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1882 - Sarat Chandra Das (Scholar, Bengal Educational Service)
Audience at the Potala
Lhasa, Tibet

 

Arriving at the eastern gateway of Potala, we dismounted and walked through a long hall, on either side of which were rows of prayer-wheels, which every passer-by puts in motion. Then, ascending three long flights of stone steps, we left our ponies in care of a bystander - for no one may ride further - and proceeded towards the palace under the guidance of a young monk. We had to climb up five ladders before we reached the ground floor of Phodang marpo, or " the Red Palace," thus called from the extetior walls being of a dark red colour. Then we had half a dozen more ladders to climb up, and we found ourselves at the top of Potala (there are nine stories to the building), where we saw a number of monks awaiting an audience. The view from here was beautiful beyond compare: the broad valley of the Kyi chu, in the centre of which stands the great city surrounded by green groves; the gilt spires of the Jo-khang and the other temples of Lhasa, and farther away the great monasteries of Sera and Dabung, behind which rose the dark blue mountains.
   After a while three lamas appeared, and said that the Dalai lama would presently conduct a memorial service for the benefit of late Meru Ta lama (great lama of Meru gomba), and that we we allowed to be present at it. Walking very softly, we came to the middle of the reception hall, the roof of which is supported by three rows of pillars, four in each row, and where light is admitted by a skylight. The furniture was that generally seen in lamaseries, but hangings were of the richest brocades and cloths of gold; the church utensils were of gold, and the frescoing on the walls of exquisite fineness. Behind the throne were beautiful tapestries and hangings forming a great gyal-tsan, or canopy. The floor was beautifully smooth and glossy, but the doors and windows, which were painted red, were of the rough description common throughout the country.
   A Donyer approached, who took our presentation khatag, but I held back, at the Suggestion of Chola Kusho, the present I had for the Grand Lama; and when I approached him I placed in his lap, much to the surprise of all present, a piece of gold weighing a tola. We then took our seats on rugs, of which there were eight rows; ours were in the third, and about ten feet from the Grand Lama's throne, and a little to his left.
   The Grand Lama is a child of eight with a bright and fair complexion and rosy cheeks. His eyes are large and penetrating, the shape of his face remarkably Aryan, though somewhat marred by the obliquity of his eyes. The thinness of his person was probably due to the fatigue of the Court ceremonies and to the religious duties and ascetic observance of his estate. A yellow mitre covered his head, and its pendant lappets hid his ears; a yellow mantle draped his person, and he sat cross-legged with joined palms. The throne on which he sat was supported by carved lions, and covered with silk scarfs. It was about four feet high, six feet long, and four feet broad. The State officers moved about with becoming gravity : there was the Kuchar Khanpo, with a bowl of holy water (tu), coloured yellow with saffron; the Censor-carrier, with a golden censor with three chains, the Solpon chenpo, with a golden teapot; and other household officials. Two gold lamps, made in the shape of flower vases, burnt on either side of the throne.
   When all had been blessed and taken seats, the Solpon chenpo poured tea in his Holiness's golden cup, and four assistants served the people present. Then grace was said, beginning with Om, Ah, Hum, thrice repeated, and followed by, "Never losing sight even for a moment of the Three Holies, making reverence ever to the Three Precious Ones. Let the blessing of the Three Konchog be upon us," etc. Then we silently raised our cups and drank the tea, which was most deliciously perfumed. In this manner we drank three cupfuls, and then put our bowls back in the bosoms of our gowns.
   After this the Solpon chenpo put a golden dish full of rice before the Dalai lama, and he touched it, and then it was divided among those present; then grace was again said, and his Holiness, in a low, indistinct tone, chanted a hymn, which was repeated by the assembled lamas in deep, grave tones. When this was over, a venerable man rose from the first row of seats and made a short address, reciting the many acts of mercy the Dalai lamas had vouchsafed Tibet, at the conclusion of which he presented to his Holiness a number of valuable things; then he made three prostrations and withdrew, followed by all of us.
   As I was leaving, one of the Donyer chenpo's (or chamberlain) assistants gave me two packets of blessed pills, and another tied a scrap of red silk round my neck - these are the usual return presents the Grand Lama makes to pilgrims.
   As we were going out of the hall, we were met by Chola Kusho's younger brother, a monk in Namgyal Ta-tsan, the monastery of the palace, and in his and his brother's company I visited the palace, and learnt from them much relating to the history and the traditions of the place.
   We first visited a chapel where is an image of Shenrezig with eleven heads and a thousand arms, an eye in the palm of each of his hands. Near it is an image with four arms, also many small gold chorten and objects in bronze. Next I was led to a hall where there is an old throne, opposite which are images of King Srong-btsan, his two consorts, his minister Tonmi Sambhota, General Gar, and Prince Gungri gung-btsan. Leaving this room, we went to the great hall where Nag-wang lob-zang, the fifth Dalai lama, used to hold his court. Old paintings, supposed to be indestructible by fire, representing King Srong-btsan's family, Shenrezig, and the first Grand Lama, hung from the pillars, and several images, among which one of sandalwood representing Gon-po (a terrifying divinity) may be seen here.
   We were then led to the hall where the Desi Sangye-gyatso used to hold his councils.t Here also is the tomb of the first Dalai lama. It is two-storied, and the dome is covered with thin plates of gold. The Dalai's remains are entombed with many precious things, and the sepulchre is ornamented with various objects of the richest designs and most costly materials brought hither by devotees. This tomb is called the Dsamling gyan, and is the prototype of the tombs we saw around it containing the remains of the other incarnations of the Dalai lama; but these are all smaller than it.
   After visiting these halls we descended to the Namgyal Ta-tsan. The architecture of the Phodang marpo embarrassed me greatly, the halls and rooms being piled up story on story. The stonework was beautiful, but it is so poorly drained that in many places the odours are stifling.
   Entering a small room, the cell of our guide, we were given seats and served with tea and a collation. Shortly after we started home, having expressed in the warmest terms our thanks to Chola Kusho and his brother for their kindness. We followed the ling-khor, as the road which encircles Lhasa is called.

 

Das, Sarat Chandra
Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet
First Published 1902; reprint New Delhi 1970 edited by W.W. Rockhill

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