Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery - J.H. Wittke


The Drepung ("Heap of Rice") Monastery (left) was founded in 1416 by Jamyang Choje, a disciple of Tsongkhapa. It had housed about 10,000 monks before the Chinese occupation, but now there are fewer than 500. There had been four colleges of study, but only two remain after the destruction wrought by the Red Guards in 1966. Ganden Palace at the Drepung was built in 1530 by the Second Dalai Lama and had been the residence of subsequent Dalai Lamas until the Great Fifth built the Potala.

Monks at Drepung Monastery - J.H. Wittke Main Assembly Hall at Drepung Monastery - J.H. Wittke

A gigantic pile of cut wood sits near monastery kitchen and the Main Assembly Hall (above). In this wood-poor country, some pilgrims bring wood as an offering. The Drepung Monastery was damaged by Chinese troops during the Tibetan Revolt, and has been largely rebuilt.

The kitchen is a fantastic almost subterranean place; the walls and most surfaces are black with soot – the only illumination comes from a few bare bulbs hanging from the high ceiling. A yak skin, with the hair still attached, enfolds a great mass of butter. Shiny brass and copper pots, scoops, and ladles hang from the walls, reflecting the feeble glare of the lights. Butter tea is being heated in two immense caldrons built into the tops of stone ovens, which fill the center of the room. The cook stirs the brew with a meter-long paddle attached to a power drill.

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