since 1980. Another monastery with the same name and tradition was established in Southern India in 1966 by Tibetan exiles.
In 2008, over 500 monks, who refused to adhere to the ban against the protective deity Dorje Shugden, enforced by the Dalai Lama's government in exile, were expelled from the Ganden Monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka, and founded in its immediate neighborhood the Shar Gaden Monastery, officially opened in October 2009. As a result, the Dokhang Khangtsen, the biggest division of Gaden Shartse Monastery, where most of the departing monks came from, ceased to exist.
The Main Assembly Hall
Main Assembly Hall is the main building in Gandan Monastery. There is a Buddha Hall with bronze statues of the Maitreya Buddha and the master Tsong Khapa.
There is a dharma seat carried by five golden lions, which was for Tsongkhapa after the establishment of the Yellow Sect. There is also the meditation bed of Tsongkhapa and the complete set of Tibetan Buddhism sutra "Gangjur" and "Tanjur" written in pure gold, which is regarded as the National Super-Class Cultural Relics. The setting, offering and decorations of the temple are relics of the Ming Dynasty. There is a very peculiar pillar in the hall as it's a palm-thick distance from the ground. Many pilgrims go to Gandan Temple to touch the bottom of the pillar to pray for good luck.
Tri Thok Khang Hall
Tri Thok Khang Hall was the bedroom with clothing for Tsong Khapa and other Ganden Tripas. The hall is also the place where Tsongkhapa and the previous Ganden Tripas did tantric practices. There is also a mandala of the Yellow sect to practice the Tantric Dharma in the temple (also known as the Pure Land),
There is also a mandala of the Yellow Sect's tantric practice (mandala is known as the Paradise World), as well as the robes, cushions and seals used by Tsongkhapa and successive Ganden Tripas. The gilt bronze statues of Manjusri Bodhisattva, Namgyalma, Sitatapatra, etc. are enshrined in the hall.
The sutra hall is on the left of the main hall, four floors high, with 72 columns, covering an area of 800 square meters. There's a huge stone on the back wall of the hall. According to legend, it was transported from India. Many Buddha statues are enshrined in this building. In the middle of the temple, there is the gilt bronze statue of the Bodhisattva's incarnation and a mandala. It is said that the statue is 10 cm taller than the main Sakyamuni statue in the Jokhang Temple. Its niches are also made of gilt bronze and inlaid with various pearls and gems, which are extremely gorgeous.
The highest part of the Sutra Hall is Serdhung Hall, which is three floors high, with an area of 360 square meters. It's also called the Holy Stupa Hall. Tsongkhapa passed away in Tri Thok Khang Hall on October 25, 1419. Tsongkhapa's preserved body was entombed at Ganden by his disciples in a silver and gold-encrusted tomb. In 1420, his disciples built the "Spirit Pagoda" for his mummified body. It was made of 900 taels of silver at first. Afterward, the thirteenth Dalai Lama covered it with pure gold and decorated it with precious jewels. From then on, a spiritual pagoda would be built for every Ganden Tripa after his death in this temple. Before liberation, there are 95 spirit pagodas.
Two Tantric Colleges
There are two Tantric Colleges(Zhacang) - Xaze and Jamze. Both of them are covering nearly 1,000 square meters so they're big enough to accommodate 1500 lamas for chanting at the same time.
Best Time to Visit
Summer is the peak tourist season for sightseeing and photography. During the Shoton Festival, there is also a Buddha exhibition ceremony at Ganden Monastery. Although the Buddha image in Ganden Monastery is not as huge as that in Drepung Monastery, it is very exquisite.
On October 25th of each year in the Tibetan calendar, there's an anniversary of the death of Master Tsongkhapa - Ganden Thangka Unfolding Festival. A 26-meter long and 10-meter wide large Buddha is displayed in the temple during the day, and the whole temple is lit up to show respect at night. It is known as the “Butter Lantern Festival”. The ceremony is very solemn. It is the most important traditional festival in the temple, which attracts thousands of visitors and disciples.
Recommended Tours Including Ganden Monastery
Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, and Ganden Monastery are the top 3 monasteries in Tibet. The package which put them together is specially designed to Buddhists and those who want to feel close to Buddhist culture. As the ancestral monastery of the Gelug Sect, Ganden Monastery is a place where you can find wonderful treasures and valuable heritages of Buddhism.
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