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Potala Palace - artelino

Potala PalaceHigh above Lhasa on a hill dominates the massive, 13 stories complex of the Potala Palace. Definitely one of the most unusual and impressive buildings in the world. It was the home of the Dalai Lamas beginning with the fifth, who had started the construction of the huge building. In 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama fled the palace under dramatic circumstances.

Today the Potala Palace has become a symbol for the tragedy of the Tibetan people and the systematic destruction of their cultural and religious identity by Communist China.

Potala - the Pure Land


Potala Palace in Lhasa

Songtsen Gampo (617?-649), who had expanded the Tibetan empire from Mongolia in the North to northern India in the South and even into China to the East, had constructed a palace in the 7th century on today's site of the Potala, a 130 meters high hill, called 'Marpo Ri', the 'Red Hill'.

Much later, in 1645 construction of the Potala Palace was begun by Lobsang Gyatso, the 5th Dalai Lama. Only 4 years later in 1649 the 5th Dalai Lama could move from Drepung Monastery to the Potala. The Red Palace and other buildings followed later.

Invasion by Communist China

From 1950 until 1951 Chinese communist troops moved from the East into Tibet with military force. Khampa nomad warriors from the Tibetan eastern province of Kham could slow down the advance of the Chinese. But with their old weapons they were no match for the battle-proved Chinese. In 1951 the then 16 years old Dalai Lama was forced to sign a treaty with Communist China under Mao Zedong which ended Tibet's until then factual and formal independence from China.

Flight of the 14th Dalai Lama

Although the Chinese had guaranteed with the treaty Tibet's cultural and religious autonomy, the situation became more and more oppressive. When rumors spread that the arrest of the Dalai Lama was imminent, about 30,000 Tibetans gathered on March 10, 1959, around the Norbulingka, the Summer Palace, among them many Khampa warriors, to protect their religious and worldly leader.

Disguised as a soldier, the Dalai Lama could flee the Norbulingka. Protected by Khampas, the caravan reached the Indian border unharmed on March 31. And in spite of Chinese protests, the Indian prime minister Nehru granted the Dalai Lama asylum in the Indian mountain village of Dharamsala.

The Cultural Revolution

During the Cultural Revolution initiated by Mao Zedong to preserve his political influence, Tibet presumably had to suffer more than any other region inside the Republic of China. Circa 6,000 monasteries were destroyed and looted, thousands of Tibetans were tortured and killed. Only the Potala Palace was not "blown up" by the Chinese barbarians (as proposed by Mao Zedong).

It is said that only the intervention of Zhou Enlai had saved the Potala from looting and destruction. Zhou Enlai had sent troops loyal to him to Lhasa for the protection of the building from the red guard mania. However about 100,000 thousand historical scriptures and pieces of art are said to have been destroyed or removed (source: Wikipedia - Potala Palace).

Museum and UNESCO World Heritage

Today the Potala Palace is run as a museum by the Chinese occupants. Even in the way the Chinese operate and organize the museum, the oppression and the disrespect for the Tibetan culture is visible. All visitors including the Tibetan pilgrims have to visit the chapels in an anti-clockwise direction - a violation of Buddhist religious customs.

In 1994 the Potala Palace was added to the UNESCO world heritage list.

Satellite View of Potala Palace

The satellite view shows the huge dimensions of the Potala. On bottom you can see the huge, ugly kind of Tiananmen-style square that the Chinese had created after destroying a complete quarter of old Tibetan houses. On bottom, recognizable on the image, is a provocative 35 meter high monument to 'remember' the 'liberation of Tibet' by the Communists.

{mosmap width='500'|height='400'|lat='29.656453'|lon='91.11788'|zoom='16'|zoomType='Large'|zoomNew='0'|mapType='Hybrid'|showMaptype='1'|overview='0'|text=''|lang=''}

Dieter Wanczura, June 2010.

Last Updated on Friday, 05 November 2010 23:15  

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