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Drepung Monastery

About Drepung Monastary

Lying in the southern part of the Gebeiwoze Mountain at the western suburbs of Lhasa, the Drepung Monastery is the largest monastery in Tibet and the home monastery of all Dalai Lamas. Together with the Sera Monastery and the Ganden Monastery, they are known as the “3 Largest Monasteries of Lhasa”.

The Drepung Monastery, which in Tibetan language is called Duimi or Gyimi, means “an auspicious land”. At its peak, over 10,000 people lived in the monastery. The grand monastery was built along the mountains and covers over 200,000 square meters. With numerous mansions and zigzagging alleys, the monastery looks like an impressive city.

The monastery was founded in 1416 of the Ming Dynasty by Jamyang Qoigyi Zhaxi Bendain, a famous disciple of Zongkapa, founder of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is formed with the Coqen Hall, the 4 Zhacang colleges, the Gandain Phodrang, over 50 Kamcuns and hundreds of Myicuns under their administration.

The Coqen Hall is also known as the Sutra Hall. It is at the center of the entire monastery and all the important activities are conducted here. Measuring 50 meters long and 36 meters broad, the hall has 4 storeys and takes up 4,500 square meters. In front of the hall is a 2,000-square-meter plaza laid with stone boards. On the first floor of the Coqen Hall is the Ganggyur Lakang which houses 2 versions of the “Tripitaka” printed in Ming and Qing dynasties. It also treasures a “Ganggyur” written with golden liquid during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty.

Coqen is also the name of the top administration in the monastery. Heading the administration is the Khripa Khanpo abbot, who was a weighty figure in the old Tibetan local government. Below the abbot are 2 Grand Lamas with Iron Sticks. They not only held the power of supreme discipline at the Drepung Monastery, but also took responsibility of municipal administration when Lhasa held the Grand Summons Ceremony during the Tibetan New Year.

The monastery used to have 7 Zhacang colleges which later converged into 4: Losailing, Gomang, Deyang and Ngaba. Zhacang is both the college where monks study the Gelug Sect and also the management organ which functioned under Coqen. The 4 Zhacang all have their own sutra halls and Buddhist halls, as well as the Lama groups called Kamcun and Myicun.

Located in the southwestern part of the monastery, Ganden Phodrang is a completely independent architecture encircled with tall walls. While the rear courtyard serves as the sutra hall, the front courtyard was where the Dalai Lamas lived and dealt with official matters. The second Dalai Lama ordered the construction of the architecture, which grew into the political and religious center of Tibet by the time of the fifth Dalai Lama, who was able to establish supremacy by defeating all rivals. Even though Dalai Lama’s residence later moved out of Ganden Phodrang into the Potala Palce, Tibetan annals traditionally call the regime as “Ganden Phodrang” which ended in 1959 when the local Tibetan Kashak Cabinet was dismissed.

Best Time to Go

You can actually visit Drepung Monastery all year around, but the best time is during Shoton Festival in midsummer, which is held on July 1st of Tibetan calendar. At that day, a large thangka is unveiled under the sun on the mountainside, and hundreds of thousand people gather there to worship the big Buddha Thangka.

Most chapels will close in the afternoon, so you may need to schedule your time in the morning. You’d better get to Drepung Monastery before dawn, as the time of Sunning the Buddha is normally around 8:30am. Just keep away from the direct sunlight at noon at ordinary times, and then you can gain an ideal light. In addition, the monks will gather outside in the shade of the trees and start their debate at 15:00pm, which is a wonderful Tibetan cultural subject.

Restaurant and Accommodation

There are some street pedlars at the foot of the Drepung Monastery, which sell a variety of snacks. It is advisable to have meals in Lhasa city.You’d better stay in the hotels or guesthouses in Lhasa city, which will be more convenient for you.

Shooting Location

On the first day of Shoton Festival, people get up early and gather in front of the stairs on the hillside. It is the busiest day around the monastery with crowded people and heavy traffic. The platform of sunning the Buddha is the perfect place to shoot the lively scene. You can capture some Lamas and pilgrims praying under the thangka and circling it in a long queue.You can only follow some regular routes to explore the Monastery, such as some grand halls, rock paintings, construction details, Lamas and pilgrims. Find beauty with your eyes in details.

Photography Plan

Drepung Monastery is located in the suburbs of Lhasa city, and it is very convenient to get there. You can spend half day to visit the Monastery at ordinary times. On Shoton Festival, you need to set out from Lhasa at 4am or camp in Drepung Monastery overnight to grab advantageous location for your shooting. It is worthwhile to spend the whole day in the Monastery to photograph colorful religious subjects.

Special Attention

Tibetan calendar is different from Chinese lunar. The date of annual Shoton Festival is not fixed. If you plan to take pictures of giant Buddha thangka, you must calculate the exact date in advance.Furthermore, it is the busiest day around the monastery with crowded people and heavy traffic. You should pay attention to the crowded road and take care of yourself. Protect your photographic equipment from the crowd.Respect the pilgrims and monks.Do not take close-up shots of them without their permission.

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