Potala Palace

Sanne D

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The Glorious Winter Palace

The magnificent palace of Tibet stands proud on the Red Hill of Central Lhasa. It's been standing there since the start of its construction in 1645. Complete with over a thousand rooms, the elegant building has seen many turns in history through its time. During 1959 the government used this symbolic building as a defense fortress. The Tibetan uprising caused them to flee to the palace for cover, where it was then hit by Chinese shells. Fortunately,repairs were made, and it has been continuously updated to assure it's stability while keeping the powerful old school charm. The Potala Palace stands as a long lasting religious influence. Built with intricate precision, it contains 8 gold plated stupas, each holding the salt dried body of a past Dalai Llama. All the Dalai Llamas from the 5th to the 13th are inside the stupas, save for the 6th, who mysteriously disappeared. 4 of these stupas are situated in the upper level of the palace, with the other 4 are in the bottom part.
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Potala Palace, located in the bustling city of Lhasa, Tibet, looms above the city. As well as being the second most populated area in Tibet, it's one of the highest cities on Earth, at a towering altitude of 11,450 feet. Lhasa, meaning "Land of Gods" is known for being a proud landmark of Tibetan Buddhism. The beautiful and historic settlement is tucked away in a flat river bed, bordered by colossal mountain ranges known as the Himalayas. With a dense population of 500,000, Lhasa remains the same ancient city it has always been, with a touch of modern additions.


Om Mani Padme Hum - Original Extended Version.wmv by manishpilani
Above: A Tibetan Buddhist song known as Om Mani Padme Hum
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(Above: citizens swarm outside the Potala Palace demanding independence and refuge)

The history of the Potala Palace is practically as complex as the building itself. Allow us to start from the beginning. The year is 1645 and the 5th Great Dalai Llama decides to build the palace as a gift for Princess Wen Cheng. Built upon the ruins of a palace created in 637, known as the White or Red Palace, the palace is like a phoenix rising from the ashes. In fact, 2 chapels remain from the original structure. These 2 chapels are the Phakpa Lhakhand and Chogyel Drupuk. These relics of the old building add to the historic/modern blend that makes the palace so fascinating.

1645 comes around and after the insight of one of his spiritual advisers, The Great Fifth Dalai Llama begins the construction of Potala Palace. It takes three years to complete the external structure of the palace, complete with copper poured into the foundation making the building earthquake proof. While the framework of the Potala Palace was fairly quick, the interior will take 45 years to complete. Four and a half decades of work pay off well however, the 13 story structure contains 10,000 shrines and 200,000 symbolic statues. A true religious masterpiece of the red mountain, so many years in the making is finally complete. And it has remained the winter palace of the Dalai Llama for the past 7 centuries.
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Above: The Great Fifth Dalai Lama

Religious Importance

Potala Palace is a proud symbol of Tibetan Buddhism, a constant reminder of religious symbolism in Tibet. The Potala Palace incorporates unaltered historical relics as well as symbolic build. The temple itself shows values of Buddha. For example, the skilled artistry and devotion required for the building of such a priceless structure. This stands as living proof of the dedication to Tibetan architecture and fidelity to the Gods.

In addition to the grueling labor, the amount of money put toward this temple shows the endless dedication to worship. It's a reminder of the importance of theocratic architecture in Tibet. Such extravagance and wealth put toward a building of religion shows how important Buddhism is to the people of Tibet. Though the original purpose of the palace was not for Buddhism, its conversion demanded a large amount of diligence and money, as it is now filled with statues, religious texts, and time old artifacts.

The Potala Palace can be seen as many things, a defensive fortress proving the strength of Tibet, a religious throne and a symbol of the country. All these are correct, the palace is proof of many things. One of these is the struggle for religious purity, as one of the large parts of Buddhism is purification. The interior of the palace is quite a remarkable place, as it holds so many religious influences and stories. It's altitude is intentional as well, as it overlooks Tibet, like a watchful God, as it was once made this way so the government could watch its people.
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Above: the view from the Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is undoubtedly one of the most influential religious symbols in existence and is so, so important to those who practice Buddhism. The palace is such a vital part of the religion, as it holds thousands, millions, of years of stories of the religion and its people.

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Above: Monks in practice

Guidelines of the Palace

For those who wish to visit the palace, it is important to know the guidelines, as it is a strongly religious relic and one would not want to cause disrespect.

1. No water or other liquids are allowed, but water is sold on the hilltop.

2. Do not wear a hat or sunglasses inside the palace.

3. Do not step on the doorsil.

4. There is no smoking permitted in the halls.

5. No photography is allowed inside the palace, although exterior photos are okay.

6. This isn't as much a rule as a reminder: there is only one bathroom inside the palace.


Though the construction of the palace was already touched on history, I find it important to designate it its own section so we can go in depth on the creation, for it's quite an interesting tale. The building itself is constructed of rammed earth, palace remains and stones. It took seven thousand craftsmen to erect such a fantastic monument, working tirelessly day and night. Han and Manchu gave their one hundred and fourteen most skilled craftsmen to help in the building, and Nepal joined in as well to help. In total the palace cost 66,154 kilograms of gold to create. The building itself is 12,139 inches high, and is built at an equally stunning elevation of 12,100 feet. Today the palace is still the "most intact ancient castle-style complex located on the highest altitude."

Works Cited

“The Great Fifth Dalai Lama.” Dharmapala Thangka Centre. School of Thangka Painting, n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <http://www.thangka.de/Gallery-3/Misc/12-35/Dalai5th-7.htm>. The Great 5th Dalai Lama

“No Ball Caps in Heaven.” Steve’s Bible Meditations. Steve, n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. no hats allowed in the palace

“No sunglasses sign.” Shuttershock. MaluStudio, n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <http://www.shutterstock.com/s/tabu/search-vectors.html?page=1&inline=282609479>. No sunglasses in the temple

“Potala Palace22.” Wikimedia. Wikimedia Commons, 19 Oct. 2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Potala_palace22.jpg>. Gold stupas leading to the palace

“The Potala Winter Palace of Dalai Llama.” Arounddeglobe. Inspium, 25 Oct. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2016. <http://arounddeglobe.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/the_potala_palace.jpg>. An image of the winter palace.

“Purification of Body, Speech and Mind.” Buddha Weekly. Buddha Weekly, 2007. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <http://buddhaweekly.com/the-psychology-of-buddhist-prostrations-the-humble-bow-a-meaningful-method-to-connect-with-buddha-nature/>. Monks in practice

“Tibet- Potala Palace.” Mundo Afora. Denise, 6 Oct. 2015. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <http://denise-mundoafora.blogspot.com/2015/10/tibet-potala-palace.html>. Stupa of the 13th Dalai Lama

“Unknown.” Tibet Tours. Tibetan International Travels and Tours, n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <http://www.tibettours.travel/tibet/tour/everest-base-camp-tour.html>. The view from the Potala Palace

“The Winter Palace.” Sonya and Travis. Sonya, 2 June 2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. Visitors walking past a cluster of stupas

“’Women Struggling for Human Rights.’” Save Tibet. Unknown, 12 Dec. 2014. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. Tibetan women protest outside the Palace

“The year 2016 may be the year an old age is debunked.” Journal Scene. Debbie Merlo, 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <http://www.journalscene.com/article/20160111/SJ01/160119985/1059>. No smoking in the palace