Tholing Monastery

Nestled by the Sutlej River, Ali area of Tibet Autonomous Region, Tholing Monastery looked dusty and didn’t seem to have so many differences from a small temple just in terms of its appearance though, only people who really understand it know that beneath the rough and dusty exterior treasured up the peerless art rarity all over the whole Tibetan Plateau which is unique Tholing murals. Dating back to the Northern Song Dynasty when Tholing Monastery was originally built as the first Buddhist temple in Ali area, Tholing Monastery was design and constructed according to the Samye Monastery of Shannan area. “Tholing” refers to flying in the air and never fall down on the basis of Tibetan language. Due to Guge Dynasty’s vigorously advocating Buddhism, Tholing Monastery gradually became the center of Buddhism at that time. Till today, Tholing Monastery has been the precious materials for the study of local architecture, sculpture and painting since it had fused the architectural style of India, Nepal and local Tibet.

Standing in Sutlej Valley of Ali area, Tibet, Tholing Monastery is like a distressed and mighty cenotaph giving account of its miracles and fate once it owned to people who come up here. For hundreds of years, despite that Tholing Monastery has went through a variety of destructions either by nature or by human error, hall buildings of it still stands in great numbers and pagodas towers inside till today. A few halls among the ruins have already lost their magnificent looking of the past. This monastery was built by the second King of the Guge Kingdom in the year of 997 AD, which once owned a huge tower complex. Records have such description that Tholing Monastery is built according to the pattern of Samye Monastery. When the sun rises, sunlight shines in all the Buddha halls, making the halls resplendent and magnificent seen from all sides. Thereupon, this temple got its name as Tholing Monastery. When the founder of Tholing Monastery went to Samye Monastery make a pilgrimage, he once said in great pride: “the course my small kingdom did in border district is not inferior to the tremendous achievements of our ancestors dominating all Tibet.” 

In the history of Tholing Monastery, it has suffered from the civil war, fires and Ladakh invasion, being destroyed and repaired. From its outward appearance, it is similar to a small Lacan. From time to time there will be some buses stopped at the door, a number of visitors go down, stand at the gate, and extend their heads into it mumbled “what is worthy of watching in this dusty temple?” However, in the eyes of tourists who truly realize it, there hidden unique masterpieces of Tibet in Tholing Monastery under its rough exterior. At present, Tholing Monastery is not so much a temple, but it is more like a gallery instead, an ancient mural gallery that is priced at fifteen cities. Painted on murals are Buddha and Bodhisattvas sitting gracefully, around them are all gods of the three realms, six paths beings, dignity kings as well as submissive subjects…In spite of countless dangers and disasters it had been suffered, the surviving parts are still unbelievably pretty and precious.

In the following will we go into the darkness to see the treasure of this monastery - mural. You must be unable to imagine that all the paintings on the walls are actually born out of Buddhists. The perfect proportion together with the graceful profiling jointly created a “charming” graceful bearing. On the one hand, heavenly maidens and female deities embodied bright and moral appeal, possessing the spirit of religious persuasion while on the other hand they also took on certain lyricism and worldly temptations. Half naked body and full moon like face as well as graceful smile overflowed from slender eyes, even if sit cross-legged, these goddesses don’t give you a stylized sense of binding. Among the images of various Buddha and Bodhisattvas painted flower patterns and designs which combined all the portraits and let the entire mural looks like a tapestry with a very strong sense of decoration.

In some stores of Ngari area, you may see a great number of murals printed out directly as a commodity for sale. However, even if you know they are just cheap copies of those priceless murals, you still can’t stop keeping looking at them. As a matter of fact, the most magnificent Tholing murals are all preserved in the assembly hall and the white house. According to Tibetan historical data recorded the assembly hall and the white house were newly established in the 15th century and it was at the late period of Guge Dynasty, and the king had been converted to the Gelug sect. Therefore, it can be easily found out that these two new buildings are different from the early Tholing art. Over 200 years after the completion of Tholing Monastery, murals painted on the walls of different temples taken with the art aura of northern India, Afghanistan and Kashmir had been destroyed since the entry of the Islamic forces. Ali area under the protection of Guge Kingdom became a safe shelter for these precious murals. Even till today, in addition to Ngari Prefecture, you could hardly see such beautiful Buddhist murals in other palaces of Tibet.

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