Labrang Monastery is one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug Pa of Tibetan Buddhism, and is located in Xiahe County of Gansu province, which was in the traditional Tibetan Cultural Area of Amdo.
Labrang Monastery, a variation of the Tibetan word “Ladrang,” means “the residence of the living Buddha.”
The full Tibetan name is “Gadan Shadrub Dargya Tashi Yisu khyiyuling,” and it is commonly referred to as “Tashikyi monastery” or Labrang Monastery.
Labrang Monastery is Located on the western outskirts of Xiahe County, at the foot of the Fengling Mountains, on the north bank of the Daxia River, with the northwest mountains resembling a lying elephant and the southeast mountains resembling verdant pine forests. The Daxia River meanders from west to northeast, forming a right-handed spiral shape, and is revered by the local Tibetan people as a sacred and auspicious place.
It was founded in 1709 AD by the first Jamyang Zhaypa, Ngawang Tsondru, and also a “home” to the largest number of monks outside Tibet Autonomous Region. It used to house more than 4,000 monks.
In 1709 AD, the first abbot of Labrang Monastery, Jamyang Zhepa, returned to his hometown and built a monastery in this picturesque place at the request of Chahan Danjin, the former leader of the Qinghai Mongolian and Khorchin tribe.
The monastery has six major Dratsang (academies): Tiesang Langwa (Exotoric Wensi College), Jumaiba (Lower Tantric College), Juduoba (Upper Tantric College), Dingkeer (Kalacakra College), Manba (Medical College), and Jiduo (Exalted Vajra College – Kyedor Dratsang). It is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastic institution in China, and its strict admission, teaching, examination, and graduation system has trained a large number of religious talents in the Tibetan region.
Tiesang Langwa Dratsang (Exotoric Wensi College)
commonly known as the Great Sutra Hall, is a place for the monks of Labrang Monastery to study all the regulations and rituals of the Exotoric Buddhism. It was constructed following the design of the Gomang Dratsang at the Drepung Temple in Lhasa. The Great Sutra Hall is renowned for its grand scale, with a depth of 11 rooms and a width of 15 rooms. It is constructed of wood and supported by 140 massive columns, capable of accommodating 3000 monks for chanting. The hall is lavishly decorated with various Buddha paintings adorning the walls, and niches and shelves holding sacred scriptures. Exquisite thangkas and banners are hung on the columns, and the ceiling is adorned with decorative “Mang dragon brocade.”
The monks here primarily study the Tripitaka, the Three Trainings (morality, meditation, wisdom), and the Four Great Doctrines (Abhidharma, Sutra, Vinaya, Madhyamaka). Through teachings, memorization, and debates, they aim to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the five major treatises in Buddhist studies: the “Abhidharmakosha,” “Prajnaparamita,” “Madhyamaka,” “Dharmaskandha,” and “Vinaya.” The study is divided into thirteen levels, and it generally takes 15 years to complete the study of these five major treatises.
Exotoric Wensi Dratsang
It offers three levels of degrees: “Ran-jam-pa,” “Ga-ren-ba,” and “Do-ren-ma-pa.” Typically, after completing the “Prajnaparamita” section, a monk can apply for the “Ran-jam-pa” degree examination, which is held twice a year. Those who complete the “Dharmaskandha” section are awarded the title of “Ga-ren-ba.” “Do-ren-ma-pa” is the highest degree in the academy, and the examination is extremely rigorous. Candidates must not only graduate from the “Dharmaskandha” section but also be reviewed and approved by the “Da-fa-tai” (the head abbot) before applying. One month before the formal examination, the candidate must undergo a preliminary examination conducted by the monastery’s head – Jamyang Rinpoche, where they are required to recite the “Fundamental Treatise” from the five major treatises. Successful candidates can then participate in the formal examination. Prior to the examination, the monastery holds a five-day banquet, inviting monks from the 6th grade and above, providing guidance and encouragement, as well as fostering camaraderie among the candidates and their senior classmates. Those who fail to pass the “Do-ren-ma-pa” examination are permanently disqualified from reapplying, making the biannual examination opportunities even more precious. Upon obtaining the “Do-ren-ma-pa” degree, one can be appointed as a living Buddha teacher or a scripture teacher within the monastery. They can also be reincarnated after death, thus forming a new system of reincarnation of living Buddha.
Juduoba Dratsang (Upper Tantric College)
Located to the west of the Kyedor Dratsang, was constructed under the guidance of the 5th Jamyang Rinpoche in 1941. The architectural style of the building was modeled after the Upper Tantra College in Lhasa. The main hall consists of five rooms in the east and west, and ten rooms in the north and south, designed in a blend of Chinese and Tibetan architectural styles. The top of the building is adorned with green glazed tiles, various animal-shaped decorations, and gilded dharma wheels, bronze vases, and copper flags, hence it is also known as the “Green Tile Temple.” A plaque reading “Tantric College” is hung in front of the hall, and inside the main hall, there are plaques with inscriptions such as “Propagating the True Dharma,” “Border of the Dharma,” and “Essence of Tantra.” The hall houses statues of Shakyamuni Buddha, a bronze statue of Maitreya Buddha, sixteen Arhats, images of the 1st to 5th Jamyang Rinpoche, 35 repentant Buddhas, the bone stupas of the parents of the 5th Jamyang Rinpoche, and 21 statues of the Tara (Mother of Liberation). The gilded Maitreya statue, standing at around 10 meters, is a masterpiece crafted by Nepalese artisans.
Jumaiba Dratsang (Lower Tantric College)
This is a sub-college of the tantric college, dedicated to the practice of Vajrayana Buddhism, focusing on the deities of Vajrasattva, Mahakala, Mahakali, the Three Vajras, the Six-Armed Protector, and the Dharma King Protector. The monks study the doctrines of Vajrayana Buddhism and receive empowerments from the high-level lamas. Originally, the college had strict rules, such as prohibiting the wearing of silk, not allowing full meals, requiring the use of alms bowls for eating, carrying a tin rods when going out, and forbidding the monks to look up while walking, and so on.
Also known as Kalacakra College, established by the 2nd Jamyang Yeshe Rinpoche, following the teachings of the 6th Panchen Lama Losang·Huden Yeshe, is modeled after the Kalachakra Academy of Tashilhunpo Monastery of Tibet. It has a history of over 200 years. Monastic students primarily study the “Kalachakra Tantra” and focus on astronomy and calendrical calculations. The Tibetan calendar they have compiled plays a significant role in guiding agricultural and pastoral production in the Amdo Tibetan regions, and has also spread to some areas in Nepal, Bhutan, and India.
Also known as the Medical College, was established by the 2nd Jamyang Yeshe Rinpoche, emulating the medical college of the Medicine King Mountain Temple in Lhasa, Tibet. It is an educational institution dedicated to training medical monks. Currently, it also operates outpatient clinics and a pharmaceutical factory. The college has developed “Jiebai Pills,” “Nine-Ingredient Agarwood Powder,” and “Nine-Ingredient Bezoar Powder,” which have been included in the national pharmacopoeia. In addition, 18 other proprietary medicines have been included in the proprietary medicine of the five provinces in the northwest region and are sold nationwide.
Also known as the Exalted Vajra College, is primarily dedicated to the practice and study of Vajrayana Buddhism, focusing on deities such as Vajrasattva, Vajrahand, Vajrayogini, and other tantric deities. The main emphasis is on the study of the generation and completion stages of Vajrasattva. Novice monks at the academy not only study the tantric scriptures but also learn to create mandalas using colored sand. They are also examined on phonetics, music, and other related subjects. Intermediate-level monks primarily study Chinese and Tibetan calendrical astronomy, Tibetan grammar, calligraphy, and the “Puja dance” form that originated from Tibet. Advanced-level monks are required to abide by the three monastic disciplines, refrain from negative behavior and speech, and are expected to have a good command of Chinese and Tibetan calendrical astronomy.
Labrang Monastery’s architecture follows a Tibetan-style layout, with various forms including Tibetan, Han-style palace, and a mix of Tibetan and Han styles.
After more than 280 years of construction and expansion, it has developed into a vast complex covering a total area of 866,000 square meters, with a built-up area of over 480,000 square meters. It encompasses six major Dratsang (academies), each with its own independent scripture hall, forty-eight Buddha halls, living quarters for the Living Buddha, eighteen Lhakhangs (temples), as well as scripture halls, printing houses, and over five hundred monk residences.
The entire complex is marked by the white pagodas in the northeast and northwest. The tall scripture halls and Buddha halls are concentrated in the northwest, with the scripture hall of the Exotoric Wensi College as the central point, and other buildings arranged in a semi-circular layout resembling stars surrounding the moon.
The complex features both stone and earthen walls. All scripture halls and Buddha halls are built with thick walls made of bluestone, giving them a simple and elegant appearance. It is said that “outside Labrang Monastery, no wood is seen, and inside, no stone is seen.” The roofs of the halls are surrounded by low walls made of reddish-brown “border reeds,” which not only reduce the weight of the buildings but also enhance their grandeur, creating a solemn and dignified religious atmosphere.
Buddha Statues and Buddhist scriptures
Labrang Monastery houses over ten thousand Buddha statues, made of various materials including gold, silver, copper, aluminum, ivory, sandalwood, jade, crystal, and clay sculptures. Many of the Buddha statues are adorned with pearls, jade, agate, and diamonds, creating exquisite and dignified forms with gentle and compassionate expressions, evoking a sense of beauty. The monastery’s collection of over ten thousand thangkas, a traditional Tibetan painting, is largely produced by artists from the hometown of Tibetan painting, the village of Wutun in Tongren County, Qinghai Province.
Furthermore, Labrang Monastery is one of the richest repositories of Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, housing over 65,000 scripture volumes and more than 18,200 different titles (excluding duplicate copies and the “Kangyur” and “Tengyur”). The collection covers over 8 categories, including philosophy complete works, tantric texts, medicine, history, biographies, crafts, and grammar. It also includes two palm-leaf manuscripts and over 70,000 woodblock-printed scripture plates in the printing house.
In addition, the monastery preserves numerous historical artifacts, including imperial edicts, decrees, and seals bestowed by successive central governments of the Qing Dynasty, as well as seals and inscriptions given by the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama to the successive incarnations of the Living Buddha Jamyang and other high lamas.
In 1961, Labrang Monastery was designated as one of the provincial-level cultural heritage sites in Gansu Province.
It was opened for tourism in 1980 and was later listed as a key national cultural heritage site in 1982.
Religious Activities (Puja)
Every year, Labrang Monastery holds 7 large-scale religious events, among which the Prayer Festival in the 1st month and the Dunbai Ridra Puja in the 7th month (also known as the “Darma Puja”) are the most grand.
The Prayer Festival in the 1st month begins on the evening of the 3rd day of the 1st month and continues until the 17th day. During this time, all the monks recite scriptures six times a day in the main scripture hall. The festival also includes activities such as “releasing life,” “Thangkae unfolding,” “the Cham dance”, “butter lamp display”, and the “turning of the Maitreya Buddha.”
The official date of the July Puja is the 8th day of the 7th month of Tibetan calendar. The monks gather daily to listen to or debate scriptures 7 times, and outside the main scripture hall square, they perform a drama with the main content centered around the holy monk “Milarepa” converting the hunter “Gongba Dorje.”
The performers are all monks from the monastery, accompanied by a monk band playing drums and cymbals. The first abbot of Labrang monastery, the 1st Jamyang Yeshe, began organizing the band, introducing Tibetan music and gradually incorporating Qing Dynasty court and mainland temple music, and introducing Han Chinese musical instruments. The band’s repertoire includes “Riwozhi’a” (referring to Mount Wutai) and the Qing court music “Wan-nian-huan, meaning long time happiness.” Their famous plays include “Songtsen Gampo and Princess Wencheng,” “Chime Gendun,” “Norsang Prince,” “Zhuowasangmu,” and “Chisong Dechen,” and others.
Destruction and reconstruction
As other monasteries and historic site, Labrang was severely damaged during the Cultural Revolution in the 60’s of 20th century. And now, its assembly Hall was rebuilt in 1990. The monastery’s white walls and gilded roofs feature a blend of Tibetan and Indian Vihara architectural styles. It contains 18 halls, six institutes of training , a huge gilded stupa, a courtyard for debating, and holds about 60,000 sutras. Together with Kumbum monastery, it is Gelug Pa’s most important monastery outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Nowadays, Labrang monastery has become an vital travl attractions, it apperanace and religious have been attracted to visitors across china as well as the Europe and America. There are religious activities organized by this monastery throughout a year, among of which festival in January and June are the most common ones, usually with programs of Thangkar Buddha Image -unfolding, sutra enchanting, praying, …etc;
Labrang Monastery Data
Address & contact
Add : Ren Min Dong Road, Xiahe Xian
Contact : +86 941 712-1128/712-1095
Monastic area: Full day
Wen Si hall & Gong Tang Chorten: 08:00 am – 18:00 pm
The other halls: 08:00 am – 16:00 pm
Monastic area: Free of charge
Wen Si hall: RMB 40 per person
Gongtang Chorten: RMB 20 per person
How to get to there
The closest airport to Labrang monastery is Gannan Xiahe Airport, which 72 km north from Labrang monastery. Due to the matching of Xiahe Airport’s flights and your itinerary, Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport can be used as your backup plan
This 320-kilometer-long, high-quality highway between Lanzhou and Xiahe County has shortened the travel time by car from previously 8-9 hours to about 4 hours now.
Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport
Add: Zhongchuan Town, Yongdeng County
Phone: +86 931 816-8913
Altitude: 1947 meters
Gannan Xiahe Airport
Add: Kusaitang village, Xiahe County
Phone: +86 941 722-5555
Altitude: 1947 meters
- From Lanzhou Bus South Terminal : departure at : 07:30 am, 08:30 am, 09:30 am, 14:00 pm, 15:00 pm, 5 buses leaving for Xiahe, about 4 hours’ drive, with rate RMB 75.00 per person
- From Hezuo Bus North Terminal : one bus departure for Xiahe at every 30 minutes from 07:00 am to 16:00 pm , about 1 hour’ drive, with rate RMB 15.00 per person
- From Langmu Si town : one bus departure for Xiahe at 14:00 pm , about 4 hours’ drive, with rate RMB 70.00 per person
Overland journey extension
The well-paved National Road connects this religious site to Chengdu to its South. The well-paved road curves in the mountains about 950 km to Chengdu. En route, there are numerous sites to visit. Langmu Si, Jiuzhai Valley, Huanglong, and the first bend of Yellow river…etc;
The best hotel in the town is a 4 star hotel. In general, there are more than 40 hotels, guesthouse in Xiahe, where Labrang is seated; room rate from RMB 30.00 per bed per night up to over RMB 1,000.00 per room per night; however, an early booking is recommended in high travel season or Labrang festival time