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Tibetan Buddhist architecture

By Devik Balami at
Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

Tibetan architecture is highly influenced by the architectural designs of the neighboring country- Nepal, China, and India. There are lots of similarities in the designs and even structures. For examples- stupas (chorten in the Tibetan language), monasteries, etc. Even the Buddhist arts along with the Buddhist architecture are very much influenced by these countries. But the good thing is the architectural structures and Buddhist arts were localized according to their cultures. The localized aspect of architectural structures are flat roofs-to conserve heat, multiple windows- to let the sunlight into the rooms, and walls- sloped inward at 10 degrees.

Some of the Tibetan Buddhist architectures

Buddhist Temples

Amongst the many different Buddhist temples located in Tibet, Jokhang and Ramoche Temple constructed in the period of Songtsan Gampo, are the sacred Buddhist temple till date. He dedicated these temple to the Buddha statues that his two wives, a Chinese princess, and a Nepalese princess, brought as a dowry.

Jokhang: Originally, the Jokhang temple had eight rooms on two floors which houses Buddhist scriptures and Images of Buddhas. The floors were decorated with bricks while doors, columns, frames were made up of wood with unique decorations and designs. Due to religious conflict and changes in dynastic rule, the temple was heavily affected but during the Ming dynasty, many improvements were made to the temple. The floors were added along with the annex buildings. The temple faces west direction towards Nepal. The temple is decorated with Buddhist arts- murals, statues of Buddha and other deities. Basically, this temple has the architectural features of Tibetan Buddhist style along with the influences from China, India, and Nepal.

Ramoche: This temple is designed with simplistic lines. The exterior walls of this temple contain loose rubble which is resistible to the earthquakes. The windows of the Ramoche Temple consisted of long wooden latticework. This latticework was sealed with translucent paper. They were insulated by white cotton drapes bordered in blue. The open porches were covered by tent materials woven from yak hair to keep the cold out.

Chortens/ Stupas

Another unique Buddhist architecture design is the stupa. It is also called chorten in the Tibetan language. The design of this chorten varies according to the interest. Some of the chorten are roundish while others have squarish and four-sided walls. While constructing the stupa, the people may put relics of venerated monks or other precious items. Stupas in Tibet can be categorized into eight types according to the architectural designs. These stupas are related with the life events of the Buddha- from birth till he got the enlightenment.

Monasteries

The monasteries in Tibet serves as the educational hub with the motive to practice Tibetan Buddhism and to spread the teaching of Buddha. The first ever monastery established in Tibet is Samye. This monastery is based on the Tibetan architecture with an Indian influence. Other notable monasteries of Tibet are Drolma Lhakhang, Sakya, and Jyekundo.

Caves

In the earlier times, the caves were used as monasteries. This is mainly because like hermits, the monks would like to be isolated and practice the meditation. These caves were constructed by the sculptors because the raw material- clay and rocks- were used. In the caves, the columns are constructed with these raw materials with provides support to hold the upper mass. In deep caves, the assembly halls are constructed in the deep cavern whereas the place for the monk to rest is constructed on the outer surface similar to waterfall formation. The deep caves can be found in the isolated valleys of Zanskar. These cave monasteries can also be seen at the Mustang of Nepal.