The Potala Palace

On August 16, 2011, in Lhasa, Palaces, Temples, Tibet, by Jack Li

The Potala Palace, pearl on the roof ridge of the world, is situated on the Red Hill in the northwest of Lhasa, provincial capital of Tibet. Originally, this architectural wonder was intended as a welcoming gift from Sontzen Gampo, founder of the Tibetan regime, to his bride, Princess Wencheng, who travelled a long way from the territory of Tang to Tibet. After its renovation in the 17th century, it has become residence to Dalai and has witnessed all the major political ceremonies of Tibet ever since the reign of the fifth Dalai. Also, in the Potala Palace there enshrined the Stupa Halls of Dalai and an extensive collection of priceless treasures. The Potala Palace is without doubt the glamorous centre of Tibet in terms of politics, religion, culture and art.

Built on a mountain slope, the Potala Palace is an awe-inspiring construction of solid granite walls, glittering gilded roof and golden spires dotted with Buddhist pennants and streamers. In clear weather, the holy Potala Palace shines in a mixture of red, white and gold. Apart from its exterior magnificence, the Potala Palace is reputed for its exquisite layout. The entire complex consists mainly of the White Palace and the Red Palace. The thirteen-storey main building measures 115.7 metres high and is divided into Chamber Palace, Buddha Hall, Stupa Hall, Monk Residence. The White Palace, namely residence to Dalai, stretches from the east to the west of the palace site and contains extremely ornate halls and corridors of diverse sizes and shapes. The walls are decorated with elaborate Buddhist paintings; most of them are compositions of prominent artists. The Red Palace lies in the middle of the Potala Palace. In it there is an amazing quantity of statues of Buddhas, Sontzen Gampo, Princess Wencheng and Princess Chizun of Nepal, amounting to several thousand pieces all together. In addition, there enshrined the Stupa Halls of the Dalais adorned with glittering jewels, gold and wall painting of more than 2,500 square metres. The Potala Palace, occupying an area of 100,000 square metres with thousands of richly furnished houses arranged in an orderly fashion, demonstrates the skilfulness and innovation of Tibetan architects.

The Potala Palace has a store of delicate priceless Buddhist treasures and relics. The Stupa Tower of the fifth Dalai Lama is 14.85 metres high and dwarfs all the other towers in the palace. It is sheathed with a layer of gold foil studded with different kinds of jewels and precious stones. The construction of the tower cost a total of 5,500 kilograms of gold. The lesser towers are also richly decorated with gold and jewels, which renders the Potala Palace a dazzling world.

For hundreds of years, the Potala Palace has been held a sacred realm for both the Buddhists and the worldly people. On Buddhist festivals, thousands of pious Tibetan Buddhists from all nationalities set out on their pilgrimage journey toward the Potala Palace and gather around the palace gate in worship. The boisterous sight offers you an impressive view of the power and charm of the third largest religion of the world.

The Potala Palace Attractions:

The White Palace

The Red Palace

The Potala Palace Museum

The Potala Palace Stories:

Sontzen Gampo and Princess Wencheng

During the 7th century, the Tibetan region was under the reign of the Tubo Dynasty. The king, Sontzen Gampo, was a diligent and kind ruler. Due to his efforts, the Tubo Dynasty grew more powerful than ever. In order to set up a good relationship with the Tang Dynasty and introduce advanced culture and technology into the Tibetan area, Sontzen Gampo decided to ask for Princess Wencheng’s hand in marriage. When his envoy, Lu Dongzan, arrived with generous betrothal gifts in Chang An, capital of Tang, he discovered that several other neighbouring nations had also sent out envoys to propose to the intelligent and beautiful Princess. The emperor of Tang thought of a solution: he put three questions to all the envoys, and the one who could solve all of them would win the princess for his king. So Lu joined the competition with the other envoys. At last he alone solved all the questions. The questions and his clever solutions are:

1. There were ten cylinder logs, and each had two ends of the same size. Tell which end was the bottom and which was the top.

Lu put the logs in a pool. Because the density of the bottom end is larger than that of the top end, Lu was able to tell the bottom from the top.

2. There was a small jade stone with a hole running twisted through it. Pull a thread through the hole.

All the other envoys were squinting and fumbling with the thread when Lu applied some honey to one end of the hole and tied the thread to the waist of an ant. He then placed the ant at the other end of the hole. The ant, attracted by the smell of honey, quickly went into the tiny hole and came out on the other side. The thread slipped through with the ant.

3. One hundred mares and one hundred foals were mixed together. Tell which mare gave birth to which foal

The other envoys tried to match them according to their colours or looks and failed. Lu locked up all the foals separately from the mares for one night and put them together again the next day. Every foal rushed to its mother to feed, and Lu was able to tell which mare gave birth to which foal.

As Lu had solved all the three questions, the Emperor decided to put forward an extra question: Lu had to pick out the real princess from among 500 girls with their heads veiled. Fortunately, Lu had learned that the princess preferred a particular kind of perfume which attracts the bees. So he carried some bees with him and let them go. The bees all flew towards one girl. Lu knew immediately that she was the real princess.

The emperor was very impressed with the resourcefulness of Lu. He consented to Sontzen Gampo’s request and married Princess Wencheng to the Tubo King. Sontzen Gampo received the happy news from Lu, and ordered to build 999 halls to welcome the princess. This is how the Potala Palace came into being. Now you can still find the painting recording the story of the proposal on the wall of the Potala Palace.

Jack Li

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