Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
The Space of Sera (Se ra’i khor yug)
by José Ignacio Cabezón
January 30, 2006
Section 4 of 6

Large Temple Complexes

The only complexes at SeraSe ra are the large temple complexes: the assembly halls (dukhang’du khang), of the three colleges, and the Great Assembly Hall (Tsokchentshogs chen). A large temple complex contains a huge, multi-storied temple, and one or more separate kitchen buildings. The exception is the Tantric College, whose kitchen is found inside the temple (on the ground floor, SW corner).50 The three colleges also have large debate courtyards (chörachos ra) as part of their complexes. (Since they are enclosed by perimeter walls, these debate courtyards are themselves compounds).

Assembly-hall temples have large stone-paved courtyards (dochelrdo bcal) in front of them. The temple always faces south (see below), and is built several feet off the ground, so that one has to climb stairs to get inside. These stone stairs lead to the temple portico (gochorsgo mchor). Temple porticos – both in large temples and even in the smaller regional house temples – are protected on their open, front (southern) side with a canvas or wool awning. Their walls are painted with exquisite and elaborate murals (deprildebs ris) on a variety of themes. 51 Side doors (E and W) off the portico lead to stairs that access the upper stories of the temple. The main door (N) leads to the main meeting hall (tsokkhangtshogs khang). Side and rear chapels (lhakhanglha khang)52 are found all along the main meeting room. That main room receives its light from a clerestory, a square projection in the middle of the room that extends beyond the roofline and contains windows that open up into an ambulatory on the second story of the temple.

The temple, now administrative offices, of the exquisitely restored Tsomönling Labrang.
Mé College kitchen, painted yellow, as are most kitchens in SeraSe ra.

The second stories of assembly-hall temples contain a variety of rooms all built around an al fresco ambulatory that goes around the central, square clerestory. From the clerestory windows, one can look down into the interior of the main meeting hall below. Meeting rooms for administrators are found on this second floor, the largest of which is usually on the front (S) side, above the portico. It contains a row of south-facing windows that are visible from the outside. The second story also contains chapels (usually E and W), and living quarters. The multiple floors of the abbot’s suite, and the Dalai Lama’s suite are found in the rear (N) of the second story, and project multiple stories above it.

A word diagram, a mural on the Jé College temple portico. This diagram uses the syllables of the mantra Om mani padme hum
Workmen paint the clerestory windows on the second floor of the Jé College Assembly Hall.

The multi-story kitchens of assembly-hall temple complexes are always adjacent to the temple, and can be located to its east (as is the case with the Great Assembly Hall and the Mé College), or to the west (Jé College). Kitchens not only contain the hearth building/room, but also living quarters for cooks and other workers, storerooms and their own courtyards. The Jé College is unique in having two sets of kitchen buildings: one for special ritual events sponsored by the laity (painted white), and one for the daily use of monks (painted yellow).

The clerestory ambulatory on the second floor of the Tantric College temple, with the windows that look down into the main temple on the right.
The Samlo Regional House (Samlo Khangtsenbsam lo khang tshan) Stupa, the older of the two stupas at SeraSe ra.

[50] As the smallest of the three colleges, with only one thousand monks before 1959, this smallish kitchen may have been sufficient for the needs of the monks.
[51] These include murals of monastic artifacts and rituals, religious word diagrams (künzang khorlokun bzang ’khor lo, trashi khorloskra shis ’khor lo), “wheel of existence” murals (sipé khorlosrid pa’i ’khor lo), direction protectors, as well as inscriptions.
[52] The words “inner chapel” (lhakhang pukmalha khang spug ma or bukmasbug ma), and “offering room” (chökhangmchod khang) are also used to refer to these ancillary chapels.
The Space of Sera (se ra'i khor yug), by José Ignacio Cabezón