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The Potala Palace: Residence of the Dalai Lamas in Tibet (In Tibetan)

Today’s The World Around Us will be presented in Tibetan, with subtitles in Arabic, Aulacese (Vietnamese), Chinese, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tibetan and Thai.

Greetings lovely viewers. Standing on the roof of the world, Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, one can seem to touch the clear sky and hear above the clouds. Here, nestled among snowy mountains, is an ancient, mystic edifice atop of the Red Mountain. This is the home of Dalai Lamas and the spiritual center of Tibetans: the Potala Palace.

The Potala Palace was first established in the 7th century by Songtsan Gampo, the king of Tubo Kingdom. He was a charming and brave man who unified the kingdom. Under his wise reign, Tubo Kingdom enjoyed a peaceful prosperity. To strengthen the country, King Songtsan Gampo wished to introduce the advanced culture and technologies from China.

Thus, he presented a marriage proposal to Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty. At the time, many neighboring kingdoms of China also wanted to establish a matrimonial relationship with China. So Emperor Taizong held a contest among a dozen of envoys to select a husband for his royal niece. In the end, the intelligent and courteous envoy sent by King Songtsan Gampo won the contest.

Therefore, in 641, Princess Wencheng from the Tang Dynasty was married to King Songtsan Gampo. She not only brought to Tibet advanced technologies, culture, medicine, a calendar, but most importantly, she introduced Buddhism to the Tibetans, as she was an ardent Buddhist.

For these contributions to Tibet, Princess Wencheng was revered as the incarnation of White Tara, the goddess of compassion, and King Songtsan Gampo as the incarnation of the Quan Yin Boddhisattva, or Avalokitesvara Boddhisattva. To greet his bride, King Songtsan Gampo ordered to construct a palace with 999 rooms on the Red Mountain; this was the first phase of the Potala Palace.

“Potala” means “the sacred place of Buddhism” or “residence of Avalokitesvara Boddhisattva.” The palace was called Potala, not only because it was once the residency of King Songtsan Gampo, but also because of the Tibetan people’s admiration of Avalokitesvara Boddhisattva.

In fact, according to legend, Tibetans are the descendants of a monkey sent by Avalokitesvara Boddhisattva to Tibet for spiritual training. The hill on which the Potala rests represents Avalokitesvara. The hill to the south represents the bodhisattva Vajrapani, and another hill represents the bodhisattva Manjushri. Together, they form the “Three Protectors of Tibet.”

In the 9th century, the palace built by King Songtsan Gampo was almost all lost to a fire caused by lightning. The current Potala Palace was built under the instruction of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso over the late 17th century. The 5th Dalai Lama moved to the palace in 1649. Since then, the vast Potala Palace has always been the political and spiritual center of Tibet, and the residency of Dalai Lamas.

Built at an altitude of 3,700 meters, the Potala Palace is the highest palace in the world. The palace itself is 117 meters high with 13 stories. The Potala Palace can be accessed through two long winding stairways in the front. They signify the long spiritual journey to contact Divinity. The stairway to the east gate, called “the Path of Perfection,” is for pilgrims, and the one to the west gate, called “the Path of Liberation,” is for monks.

The Potala Palace mainly consists of three colors: red, white and yellow. The red color represents stateliness and power, white stands for peace and kindness, and yellow is the color of the Gelug tradition of Buddhism, representing infinite blessings. Under the foundation on the slope of the mountain, there are hundreds of underground tunnels, which enable air to flow and circulate.

The whole construction does not use a steel frame core. The walls were built with stone, earth, and wood, ranging from two to five meters in thickness. The thick walls help the building stay cool in summer and retain heat in winter. Another clever design incorporated in the architecture of the Potala Palace is its lightning protection system.

Situated at the highest point of the building, the roofs and sutra pillars made of gold and brass are excellent conductors of electricity. Under the roofs, there are copper pipes which serve two functions: one is to bring rainwater down from the roofs, and the other is to give electricity a path to the ground.

Some parts of the walls are strengthened by molten copper, which also helps to transfer electricity. Indeed, the 5th Dalai Lama’s lightning strike prevention system provides well-rounded protection to the structures.

When we return, we will take a closer look at the Potala Palace in Tibet. Please stay tuned to Supreme Master Television.

Welcome back to The World Around Us on Supreme Master Television. Tibetan people regarded the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet as the most sacred place. Their reverence for the palace is reflected in the following folk song sung throughout the Tibetan plateau. The lyrics say:

“On the golden roof of the Potala, rises the golden sun It is not the golden sun, but the precious face of the Lama On the slopes of the Potala, starts the sound of the golden oboe It is not the sound of the golden oboe, but the voice of the Lama chanting At the foot of the Potala, multi-hued khatak (scarfs) are fluttering They are not multi-hued khatak (scarfs), but the robes of the Lama”

The Potala Palace complex mainly has two buildings, the White Palace and the Red Palace, which are distinguished by their color. The entire palace contains over 1,000 rooms and 10,000 chapels.

The White Palace is the administrative and living space of Dalai Lamas. The largest hall in the White Palace is the East Hall. It is where Dalai Lamas held their throne ascension ceremonies and other major celebrations.

On the roof of the White Palace are Chambers of Sunshine, named for the ample daylight they receive all day long. These are the sleeping rooms of Dalai Lamas. The one at the west belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama, and the east one belonged to the 14th Dalai Lama.

The only two remaining chapels from the 7th century, the Saint’s Chapel and the Dharma Cave, are also located in the White Palace. The Dharma Cave was said to be the place where King Songtsan Gampo studied the Buddhist scriptures and cultivated himself.

The Red Palace is mainly used for religious study and prayer. It contains halls and shrines dedicated to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It also features eight stupa shrines of the past Dalai Lamas. The most impressive stupa, which is richly covered with precious stones and gold, is to honor the 5th Dalai Lama.

The stupa of the 13th Dalai Lama is also splendid, containing jewels and gold. The Potala Palace contains 200,000 statues. These statues are of Buddhist or historical figures in the Tibetan style, which have vivid detail and vibrant colors. One of the most famous statues is the two-meter statue of the enlightened Master Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug lineage of the Dalai Lama tradition.

In the Dharma Cave are the precious statues of King Songtsan Gampo, Princess Wencheng, and Songtsan Gampo’s officials. The many treasures stored in the palace also include colorful murals covering a total area of 2,500 square meters. In the Great West Hall of the Red Palace, the fine murals portray the life story of the 5th Dalai Lama, including his trip to Beijing visiting Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty.

Other elaborate murals depict the life events of Dalai Lamas, religious stories, historical figures, mythology, and folklore. The 14th Dalai Lama, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, once recounted that when he got tired from studying, he would just sit there and hear the stories told by these great and exquisite murals.

The palace also preserves thousands of ancient scrolls, volumes of scriptures, crafts, gifts and treasures belonging to past Dalai Lamas. Some scriptures can be dated to more than 1,000 years ago. Some are written on leaves of pattra palm tree imported from India.

Some are written with different colors of inks made of the powder of gold, silver, iron, copper, or sapphire. As said by the 14th Dalai Lama, the Potala Palace is a place where one can never discover all its secrets even if he lives there for years.

Near the Potala Palace is a lake called the Dragon King Lake. It is said that to build the palace, much soil was taken from the foothill. The pure spring water started to come out from the Earth and eventually formed the lake. Later, the 6th Dalai Lama built a small temple on the island of the lake and dedicated it to the dragon goddess. With willow trees around, the lake is now a beautiful park for people to enjoy.

In 1994, the Potala Palace joined the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for its design, decoration, and harmonious setting within a dramatic landscape.

Today, during summer season, the Potala Palace welcomes 6,000 pilgrims and visitors from around the world every day. They pray and pay respect to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and in turn receive blessings. They sincerely wish for peace for all beings. May the holy Potala Palace be well preserved and continue to inspire sincere people in seeking ultimate enlightenment.

Kind viewers, thank you for joining us on The World Around Us. Please now stay tuned to Supreme Master Television for Words of Wisdom, after Noteworthy News. May all be blessed with Heaven’s infinite love.

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