The Potala Palace, an ancient Palace, which is situated atop the Red Hill of Central Lhasa in Tibet. It has been the primary winter residence of the Dalai Lama since 7th century & was in use till 1959 when the 14th Dalai Lama decided to migrate into India during the Tibetan revolt.
This splendid palace signifies the Tibetan Buddhism & is considered as the greatest manifestation of Tibetan architecture. This palace now serves as a museum that houses the finest Tibetan artwork, including rich Tibetan style wall paintings & various other precious artifacts. The palace has been declared as ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’.
The Potala Palace is nestled upon the Red Hill, which is known as ‘Marpo Ri’ hill in local language, at a staggering altitude of 3768 m (12,360 ft) amidst Lhasa Valley & is considered as the highest altitude placed palace in the world.
This massive palace, which consists of elegant red & white colored buildings fortified by stern walls & doors, gets integrated harmoniously with the stunning landscape of sky-tapering Himalayan Mountains those rises from behind this picturesque palace.
History in Brief:-
The history of the Potala goes back to the 7th century, when the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built a 9-storey high palace housing 1000 rooms atop the Red Hill to hail his bride Wen Cheng of the Chinese Tang dynasty. However, with the fall of Songtsen Gampo dynasty, the ancient palace also got annihilated due to the frequent invasions.
The modern Potala Palace was constructed by Lozang Gyatso, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama. The construction began in 1645 & within three years of time, the external structure was accomplished. However, its regal interior took 45 years to complete. Dalai Lama started using this ‘Portang Karpo’ (The White Palace) as their winter residence post its construction, whereas, the other palace ‘Portang Marpo’(The Red Palace) was added to it later on between 1690 & 1694.
As per the legend, the palace derived its name from a hill in the southern part of India, which was considered to be an ‘abode of the Bodhisatva’ (Buddha of compassion) which was also known as ‘Avalokiteshvara’ in Sanskrit or as ‘Chenrezi’. However, local Tibetans, more often than not, address this place as ‘Tse Potala’ (Peak Potala) or just as ‘Tse’ (The Peak).
The Potala Palace is composed of two distinct palaces- ‘Portang Marpo’ (The Red palace) situated at the center of the structure & ‘Portang Karpo’ (The White Palace) situated around the Red Palace in the form of two wings.
The entire Palace consists of a gigantic structure spread across 400 meters east-west & 350 meters north-south occupying more than 130,000 sq. meters of area internally. The palace is fortified by massive 3 meters thick inward-sloping stone walls, which are flanked by array of windows in the upper part & flat roofs at different levels. The walls are 5 meters thick at the base & are strengthened by pouring copper into the foundations in order to survive in the earthquakes.
The Palace conjures the onlookers by its colossal appearance as this 13-storey tall monument houses more than 1000 rooms & 10,000 shrines along with astonishing 200,000 statues. The Palace rises 117 meters above the ‘Red Hill’ which can be scaled from the base by climbing up the series of relatively easier staircase intervened by spacing of generous ascent. The whole structure looks very impregnable as it is enclosed by walls & stern gates.
The Red Palace: –
The Red Palace (Portang Marpo) consists of a central part of this monument which received its name from its iconic crimson color that generates spectacular contrast effect with the white background of snow clad Himalayan peaks. This place is completely dedicated to the religious activities & studies. The Palace houses myriad halls, temples, libraries & shrines of the past Dalai Lamas, which are intricately structured at various levels in the palace.
The ‘Great West Hall’ is the real treasury of the Red Palace which occupies 725 sq. meters of area & contains a vast collection of amazing murals & paintings most of which depicts the events in the life of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The ‘Great West Hall’ is surrounded by four splendid chapels situated along the four corners- north, south, west & east respectively. The Dharma cave, the saint’s chapel & the tomb of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama are also among the places that one should not miss. Most of the stupas & other buildings in Red Palace boast richly gilded roofs & canopies.
The White Palace:-
The White Palace (Portang Karpo) was used as an administration building by the Tibetan government for several years. It also hosts quarters for Dalai Lama & other regents. This Palace contains The ‘Great East Hall’ with the throne of the Dalai Lama. The fifth & sixth floors are used as quarters & offices of regents, whereas, the top floor was dedicated to the Dalai Lama.
The palace contains the glorious bounty of finest of Tibetan arts in abundance. It has a rich collection of 698 murals, more than 10,000 paintings, sculptures, special Tibetan carpets, gold & silver artifacts, historical documents as well as innumerable Sutras.
The Potala Palace is one of the most amazing architecture in the world. Moreover, its extensive collection of ancient relics makes it the best place to study the Buddhist religion. The glorious design, the amazing architecture, the rich culture & the serene landscape make it a sheer gem of monuments & a ‘must-visit’ place, not only in Tibet but also in the whole world!