Tashilhunpo Monastery is a historic and culturally important monastery situated next to Shigatse, the second-largest city in Tibet. The monastery is the traditional seat of successive Panchen Lamas, the second highest ranking tulku lineage in the Gelukpa tradition.
Located on a hill in the center of the city, the monastery’s full name in Tibetan means: "all fortune and happiness gathered here" or "heap of glory".
Tashilhunpo Monastery was founded in 1447 by Gendun Drup, the First Dalai Lama. Later, Lobsang Chökyi Gyalsten, the Fourth Panchen Lama, made major expansions to the monastery. Since then Panchen Lamas resided at Tashilhunpo, and expanded it gradually.
Choekyi Gyalpo, the current and 11th Panchen Lama, was enthroned at Tashilhunpo, but does not reside there. In its heyday, Tashilhunpo had over 4,000 monks and had four Tantric colleges each with its own Abbot. After the death of a Panchen Lama, these four abbots led the search for his infant incarnation.
The Maitreya Temple, known as Jambu Chyenmu, is the tallest building of the monastery. It was erected in 1914 by the Ninth Panchen Lama to house a gigantic statue of the Maitreya Buddha and is 26.2 metres (86 feet) in height. A single finger of the giant figure is almost 4 feet in length. The statue contains 279 kg (614 lbs) of gold and 150,000 kg (330,000 lb) of copper and brass moulded on a solid wooden frame by Tibetan and Nepalese craftsmen. Small versions of the Maitreya are positioned in all four corners of the chamber and the murals on either side of the door show.
Gudong: On the east side of the monastery is the old living quarters of the Panchen Lama, the Panchen Lama's Palace known as Gudong. Within, a narrow courtyard gives access to the temple containing the Fourth Panchen Lama's tomb.
Chanting Hall and Chapels: The main chanting hall contains the throne of the Panchen Lama and two connected chapels. The left-one is devoted to an elaborately ensconced Sakyamuni with eight Bodhisattva robed in bocade. The right hand one is dedicated to Tara the goddess who sanctifies the mountain above and whose image is depicted throughout the temple. A White Tara goddess occupies the centre of the altar with a Jade Green Tara on either side.
The monastery also has many other buildings of historical, religious and architectural interest, including the Sutra Hall, Gyeni Chanting Hall, Ngang College, Chuajing Duogang (Great Courtyard), the Great Gallery and the Roof Chapels.
Since the early 1980s parts of the Tashilhunpo monastery have been open to the public and it is an important tourist attraction in Tibet today.
Source: This synopsis of the history of Tashilhunpo monastery, and the photos of Tashilhunpo, were sourced from Wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Read a more detailed history of Tashilhunpo monastery at Wikipedia.org.