Overview of the Labrang Monastery
|Location||Gansu Province, Country of China|
June 26 – July 15
|Country||People's Republic of China|
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Labrang Monastery (Tibetan: བླ་བྲང་བཀྲ་ཤིས་འཁྱིལ་, Wylie: bla-brang bkra-shis-'khyil) is one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Its formal name is Genden Shédrup Dargyé Trashi Gyésu khyilwé Ling (Tibetan: དགེ་ལྡན་བཤད་སྒྲུབ་དར་རྒྱས་བཀྲ་ཤིས་གྱས་སུ་འཁྱིལ་བའི་གླིང༌།, Wylie: dge ldan bshad sgrub dar rgyas bkra shis gyas su 'khyil ba'i gling).
Labrang is located in Xiahe County, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu, in the traditional Tibetan area of Amdo. Labrang Monastery is home to the largest number of monks outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. Xiahe is about four hours by car from the provincial capital Lanzhou.
Labrang Monastery is situated at the strategic intersection of two major Asian cultures—Tibetan and Mongolian — and was one of the largest Buddhist monastic universities. In the early 20th century, it housed several thousand monks. Labrang was also a gathering point for numerous annual religious festivals and was the seat of a Tibetan power base that strove to maintain regional autonomy through the shifting alliances and bloody conflicts that took place between 1700 and 1950.
In April 1985 the Assembly Hall burned down. It was replaced and the new building was consecrated in 1990.
The monastery complex dominates the western part of the village. The white walls and gilded roofs feature a blend of Tibetan and Indian Vihara architectural styles. The monastery contains 18 halls, six institutes of learning, a gilded stupa, a sutra debate area, and houses nearly 60,000 sutras.
At its height the monastery housed 4,000 monks. Like so many religious institutions, it suffered during the Cultural Revolution; and the monks were sent to their villages to work. After it was reopened in 1980, many of the monks returned; but the government restricted enrolment to around 1,500.
It has a Buddhist museum with a large collection of Buddha statues, sutras and murals. In addition, a large amount of Tibetan language books, including books on history is available for purchase, together with medicines, calendars, music and art objects.
There used to be a great gold-painted statue of the Buddha, more than 50 feet high, which was surrounded by rows of surrounding Buddhas in niches.
The monastery today is an important place for Buddhist ceremonies and activities. From January 4 to 17 and June 26, to July 15, (these dates may change according to the lunar calendar), the great Buddhist ceremony will be held with Buddha-unfolding, sutra enchanting, praying, sutra debates, etc.
Muslim Ma clique attacks
Ma Qi occupied Labrang Monastery in 1917, the first time non-Tibetans had seized it. Ma Qi defeated the Tibetan forces with his Hui troops. His forces were praised by foreigners who traveled through Qinghai for their fighting abilities.
After ethnic rioting between Hui and Tibetans emerged in 1918, Ma Qi defeated the Tibetans. He heavily taxed the town for 8 years. In 1921, Ma Qi and his Muslim army decisively crushed the Tibetan monks of Labrang Monastery when they tried to oppose him. In 1925, a Tibetan rebellion broke out, with thousands of Tibetans driving out the Hui. Ma Qi responded with 3000 Hui troops, who retook Labrang and machine-gunned thousands of Tibetan monks as they tried to flee. During a 1919 attack by Muslim forces, monks were executed by burning. Bodies were left strewn around Labrang by Hui troops.
Ma Qi besieged Labrang numerous times. Tibetans fought against his Hui forces for control of Labrang until Ma Qi gave it up in 1927. However, that was not the last Labrang saw of General Ma. Ma Qi launched a genocidal war against the Goloks in 1928, inflicting a defeat upon them and seizing Labrang Monastery. The Hui forces looted and ravaged the monastery again.
The Austrian American explorer Joseph Rock encountered the aftermath of one of the Ma clique's campaigns against Labrang. The Ma army left Tibetan skeletons scattered over a wide area and Labrang Monastery was decorated with decapitated Tibetan heads. After the 1929 battle of Xiahe near Labrang, decapitated Tibetan heads were used as ornaments by Hui troops in their camp, 154 in total. Rock described "young girls and children"'s heads staked around the military encampment. Ten to fifteen heads were fastened to the saddle of every Muslim cavalryman. The heads were "strung about the walls of the Moslem garrison like a garland of flowers."
In March 2008 there were protests by monks from Labrang Monastery as well as by other ethnic Tibetans linked to previous protests and rioting that broke out in Lhasa.
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