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Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery is one of the "great six" Gelukpa university (yellow sect of Lamaism) monasteries of Tibet. It is located on the Gambo Utse Mountain, about 10km from the western part of Lhasa. Covering an area of 250,000 square meters, Drepung Monastery is the largest of its kind in Tibet. It was once the world's largest monastery before the founding of the People's Republic of China, having more than 10,000 monks. Seen from afar, its grand, white construction gives the monastery the appearance of a heap of rice. As such, it was given the name "Drepung Monastery" which in Tibetan language means "Monastery of Collecting Rice".

History
Drepung Monastery was founded in 1416 by Tsongkapa's disciple Jamyang Choeje. It was the home of the Dalai Lamas throughout the ages. In 1530, when the Second Dalai Lama made Ganden Palace his main residence, Drepung monastery became not only the primary residence of the Dalai Lama but also the political base for the Gelug monastic sect. As a result, the tombs of the Second to Fourth Dalai Lamas are at Drepung Monastery. From 1645, when the Fifth Dalai Lama established the Potala Palace as Tibet's political and spiritual headquarters, the bodies of later Dalai Lamas were entombed here instead.

Academic Systems
The organizational hierarchy of the monastery is rather complex. It mainly consists of Coqen, Zhacang, Kamcun, and Myicun. Coqen is in the highest position, to which Zhacang belongs. Kamcun is under the jurisdiction of Zhacang, with the Myicun as its subordinate. Monks belonging to respective Zhacangs cannot interblend with each other.

Drepung Monastery was known for its high standards in academic study, and was called the "Nalanda of Tibet". The education system in Zhacangs is set up such that, every year there are eight chances to study the sutra collectively, each time spanning from half a month to a month. Monks are tested before the Kampo in the method of reciting sutras and debating, and based on their performance; receive the degrees of different levels.

The monks residing at the monastery had eight opportunities to study the sutra together as a group each year. Each mini-course lasted from two weeks to two months. After attending the school for a time the monks had to appear before the head-monk to take tests. Their ability to recite the Buddhist scriptures and debate were two critical parts of the exam. If they passed, they would then receive a degree based on their performance.

Cultural Relics
The Drepung Monastery houses many cultural relics, making it more beautiful and giving it more historical significance. The most well known feature of the monastery is its large white pagodas. Statues of famous celebrities in Buddhism are found on the first story of the Coqen Hall, rare sutras on the second story, and a famous conch shell on the third one. All of these add to the mystique of the monastery. In addition to these relics, there are exquisite statues of Tsong Khapa and famous Buddhist leaders and gods, as well as flowery wall-murals which portray the unique artistic style.

Pilgrimage
Every day, there are many Buddhists make pilgrimage to Drepung Monastery. This is considered as a special scene by tourists. The pilgrim's circuit of Drepung Monastery generally runs through these sites:

1. Ganden Podrang (Ganden Palace)
2. Tsokchen (Assembly Hall)
3. Ngakpa Tratsang (College of Tantric Studies)
4. Jamyang Drubpuk (Jamyang Choeje's meditation cave)
5. Loseling Tratsang (College of Dialectics)
6. Tashi Gomang Tratsang

Best Travel Time
The monastery is open all year round but August is a great time to visit because of the Shoton Festival that usually takes place then.

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