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Gonchen Monastery

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Gonchen Monastery Introduction

Located in the town of Dege (Sichuan), Gonchen Monastery is an ancestral monastery for Sakya sect in the region of Kham. The predecessor of this monastery was a scripture hall founded by Thang Tong Gyalpo (or Tangton Gyelpo) in 1448, who was a famous monk of Kargyu. Later, it was named as “Thang Gya Scripture Hall” after Thang Tong Gyalpo. Nowadays, the scripture hall is still located in Sigenlong Lane, behind the County Tourism Administration, attended by countless worshippers. In the 17th century, during the times of the 6th Headman of Dege, Ga Masong spared no manpower and material resources to construct a grand main monastery of Gonchen. After the 7th and 8th Headman’s effort, Gonchen Monastery has been completed. And the 7th Headman, Xiangba Pengcuo, held the post of the first Dharmaraja. In Qing Dynasty (Yong Zheng period), the 12th Headman Tenpa Tsering campaigned large-scale construction for decades. Then, magnificent and famous Derge Sutra Printing House was built to the west of main shrine and managed by monks in Gonchen Monastery. Up to now, the whole complex covers an area of hundreds of acres, with main shrine alternating and living rooms in the east of Sutra Printing House and Thang Gya Sutra Hall in the west.

Gonchen Monastery

Since 1448, Gonchen Monastery has been serving as the family temple of Derge Headman’s clan. It was directly controlled by the Headman and played an important role in aiding the political and religious govern of Derge family. According to family’s stipulations, no Rinpoche is appointed in Gonchen Monastery and the power of leadership is hereditary within the family. The firstborn son takes the host seat of Gonchen Monastery, wield the power of religion; the second son inherits the positon of Derge Headman, wield the power of politics. If there is only one son, then he will take both religious and political powers. During the reign of Tenpa Tsering, 12th Derge Headman, his family added five more holy monasteries but still honored Gonchen Monastery as their family temple. They continued bolstering and controlling Gonchen Monastery, offering it the highest privileges in the realm of land, commerce, weapon, politics, etc.

Gonchen Monastery

From the early Qing Dynasty to the Republican period, plenty of domestic and overseas religion scholars gathered at Gonchen Monastery, hugely pushing its development in fields like Tibetan drawings, music, Tibetan opera, sculpture, woodcut, architecture, printing, Tibetan medicine, etc. Meanwhile, academic researches and exchanges helped promote the Tibetan cultural progress in Derge, and exerted an unneglectable importance on shaping the unique religion characteristics here. In early Qing Dynasty, Cicheng Zhuqing, a Grand Lama, made great contributions to the engraving and proofread when publishing Bstanvgyur (Buddhist Sutra). Every year, Gonchen Monastery frequently organizes Dance to God, which has a long-standing effect in promoting the derivation of music, dance, and the talking-singing arts in the area of Derge. Under the influence of, Tongdong Gyibo (founder of Tibetan Opera), Derge Tibetan Opera came into an stream during late Ming and early Qing dynasties. After incessant evolution and development, the traditional Tibetan opera in Gonchen Monastery exemplifies the unique style of Derge. When days fall on early July in Tibetan calendar, traditional Tibetan opera will be staged in Gonchen Monastery.

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