Being the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan Province, Gadan•Songzanlin Monastery, also known as Guihua Monastery, is one of the famous monasteries in the Kang region (referring to the Tibetan areas of Yunnan and Sichuan); it is located at 3 kilometers north of Shangri-la County, at the foot of Foping Mountain. Construction of the monastery began from 1679 to 1681, in the Kangxi period of the Qing Dynasty. In 1679, the fifth Dalai Lama chose this place by divination, and it went on to become the uppermost public place in Yunnan which features the peculiar local characteristics.
Songzanlin Monastery looks like a group of ancient castles and is composed of two lamaseries, Zhacang (Sakyamuni Hall) and Jikang (Zongkaba Hall), and 8 Kangsen (8 small monasteries for eight Buddhist parishes of Shangri-la); the gilded copper roof endows the monastery with strong Tibetan flavor and the 108 (an auspicious number in Buddhism) columns in the hall also feature the monastery with characteristics of Chinese Han; the main halls in the monastery are marvelous, and on both the left and the right sides are wonderful frescos, depicting Buddhist tales and legends. The inside-halls are exquisite with cloisters running through; the cloisters are all decorated with beautiful sculptures and consummate frescos. To a large extend, we can undoubtedly say that Songzanlin Monastery is full of treasures; there are a lot of golden figures of Buddha josses, golden lamps, Tibetan lections, silver censers etc; all of these are wonderful collections passed down from several dynasties and are precious productions made by both Tibetans and others. Moreover, the whole Songzanlin is structured in the traditional Tibetan style with mysterious atmosphere, so it deserves to be nicknamed as “the Small Potala Palace”.
The famous fesscoes in Songzanlin Monastery include Si Rui He Mu Tu (the four animals living in harmony), Meng Ren Yu Hu Tu ( the Mongol vanquished the tiger), the Life Wheel, Liu Chang Shou Tu (six longevities: human beings, mountains, rivers or water, plants, birds, animals ), Ba Bao Tu ( eight mascots of the Tibetan people: umbrella, golden fish, triumph flag, jar, spiral, lotus flower ) etc.
Annually, the Gedong Festival is celebrated here by the Tibetans; multitudes of pilgrims, from far away or nearby, head for Shangri-la for pious prostrating.
The life wheel(Karma Diagram)
This Thangka depicts the wheel of life; the wheel of life is a detailed representation of basic Buddhist belief: trans-migratory existence or transmigration. The form in which a being is reborn into the universe depends on its karma; this suffering of rebirth affects the whole living universe; the wheel is held in the embrace of the ruler of death, showing that all beings must eventually meet death; outside the wheel is a figure of lord Buddha, who is free from the moral and mental obstruction that can prevent all living beings from achieving enlightenment; the Buddha’s presence outside the wheel implies his escape from the cycle of life. The wheel is divided into three parts: axles, spokes and rim.
The axle depicts three evils: ignorance, lust and hatred in the form of a pig, a cock and a snake respectively, we must be aware of these three evils. The outer axle shows the manifestation of a white bright heaven and a dark black hell; the spokes divide our universe into six realms: gods, demigods, human beings, animals, starving ghosts and hells; in each realm, suffering exists, the beings of the six realms can’t escape from the sufferings of the universe,; also, in each realm, compassion of lord Buddha is pervading from every direction,; this helps all beings towards the path to enlightenment and release from the sufferings of rebirth!