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Drak Yerpa: a Buddhist Pilgrimage site in Tibet

By Devik Balami at
Drak Yerpa a Buddhist Pilgrimage site in Tibet

Brief introduction of Drak Yerpa

Drak Yerpa, an ancient Buddhist pilgrimage site consists of the monastery and a number of ancient meditation caves. The other popular names for Drak Yerpa are Brag Yerpa, Druk Yerpa, Dagyeba, Dayerpa, and Trayerpa. This famous pilgrimage site is located on a hillside in Dagze County, Tibet. The Yerpa Valley is about 16 Km northeast of Lhasa on the northern bank of the Kyichu. The ancient meditation caves are further 10 Km far away in the limestone cliffs of the Yerpa Valley.

One can observe 108 meditation caves along with monastery in the valley of Yerpa. The first ever cave are of the Rigsum Gompo Cave and Temjl Drubpuk, the caves where Atisha meditated. We can find stone footprints of Yeshe Tsogyel and 5th Dalai Lama in the above-mentioned caves respectively.

The Jamkhang situated in the Yerpa houses an amazing 2-storey antique Buddha statue of Jampa. Towards the left, there is the statue of Chana Dorje and towards the right is the statue of Namse and Tamdrin. Another statue is of Atisha and towards the side of this statue is the statue of 5th Dalai Lama and Tsongkhapa.

The cave of Songtsen Gampo houses thousand-armed Chenrezig statue called Chaktong Chentong. In the right corner, there is the statue of Songtsen Gampo.

Early years in the Drak Yerpa

It is believed that the Drak Yerpa Temple was constructed with the order of Songtsen Gampo's Tibetan queen, Monza Triucham. It is believed that Songtsen Gampo, himself and his two queens were said to have meditated in the Peu Marsergyi Temple and in the Chogyel Puk. After completion of the meditation, they have discovered "self-originated" symbols of the Buddha-body, speech, and mind. There is a general belief that in the region of Yerpa, a shrine and a stupa were constructed resembling a seated image of the holy Tara which was dedicated to queen Monza Triucham and her son Gungri Gungsten.

Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava along with his yogini Yeshe Tsogyal also meditated and practiced tantric yoga in this sacred Buddhist site. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche has spent 7 months long in meditation in the "Dawa Puk", one of the meditation cave in Drak Yerpa. Hence, this cave is considered to be one of Guru Rinpoche's three most important places of attainment. After Guru Rinpoche, several of his disciples are also said to have meditated in the meditation caves. It is recorded that Atisha preached extensively in the valley and said to have ruins of Atisha in the Yerpa.

Later it was recorded that Klu-mes Tshul-khrims did the renovation in the 11th century.

Drak Yerpa during Gelug Control

After the reformation by Je Tsongkhapa, the Yerpa was controlled by Gelug sect. of Buddhism. During the later years, a political turmoil was seen in the valley of Yerpa as well. The initial turmoil was observed after the death of 4th Dalai Lama. The monks of the Gelug monasteries of Sera and Drepung were against the Tsangpa forces in Lhasa in 1618 CE. During this agitation, most of the monks were killed but those who survived took refuge in Taglung. Even Khonton Rinpoche tried to persuade the monks to avoid violence but was in vain. He later moved to Yerpa until the agitation was calmed down. At this time, it is recorded that Yerpa lost its wealth and was placed under the jurisdiction of Taklung Monastery.

Drak Yerpa in present context

In the earlier period of 19th century, Yerpa monastery was used as the residence for around 300 monks. The monastery was also used as a summer residence for the Gyuto Lhasa Tantric College. During the Cultural Revolution, the whole place was destroyed including the monastery and Tantric summer residence. Later with the help of volunteers and donations, some of the temples were partially restored. But police visited Yerpa and warned the people against taking part in counter-revolutionary activities. Again in 1998, the government also ordered to demolish the chapels that were built without authorization. Due to this turmoil, monks left Yerpa but later returned back even though they were strictly controlled.

At the present time, there is not seen a turmoil and lots of Buddhist followers along with tourist visits this place to pay homage to Buddha, enjoy natural beauties and observe Buddha statues.