Golden Visions of Densatil: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

The Densatil Monastery has long been considered one of the great treasures of Tibet. Constructed at the end of the twelfth century in a remote, rocky area of central Tibet, this Buddhist monastery was most famed for its special stupas— reliquaries that housed the remains of venerated Buddhist teachers. The stupas at Densatil were of a type called tashi gomang (Many Doors of Auspiciousness). They were multi-tiered, sculptural gilt copper structures that stood more than ten feet tall and were resplendent with inlays of semiprecious stones. Prior to the destruction of Densatil during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1978), eight of them dating between 1208 and 1432 stood in the Monastery’s main hall. This pioneering exhibition brings together statues and panels from international public and private collections to give us a sense of the grandeur of the memorial structures that once stood at Densatil. Followers of the charismatic Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110–1170) constructed the Densatil Monastery. There are many schools of Buddhism in Tibet. His school, which came to be known as the Phagmo Drupa Kagyu school, was one of the four primary schools of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. The Phagmo Drupa religious school and its noble house became so powerful in Tibet that they founded a dynasty that lasted from the mid-fourteenth to the mid-fifteenth century. The Phagmo Drupa school lost power over time and had died out by the end of the seventeenth century, but the Densatil Monastery survived intact under the control of other Tibetan Buddhist schools until it was destroyed in the mid-twentieth century. Today the monastery is undergoing reconstruction thanks to the efforts of the Tibetan Autonomous Region Ministry of Culture and the Drigung (Drikung) Kagyu school. The exhibited reliefs and sculptures are displayed along with photographs taken by Pietro Francesco Mele, who accompanied the scholar and explorer Giuseppe Tucci to Tibet in 1948, and we are able to see again how they would have once appeared on a tashi gomang stupa. “Golden Visions of Densatil” provides us with a compelling glimpse of truly innovative and masterly artistry. Olaf Czaja, Guest Curator Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Senior Curator for Traditional Asian Art

1158-01-01 00:00:00

Dorje Gyalpo arrives at Phagmodru

Dorje Gyalpo (1110-1170) arrives at Phagmodru in central Tibet and selects it as his meditation spot. The Densatil Monastery is later constructed at this site. Dorje Gyalpo becomes known as Phagmo Drupa, a name which is later applied to his school and its followers, the Phagmo Drupa Kagyu; and the noble house associated with it, the Lang Phagmo Drupa.

1179-01-01 00:00:00

Jigten Gonpo founds the Drigung Monastery

Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo's pupil, Jigten Gonpo (1153–1217), founds the Drigung Monastery in central Tibet.

1192-01-01 00:00:00

Jigten Gonpo has a vision

Jigten Gonpo has a vision of a multitude of deities arranged like a tashi gomang stupa on the Pure Crystal Mountain in Tsari.

1198-01-01 00:00:00

Followers of Phagmo Drupa hold a meeting

Followers of Phagmo Drupa hold a large meeting and agree the main hall of the Densatil Monastery should be built at the location of the thatched hut in which Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo meditated.

1198-01-01 00:00:00

Jigten Gonpo invites artists

Jigten Gonpo invites artists from Nepal to construct the first tashi gomang stupa at the Drigung Monastery.

1208-01-01 00:00:00

First Tashi gomang stupa at the Drigung Monastery completed

The tashi gomang structure at the Drigung Monastery is completed. Jigten Gonpo brings the tashi wobar stupa containing the relics of Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo to Drigung and places it on top of the tashi gomang structure thereby completing the tashi gomang stupa. Facing increasing pressure from Phagmo Drupa’s followers, Jigen Gonpo is forced to return the tashi wobar stupa to Densatil. A new stupa is built at Drigung to take its place.

1270-01-01 00:00:00

First Tashi gomang stupa at the Densatil Monastery

The first tashi gomang stupa is built at the Densatil Monastery for the late abbot Dragpa Tsondru (1203–1267).

1280-01-01 00:00:00

Second Tashi gomang stupa at the Densatil Monastery

A second tashi gomang stupa is erected at the Densatil Monastery for Rinchen Dorje (1218–1281).

1290-01-01 00:00:00

War breaks out

War breaks out between the Drigung Kagyu school and the Sakya school. The Drigung Monastery is set on fire and the tashi gomang stupa there is most likely destroyed.

1322-01-01 00:00:00

Phagmo Drupa dynasty founded

Jangchub Gyaltsen (1302–1364) becomes the founder of the Phagmo Drupa dynasty.

Golden Visions of Densatil: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

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