Song Zanling Monastery
This is the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple complex in Yunnan Province. It is called the Little Potala Palace. In 1993, it was listed as a Key Provincial Protection Unit of Cultural Relics by the government of Yunnan Province.
Songzanlin Monastery (in Mandarin 松赞林寺, Sōngzànlín Sì) or Sumtseling Monastery is also called Guihua Monastery (归化寺). It was originally built in 1679 A.D., and it was finished in 1681. It was a main temple used by Tibetans who lived in Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet and other areas in the southwestern part of China. It is said that the Fifth Dalai Lama decided the location though divination and gave the name—Gedansongzanlin (噶丹松赞林). It has become the seat of the leader of the Tibetan Buddhist theocracy in the big region around it east of Tibet.
At its height, the monastery housed 2,000 monks. The monastery welcomed a Communist Party general in the 1930s, but in 1959 and in the Cultural Revolution period, the monastery was destroyed. It was rebuilt in 1983. Now about 700 monks live there or around the region, and they assemble for important functions.
Songzanlin Monastery is located at the foot of Fopingshan Mountain (佛屏山). It is 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles north of Zhongdian. It is in the far northern tip of Yunnan Province at an elevation of 3,380 meters (11,090 feet). So if you visit the area, you may have altitude sickness if you are not used to the high elevation. A good time to visit is during the festivals. Several are listed below. The festival where many tourists have the most fun is the Zhongdian Horseracing Festival.
There is a main hall that can accommodate about 1,500 people. Sometimes, monks congregate there and chant lit by the light of numerous lamps. The two main temple buildings called Zhacang and Jikang are located in the center at the highest point in the complex. The lower floor of the main building has 108 columns. Besides the two main temple buildings, there are several smaller buildings. There are places for monks to live that are decorated in Chinese style.
The Gedong Festival is held at the monastery about November 29 each year. Buddhists around the region attend to worship. A highlight of this festival is when dancers do the Cham Dance. They put on masks and clothes that portray deities, ghosts and animals.
A three day Horse Racing Festival is held sometime about June. It is the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. Besides horse racing, there is wrestling and other sports. There is dancing, singing and eating in addition to sports and entertainment. You can see horse sellers arrayed in their best silks and furs. Tibetans camp out at a meadow that is designated meadow for racing horses. The meadow is below the Songzanling complex at an elevation of 3,288 meters or 10,787 feet.
A new festival was introduced in 1990s. It is called the Minority Festival. It is held in September, and artists and craftspeople come to present their art and sell it.
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I updated this article on November 5, 2012
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