Why is the Jokhang Temple special?
Jokhang Temple is the first Buddhist temple in Tibet and it is also the Sacred Temple of all Tibetan Buddhists. All year-round many Tibetan Buddhists go on a pilgrimage to Lhasa, from all over Tibet and other provinces, and their destination is the Jokhang Temple.
Jokhang Temple Highlights
The Jokhang, or "House of the Lord," is the holiest site in Tibet and is the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists. King Songtsen Gampo first built a temple here in the mid-7th century, but the structure that we see today is largely the result of reconstruction in the 17th century, commissioned by the Fifth Dalai Lama.
The Sacred Temple
The walls of the first courtyard are lined with hundreds of votive lamps. This is the flickering doorway leading into one of Tibet's most intensely religious atmospheres. The first floor houses a series of chapels, each dedicated to a different deity, monk or king.
Behind the numerous sculptures, the chapel walls are covered in vivid murals depicting relevant sutra and historical narratives. A circuitous path between the labyrinthine chapels eventually leads you to the inner sanctum, used daily for worship. At its centre, behind rows of cushions, stand larger than life size statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Outside, above the temple's third story rooftops are an agglomeration of pavilions, comprised of craftsmen's workshops and monks' living quarters. Here, you will glimpse monks debating in one of the numerous back courtyards or perceive their studying forms through the thin curtains of their quarters.
Otherwise, looking out, you will enjoy spectacular views across the Barkhor, the pilgrimage route encircling the Jokhang Temple, and across the roofs of Lhasa towards the Potala Palace.
The Jokhang houses the Jowo Buddha, a Buddhist sculpture brought as part of the dowry of the Chinese Princess Wencheng upon her arrival in Tibet. The miraculous survival of this ancient Buddhist sculpture makes it today one of Tibet's most revered images.
On any given day, one will be awed by the dozens of pilgrims bodily prostrating themselves before this entrance.
Jokhang Temple is a very important pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists. Pilgrims come from all corners of Tibet, usually on foot and often performing austerities for penance along the way. The most devout pilgrims cover the last several miles prostrate on the ground. More prostrations are undertaken in the plaza in front of the temple.
Inside the temple, pilgrims make their way gradually to the central shrine, often crawling on their hands and knees or prostrate on their bellies. They hum prayers while also spinning prayer wheels, and bring offerings (typically white scarves and yak butter for the votive candles) to the many chapels that ring the shrine. Finally, they pray before the sacred image of the Jowo Shakyamuni.