Samye Monastery is the first true Buddhist monastery in Tibet, lies on the north bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River of Zharang County, and about 38 kilometers from Tsedang. It's one of the main scenic spots of the state-level scenic area - the Yarlung River Scenic Area.
Brief Knowledge of Samye Monastery
The construction of Samye Monastery began in 762 AD and was completed in 779 AD. It is the first monastery in Tibet featuring Buddhists, laws, and monks, where the famous debate of the doctrines between ancient Indian Buddhism and inland Buddhism happened. The monastery is modeled on the Odantapuri Temple in Bihar, India. After several dynasties extensions, it now covers a large scale of more than 4,900 square meters.
Samye Monastery is at least a few decades later than Jokhang Temple and Ramoche Temple, so why is it called Tibet’s first temple? This is because the so-called temple refers to a Buddhist place with all the three treasures of Buddha, laws, and monks. There is no monk in the place where the Buddha statues were built before. The first monks in Tibetan history lived here.
Samye means 'unimaginable' in Tibetan. It was said that when Tritsong Detsen asked for suggestions about the construction of the monastery, Padmasambhava, exerting his magic power, showed the king an image of a monastery in his palm. That is the origin of the name.
Monastery layout and Utse Hall
Before 'Utse' the Great Hall which combines Chinese, Tibetan, and Indian architectural styles, there is a stone 'stele', which was erected to honor Trisong Detsen's vow of his piety to Buddhism. In the monastery there is a pair of white marble statues, their shapes are simple and with a carving style of the Tang Dynasty. They are the most precious remaining stone sculptures in the monastery. Besides, there is a rare bronze bell with ancient Tibetan script on it. According to the record, this is the first bell cast in Tibet.
The entire monastery faces the south. The plane of the monastery is oval. It is laid out according to the world structure in the Buddhist scriptures. Samye Monastery looks like a long courtyard, covering an area of about 25,000 square meters. The central main hall of the Samye Monastery is the Utse Hall. Utse Hall sitting in the west towards the east, three floors, unique architectural style. The space height of each floor hall is generally between 5.5 and 6 meters. Viewed from a distance, the hall looks like a five-story building, but there are only three floors, each of which belongs to a different architectural style. The ground floor adopts Tibetan architectural form, the middle floor adopts Han architectural form, and the upper floor adopts Indian architectural form. The murals and statues on each floor are also painted and sculpted in accordance with their different methods. This architectural style of Tibetan, Han, and Indian walls is very rare in the history of architecture, so some people also call the Samye Monastery "Three-style Monastery".
There are also four pagodas built around the Utse Hall, in four colors: green, white, black, and red. The red pagoda is built in the southwest corner of the Utse hall, and the black pagoda is built in the northwest corner of the Utse hall. Both of them have special shapes. The White Pagoda is built in the southeast corner of the Utse hall, which is square and has 108 small towers. The green pagoda is built in the northeast corner of the Utse hall, and the shape is a square polygon.
The architecture of the Samye Monastery is large and the layout is peculiar. When entering the monastery for the first time, visitors may be confused by the strange layout of the towering temples. If you understand the significance of these individual buildings and the role they play in the layout of the monastery, then you visit this monastery again, you will be impressed and moved by the glorious building group considered unparalleled in the history of architecture.
More than 1300 years have passed, and Samye Monastery still maintains its original pattern. The whole monastery is like a mandala descending from the sky, guarding the most central part of Tibetan culture.
Useful Travel Tips
- Entrance to the monastery is free, but it is required to pay 45 CNY per person if entering Utse Hall.
- The opening time is 09:00 am - 16:00 pm.
- The most important festival is held over two or three days from the full moon (15th day) of the fifth lunar month, the main events here elaborate ritual ceremonies and cham dancing in front of Utse.
- Chim-puk Hermitage is a warren of 108 caves which was once a meditation retreat for Guru Rinpoche. It is located 15 kilometers northeast of Samye Monastery, you can make a combined trip here with Samye in one day.
- It’s also the endpoint of the class trek route from Ganden to Samye. You will see lakes, beautiful alpine forests, and meadows, as well as two centers of Tibetan religious culture in this trek. The best time for this trek is from mid-May to end-September.