The Kumbum

 Gyantse Kumbum, Gyantse, Lhasa to Shigatse, Palkhor monastery

This spectacular stupa temple, whose name means “ place of a thousand images”, was the centerpiece of Palkhor Chode Monastery and the pride of Gyantse. A new road on the west edge of Gyantse leads straight to it.

The great pagoda has a massive base consisting of four tiers of interlocking, multi-faceted chapels. Above, a tall cylindrical section corresponds to the more common dome of most stupas and contains four large chapels. Over this rises a shaft with all-seeing eyes on its four sides in typical Nepalese style, plus a gilded tower with 13 rings, a parasol of filigreed metal and, at the top, a series of gold finials.

The Kumbum is the finest example of 15th-century Newari art extant in the world. The newar people of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, especially their fresco painters were honoured and much sought after as artists in Tibet.

On the lowest floor, four lofty chapels with restorations of indifferent quality mark the cardinal points. Sixteen smaller chapels, squeezed between them at sharp angles, provide many examples of the superior Newari art. Each of these chapels contains one dominant sculptured figure and elaborate, thematic murals. Those dedicated to sublime deities like Tara are beautiful. Others are awesome. A few display cruelty and terror. Pilgrims progress through them all, ascending clockwise through the different levels of the stupa to the top in a symbolic journey upwards to Nirvana.

 

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