Lying about 230 kilometers (143 miles) south of Lhasa and 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Shigatse, Pelkhor Chode is a monastery having the characteristics of Han, Tibetan and Nepali architecture. Pelkhor Monastery boasts one of Tibet's two intact examples of a Kumbum Stupa. To understand what this means we must examine each of the two component of this concept. A kumbum meaning "100,000 Buddha images" is a three dimensional embodiment of the China tour deals two-dimensional mandala. Both are religious models of the Buddhist cosmos, ordered symbols of time, space and causation. By moving through either of these microcosms, one a diagram, the other a structure, the devotee re-enacts and re-affirms a path to enlightenment.
A stupa (or chorten in Tibetan) was originally built to house the cremated relics of the Buddha Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha). The first stupa was built at Sanchi, India in the second century BC to serve as a symbol of the Buddhist religion at a time when devotional images were disallowed. Stupas became reliquaries for the remains of holy people, the idea being that the individual's cremated remains contained sarira (crystal-like objects) as proof of their holiness. Stupas were also used to contain holy texts.
Each of the layers of the kumbum stupa has a different symbolic meaning. The square base is symbolic of the earth, the dome of water and the spire of fire. The moon and the sun that top the structure symbolise air and space.
The lowest four floors are comprised of sixty-four chapels, and as the entire structure tapers towards the top, the number and size of the chapels decreases. The fifth floor has only four chapels. On the uppermost floor, a single chapel crowns the entire structure. Central chapels China travel service have a shrine located against their rear walls, whilst side chapels usually position theirs against a side wall. Internal stairwells, which themselves are counted as chapels, are on the first four floors located at the south-eastern corner. On the upper levels, they are sporadically set, nonetheless obliging the visitor to circumambulate the stupa in the customary clockwise direction.
Palkhor Temple’s Kumbum Stupa contains a superlative collection of Tibetan frescoes; their stylistic origins are the topic of some debate between those scholars who stress their Newari influence (a painting style originating in Nepal's Kathmandu Valley) and those who emphasise the local Gyantse style. Even those, however, who argue for a dominating Gyantse style admit to the influence of Nepalese art on the development of this indigenous movement, together with influences from India and China. Features that distinguish the Gyantse style from other Tibetan schools include its varied palette, which combines pale tones with rich, its presentation of highly expressive figurative forms, a strong emphasis on well-modelled physiognomy and the lavish detail of such decorative elements as jewellery and textiles.
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