Kora (pilgrimage)

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The term kora has meanings in several languages. For other uses see Kora.
Kora at Boudhanath stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal. One woman is spinning prayer wheels and both are holding/counting malas.
Pilgrims on the Kawa Karpo Kora circuit, an arduous 240 km (150 mi) 12-stage trek across six high passes of up to 4,800 meters (15,800 feet).
A pilgrim circumambulating Mt. Kailash by performing full body prostrations.
Kora circuit around Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse, Tibet.

Kora (Tibetan: སྐོར་ར, THL: kor ra, Wylie: skor ra) is a transliteration of a Tibetan word that means "circumambulation" or "revolution". Kora is both a type of pilgrimage and a type of meditative practice in the Tibetan Buddhist or Bon (Tibetan: བོན, THL: Bön, Wylie: Bon) traditions. A Kora is performed by the practitioner making a circumambulation around a sacred site or object, typically as a constituent part of a pilgrimage, ceremony, celebration or ritual. However, in broader terms, it is a term that is often used to refer to the entire pilgrimage experience in the Tibetan Buddhist region.

For pilgrimage, Tibetans generally use the term né-kor (Tibetan: གནས་སྐོར, THL: né kor, Wylie: gnas skor), literally, "circling around an abode" (Tibetan: གནས, THL: né, Wylie: gnas) referring to the general practice of circumambulation as a way of relating to such places. In the context of Kora, the , or né-chen (Tibetan: གནས་ཆེན, THL: né chen, Wylie: gnas chen) is renderred as "empowered", "sacred" or "holy" place/object, and the is credited with the ability to transform those that circumambulate it. Aspects of both the natural and the man-made world are also considered to be the abodes or of a wide variety of nonhuman beings, such as, tantric meditational deities (Yidam) (Tibetan: ཡི་དམ, THL / Wylie: yi dam) or Dakini (Sanskrit: डाकिनी ḍākinī; Tibetan: མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་, THL: khandro ma, Wylie: mkha' 'gro ma).[1][2][note 1]

generally fall into the following four types:

  • Natural Sites. The most momentous are the great sacred mountains[note 2] and lakes. They cover large areas, sometimes hundreds of square kilometers. Within these areas the points of power may include: peaks, rocks, caves, springs, confluences and sky-burial sites. The Kora associated with these natural sites can be arduous treks of long distances, crossing a number of high passes and through difficult terrain.
In the Tibetan region, some traditional Kora sites important to the region include: the sacred mountains of Mt. Kailash[4] (or Gang Rinpoche or Mt. Tisé) (Tibetan: གངས་རིན་པོ་ཆེ, THL: gang rin po ché, Wylie: gangs rin po che), Lapchi (or Labchi)[5][note 3] (Tibetan: ལ་ཕྱི, THL: la chi, Wylie: la phyi), Tsari[6] (Tibetan: ཙ་རི་, THL / Wylie: tsa ri) and Kawa Karpo [note 4] (Tibetan: ཁ་བ་དཀར་པོ།, THL: khawa kar po, Wylie: kha ba dkar po); the sacred lakes of Manasarovar (Tibetan: མ་ཕམ་གཡུ་མཚོ།, THL: ma pam yu tso ma, Wylie: pham g.yu mtsho), Yamdrok (Tibetan: ཡར་འབྲོག་གཡུ་མཚོ་, THL: yar drok yu tso, Wylie: yar 'brog g.yu mtsho) and Namtso (Tibetan: གནམ་མཚོ་, THL: nam tso, Wylie: gnam mtsho) [2][7][8]
  • Manmade Sites, including: cities, monasteries, temples, stupas/chortens, hermitages, etc.
For example, in Nepal, Kora are commonly performed around Swayambhunath (Devanagari: स्वयम्भूनाथ स्तुप) and Boudhanath (Devanagari: बौद्धनाथ), two important stupas in the Kathmandu Valley; in Tibet, around the Potala or Jokhang in Lhasa.
  • Hidden Lands, (Tibetan: སྦས་ཡུལ, THL: bé yül, Wylie: sbas yul): secret or hidden lands; paradisiacal realms located in the remotest parts of the Himalayas.[9][10]
  • Holy Person. A pilgrimage can be made to pay respects to a holy person, the holy person in such instances being considered a .

The pilgrim is known as a né korwa (Tibetan: གནས་སྐོར་བ, THL: né korwa, Wylie:gnas skor ba), “one who circles a ", thus defining them by the ritual cicumambulation(s) they perform as part of their journey.[10] Pilgrims seek to attain religious merit by performing Kora which are a major merit generator. The more potent the power place destination the greater the merit accumulated.[2] A Kora is performed by walking or repeatedly prostrating oneself. Prostration (e.g., versus walking), circumambulating repeatedly or an auspiscious number of times all producing greater merit. Kora may be also be performed while spinning prayer wheels, chanting mantra, or counting mala. Buddhist pilgrims most typically emulate the path of the sun and circumambulate in a clockwise direction.[11][12] Bön pilgrims traditionally circumambulate in the counter-clockwise direction.


  1. ^ Kailash, Lapchi, Tsari are all regarded as abodes (or ) of Khorlo Demchok (Tibetan: འཁོར་ལོ་བདེ་མཆོག་, THL: khor lo dé chok, Wylie: 'khor lo bde mchog ) (or Heruka Chakrasamvara in Sanskrit) with Kailash described as the of Khorlo Demchok's body, Lapchi as the of Khorlo Demchok's speech and Tsari as the of Khorlo Demchok's mind. These same places are also regarded as the of various Dakinis, e.g., the White Lion-Faced, Striped Tiger-Faced and Black Sow-Faced Dakinis of Kailash, Lapchi and Tsari respectively.[3] Kawa Karpo is regarded by the people of Kham (Tibetan: ཁམས་པ, THL: kham pa, Wylie: khams pa) as the easternmost of Khorlo Demchock.
  2. ^ Some mountain peaks are classified as né ri, a term that can be translated literally as "mountain abode. The classifying reference né ri is sometimes incorporated into the full proper names of such category of mountains. Although many mountains in Tibet are considered to have resident deities, most peaks are not classified as né ri. As examples, Kawa Karpo is often called Néri Kawa Karpo and Dakpa Shelri (Pure Crystal Mountain) (Tibetan: དག་པ་ཤེལ་རི, THL: dak pa shel ri , Wylie: dag pa shel ri) at Tsari is often referred to as Né Dakpa Shelri.[3]
  3. ^ Although Lapchi had been a historically coherent part of Tibet, as a result of the China-Nepal Boundary Treaty of 1961, the Lapchi area now lies mostly in Nepal just on the Nepal-Tibet border.
  4. ^ Historically, Kawa Karpo was located inside the Kham region which was, in turn, a historically coherent part of Tibet. It know lies on the political border of Yunnan Province and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China (PRC)


  1. ^ Huber, Toni (1997). "Guidebook to La-Phyi". In Lopez, Jr., Donald S. Religions of Tibet in Practice. pp. 120–134. ISBN 978-0691011837. 
  2. ^ a b c Dowman, Keith (1998). "Power Places". The Sacred Life of Tibet. pp. 147–188. ISBN 978-0722533758. 
  3. ^ a b Huber, Toni (1999). The Cult Of Pure Crystal Mountain : Popular Pilgrimage and Visionary Landscape in Southeast Tibet. Oxford University Press. 
  4. ^ "Kailash, the White Mountain". Rangjung Yeshe Wiki - Dharma Dictionary. 
  5. ^ "Lapchi". Rangjung Yeshe Wiki - Dharma Dictionary. 
  6. ^ "Tsari". Rangjung Yeshe Wiki - Dharma Dictionary. 
  7. ^ Bradley Mayhew, Michael Kohn, Daniel McCrohan, John Vincent Belleza (April 1, 2011). Tibet. Lonely Planet. pp. 250–251. ISBN 978-1741792188. 
  8. ^ Jennifer Westwood (2002). On Pilgrimage: Sacred Journeys Around the World. Paulist Press. pp. 80–81. ISBN 978-1587680151. 
  9. ^ Baker, Ian (2006). The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet's Lost Paradise. ISBN 978-0143036029. 
  10. ^ a b Buffetrille, K. (2013). Pilgrimage in Tibet. doi:10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0122.  edit
  11. ^ Linda Kay Davidson, David Martin Gitlitz (2002). Pilgrimage: From the Ganges to Graceland : An Encyclopedia, Τόμος 1. ABC-CLIO. pp. 312–313. ISBN 978-1-57607-004-8. 
  12. ^ Norbert C. Brockman (2011). Encyclopedia of Sacred Places. ABC-CLIO - 2nd Edition. pp. 53–54. ISBN 978-1-59884-654-6. 

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