Introducing the Lama Temple (Yong He Gong)
Yonghegong, popularly known as the Lama Temple, is located in the northeast part of Beijing. To its west is the famous Confucius Temple and Imperial Academy. The Lama Temple is the largest and best-preserved lamasery in Beijing which is 480 meters long and 120 meters wide, with a total area of 66,000 square meters. It is also a well-known monastery of the Gelugpa, the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism in mainland China.
The Lama Temple was originally a palatial
residence built in 1694 by Qing Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) for his fourth son,
Prince Yongzheng (1678-1735), who later succeeded the throne. After the death
of his father, Emperor Yongzheng moved to the Forbidden City and converted half
of his former residence into a temple for the monks of Yellow sect, and the
other half served as a temporary palace for him. In 1735, Emperor Yongzheng
died and then his son Qianlong (1711-1799) succeeded the throne. He put his
father’s coffin here for more than one year before moving it to the Western
Qing Tombs, the burial ground of the emperors in the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911).
He also upgraded Yonghegong to the status of an
Today, there are rich collections of cultural relics which are preserved in the Lama Temple, especially those related to Tibetan Buddhism. For instance, there is a large number of vividly sculptured Buddhist images of various sizes, each different in posture and expression; a large collection of Tibetan-style paintings known as Tangka paintings; delicate frescoes, scriptures and religious instruments; the inscriptions and calligraphic works on the stele and boards, and Buddhist scriptures in the languages of Manchu, Tibetan, Han, Mongolian and Sanskrit, all of which being of very high cultural and historical value for the Chinese people.
Presently, there are nearly 100 lamas in the Lama Temple and most of them are Mongolians, Tibetans and people from Qinghai province. Daily traditional religious ceremonies and activities in the Lama Temple are undertaken strictly according to the regulation and disciplines of Tibetan Buddhism. When people visit the Lama Temple, please pay attention to the belt that the lamas have, because the color of it reflects the rank of them. Lamas in red belts are the lowest rank of lamas in the Temple, while lamas with yellow belts are higher rank of lamas. If people see a lama in orange belt, he is probably the head lama in the Lama Temple.
The Lama Temple mainly consists of seven courtyards from south to north, including three well-decorated elegant archways and six main structure buildings lying along the north-south central axis, with annex halls standing on both sides. The six main buildings are: the Gate of Harmony and Peace (Yonghemen), the Hall of Harmony and Peace (Yonghegong Dian), the Hall of Eternal Blessings (Yongyoudian), the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (Falundian), the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness (Wanfuge) and the Pavilion of Peaceful Accomplishment (Suichengge). In addition, there are also four buildings on both sides called “the Four Academic Halls” (Sixuedian).
From south to north, the courtyards along the central axis are progressively reduced in size, while the buildings in each courtyard rise progressively higher, giving people an enigmatic impression of unfathomable infinite height and depth. In the Lama Temple, people can really experience traditional Chinese architecture with a special emphasis on the architectural style of Tibetan Buddhism. The architecture of the overall layout, the unique decorative designs and colors all show a special combination of the architectural styles of the Ming and Qing dynasties blended with the culture of the Han and Tibetan people. It really combines the palace architectural style and temple buildings with the architectural features of the Manchu, Han, Mongolian and Tibetan people into one style. People can also find this feature in the Hall of the Wheel of the Law and the Ten Thousand Happiness Pavilion. The Hall of the Wheel of the Law has five dormer windows in the roof and five gilded pinnacles, which reflect the rich characteristics of the temples of Tibetan Buddhism and the architecture of the Tibetan people. The Ten Thousand Happiness Pavilion has “overhead passages” on either side of the second floor, which is typical of the building style of the Liao and Jin Dynasties. Very few of these kinds of structures are still in existence today. They are rare architectural masterpieces.