Songzanlin Monastery

Gedan Songzanlin Monastery, also called Guihua Monastery, is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan province. It is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from the seat of Shangri-La County. Construction began in 1679 and was completed in 1681. During the monasteries golden age over 3,000 monks lived and studied there.

Built along the mountains with a magnificent facade, the monastery is a faithful imitation of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Covering an area of 33 hectares (82 acres), the monastery has solid walls and five gates. Two main lamaseries, Zhacang and Jikang, command the highest position in the architectural complex. As one of the largest lamaseries in the Kangzang (tri-province area of Tibet, Sichuan, and Yunnan) region, they are both Tibetan-style watchtowers and are surrounded by eight sub-lamaseries and the dormitories or the lamas.

Songzanlin Monastery Songzanlin Monastery
Main building of the Songzanlin Monastery Seen from Songzanlin Monastery.

A five-story Tibetan-style building serves as the main hall of the monastery. Seen from the distance, the gilded copper stupa and tiles at the top of the structure seem to shine eternally in the plateau sunlight. The lower tier of this structure is supported by 108 giant pillars, a lucky number to Buddhists. The 16 colorful pictures hanging in the hall are said to have been painted by renowned lamas with a special golden liquid given by the Fifth Dalai Lama to the monastery. Lighted by numerous butter-oil lamps, the hall could hold 1,600 lamas sitting in meditation or chanting Buddhist scriptures.

The monastery contains many treasures. The most famous of these are eight gold-covered sculptures of Sakyamuni, fashioned between the time of the Fifth and Seventh Dalai Lamas. In the early Qing Dynasty the Mu Family (rulers of Lijiang) presented the monastery with dozens of bronze sculptures, the Ganzur scriptures hand-written in liquid gold, scriptures written on pattra leaves, gold lamps, and many exquisite gilded silver incense burners. Much of these relics still remain for viewing today.

Songzanlin Monastery Songzanlin Monastery
Overview of the Songzanlin Monastery Songzanlin Monastery is surrounded by village and forest.

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