Jokhang Temple

Jokhang Temple - J.H. Wittke

The Jokhang (right), which is Tibetan for "House of the Lord," faces west towards Chokpori Hill. It is the holiest site in Tibetan Buddhism, housing the Jowo Buddha (below left). Construction was started by Songtsen Gampo in the mid-7th century with founding dates proposed ranging from 639 to 647. The Jokhang underwent a long series of additions and reconstruction in subsequent years, but the present temple is largely the product of the construction by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama in the seventeenth century, who greatly enlarged the building.

During the Cultural Revolution, hundreds of thousands of young Chinese responded to Mao Zedong's call to eradicate the "Four Olds" (old thinking, old culture, old habits, and old customs). Tibet exemplified the Four Olds to the Red Guards and, on 6 August 1966, they attacked and sacked the Jokhang and Ramoche temples. Of the hundreds of chapels in the Jokhang, only two were spared. The one containing the Jowo Sakyamuni was not desecrated because the statue was viewed as evidence of a link between China and Tibet, having been brought to Lhasa by the Chinese princess Wen Cheng. Part of the Jokhang was turned into a barracks and exiled monks reported that the troops urinated on the walls. Its inner sanctuary was used as a pigsty and another part was used to butcher animals, an activity anathema to Buddhists, who view all life as sacred.

Jowo Buddha


The Jokhang is built over a lake and several legends attempt to explain the selection of such an unusual location. In one, Princess Wen Cheng chose Lake Wothang just to be contrary; presumably she was not happy being married off to a barbarian king and having to leave China. In another tale, Songtsen Gampo tossed a ring from his finger and promised to build the temple wherever it fell. When the ring landed in the lake, a stupa appeared magically and the Jokhang was constructed on this auspicious site. The stupa is said to be still beneath the temple. A stupa inside the building is considered the "upper" stupa. Murals near the entrance to the Inner Sanctum show the episode with lake, ring and stupa, and subsequent construction of the Jokhang. Goats helped fill the lake by carrying earth on their backs, as shown in the mural. Indeed, one explanation for the the name Lhasa is that it evolved from the word Rasa, with "ra" in Tibetan meaning "goat."

Golden Wheel above the Entrance of the Jokhang Temple - J.H. Wittke


Unlike inside the Potala, many Tibetans wander the market in the square and stroll along the Barkhor pilgrims' route that encircles the Jokhang. About twenty pilgrims are prostrating outside the front entrance, over which is a golden eight-spoked chakrar "Dharma Wheel," flanked by two deer (right). The spokes of the wheel represent the Noble Eight-fold Path and the deer are a reminder that Gautama Buddha, upon his Enlightenment, gave his first sermon in a deer park. Fewer people are inside the Jokhang temple, certainly not a crowd, but at least access to the temple does not seem to be restricted by the Chinese.

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