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China: Jokhang temple

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Jokhang temple | China | Asia

[Visited: April 2007]

Called cathedral by Heinrich Harrer, the Jokhang temple lives up to this label by being the most sacred structure for Tibetan buddhists, and attracts Tibetans not just from Lhasa but also from very remote places. All day long, you can see Tibetans prostrating in front of the temple, at times giving the impression of a huge open-air exercise area, with the distinct sound of wood scraping over stone. The Jokhang is inevitably linked to the lively and commercialized Barkhor circuit - but when you get close to the entrance, easily recognizable by prayer poles, incense burners, hundreds of butter lamps and two stele, the atmosphere changes. Here, devout buddhists gather to pray, often staying for a long time. During the day, when the doors of the temple are open, a steady stream of pilgrims visit the temple itself.

Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Tibetan buddhists praying on Barkhor square, with Potala palace in the background

The Jokhang was initially constructed, in the 7th century, by legendary king Songtsen Gampo, to house an image of Askhobhya brought to Tibet by Nepalese princess Bhrikuti. Jowo Sakyamuni, another Buddha image, was taken to Tibet by princess Wencheng, and at first housed in a separate place, Ramoche temple, north of the Jokhang. However, after Songtsen Gampo died, princess Wencheng moved this statue to the Jokhang too. The Jowo Sakyamuni statue has become the single most important and sacred of all objects of Tibetan Buddhism. Apart from this, the complex is full of venerated religious statues and other objects, which explains the endless stream of pilgrims around and in it.

Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Tibetan on Nangkhor kora around Jokhang temple

I was impatiently waiting to enter the temple in the morning, and it opened late. The queue of Tibetans was absorbed by the temple, and even though I joined them right away, by the time I had bought my ticket, the ground floor of the temple was basically a large mass of Tibetans waiting to enter the most sacred chapels. I decided to move to the first floor, which was in fact more quiet. The chapels housed statues of kings, important lamas and other objects of religious importance. In all, I found the inevitable large bowls of yak butter, burning and being replenished by pilgrims, giving the entire temple a distinct smell. I wanted some fresh air, and walked the Narkhor kora, the circuit around the Jokhang temple proper. The early morning daylight coming in from above gave great views of the Tibetans walking around here. After that, I went up; the roof offered great views over Barkhor square as well as the Potala Palace, and also a unique chance to view Tibetans on their kora from above. The Jokhang: an unforgettable experience, oozing religious significance also to non-religious visitors.

Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Tibetan woman walking the Nangkhor kora at Jokhang temple
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Praying in front of Jokhang temple
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Tibetan buddhists on their kora around Jokhang temple
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Blue and black braids on Tibetan woman at Jokhang temple
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Jokhang temple: Tibetan woman turning her prayer wheel
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Monk and traditional Tibetan woman on their kora around Jokhang temple
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Typicallly coloured door and stairs at Jokhang temple
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Smoke rising above silhouette of Jokhang temple at sunrise
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Silhouette of Jokhang temple and Tibetans on the roof
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Intricate decoration on the side of Jokhang temple
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Jokhang temple: one part of this most sacred complex
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Yak butter lamps at Jokhang temple
Picture of Jokhang temple (China): Yak butter candles burning in one of the chapels of Jokhang temple

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