Sakya Monastery and its impressive art treasures

ethnic china

Sakya Monastery and its impressive art treasures

Sakya Monastery is located 165 kilometers west of Shigatse, on the road to Tingri, and is a must-see for all travelers who can spare a little time to explore central Tibet, as well as those who end (or begin their journey) in Nepal.

Sakya Monastery is one of the most famous monasteries in Tibet, one of the oldest and most spectacular, a visit is highly recommended. It has been the protagonist of some of the highlights of the history of Tibet, and the main center of political power for several centuries, especially during the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Originally it consisted of two monasteries, one founded in 1073 on the mountain to the north, where the Sakya sect of Buddhism originated, of which today only a couple of original halls remain among the ruins, and another in the valley to the south, built in 1288 by Pagba, perhaps the most prominent of the political and religious leaders of this school, much better preserved.

Pagba

Pagba is one of the most important historical figures in Tibet. He had an interesting relationship with Kublai Khan. He ended the Mongol attacks by bringing Tibet under the Mongol sphere of influence, in return he received authority over Buddhist affairs throughout the empire, and the political administration of the Tibetan regions. Pagba also united the Mongol scripts into what is known as the Pagba alphabet. From that time Sakya Monastery became the political and religious center of Tibet, serving as the capital of the country from 1268 to 1354.

The Sakya Monastery has a square plan with about 210 meters on each side. Its structure is like that of a castle, protected by two walls, the inner one 8 meters high and 3 meters wide at its base, with watchtowers at the 4 cardinal points and other defensive details such as battlements and forts. There is only one gate that crosses the walls, behind it there is an esplanade and the temple itself.

Its walls are dark red, characteristic of this sect. Its entrance is protected by two giant statues of Acala and Hayagriva. Behind them a corridor leads to the inner courtyard, behind which is, on the left a chapel with statues of Manjusri and Sakyamuni, on the right a silver funerary stupa and behind it a smaller one with funerary stupas of Sakya masters.

In front is the Assembly Hall, a huge hall 83 meters long, 68 meters wide (5770 m2) and 16 meters high. It is supported by 40 pillars made of cypress trunks, the central ones being 1.5 m in diameter. Inside is a large Buddha statue containing the relics of Shakya Zangpo, who initiated the construction of the temple. Another Buddha contains the relics of Sakya Pavadita and other relics of other illustrious masters of this sect. In addition there are statues of Pagba, Padmasambhava and other masters.

Treasury of paintings

This is the only room that was not destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and it is fortunate because on its walls is preserved what is possibly the greatest treasure of Tibetan painting, so much so that some scholars have called it the Dunhuang of Tibet.  Some frescoes remain in their original state, as they were painted in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and others have been restored recently. In total it is estimated that it has 10,000 m2 of murals, highlighting its original representations of mandalas, scenes from the life of the main abbots and the original paintings of the state, through which the spirit passes after death before reincarnating again in another person. It also preserves some 40 ancient tankas and numerous art objects.

The library

Another of the great cultural treasures of this monastery is the library, which unfortunately cannot be enjoyed by travelers. It has a magnificent collection of more than 40,000 Buddhist documents. These are books written on different materials and formats, from the patra sheets used in India to the typical Chinese scrolls and the folding rectangular books common in Tibet. Their subject matter is also varied, and although religious subjects predominate, some deal with history, medicine, astronomy, philosophy and folklore.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "Sakya Monastery and its impressive art treasures," in Ethnic China, 21 febrero 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/sakya-monastery-and-its-impressive-art-treasures/.

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