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see LhasaLhasa
or Lasa
, city (1994 est. pop. 118,000), capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, SW China. It is on a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo (Brahmaputra) at an altitude of c.11,800 ft (3,600 m).
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Potala (Tibet)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In Buddhist thought, Mount Potala is the mythical home of Bodhisattva Chenresi (better known in the West by her Chinese name, Kuan Yin). On a hill overlooking the Llasa Valley in Tibet was a cave, which in the years after Buddhism entered the country was considered to be a location favored by Chenresi with her presence. Seventh-century Tibetan ruler Songtsen Gampo built a palace on the hill in 637. That palace would eventually become the residence of the Dalai Lamas.

Seventeenth-century Tibet was dominated by Lozang Gyatso (1617–1682), the fifth Dalai Lama whose life is pictured in a mural on the Great West Hall within the Potala. He is credited with allying himself with the Mongols and then unifying Tibet under the Gelugpa Buddhists whom he led. He also began the massive construction project that created the Potala as it is today. The so-called red palace was completed in the decade after Gyatso’s death, during which time the country’s regent attempted to rule in place of the Dalai Lama’s designated successor. The completed palace is some 384 feet in height and 360 feet wide; it has over a thousand rooms that cover an area of some five square miles. It underwent its last major renovation in the 1920s during the time of the thirteenth Dalai Lama.

From the seventeenth century until 1959, the Potala served as both the seat of the Tibetan government and the home of the Dalai Lama. Following the Chinese invasion of Tibet and its annexation by the Peoples Republic, the Dalai Lama moved into exile in neighboring Tibet. As the Chinese took control of the country, most of its holy sites (especially the monasteries) were looted and/or razed to the ground. However, the Potala, including the Buddhist chapels within it, were exempted from the destruction experienced by the Buddhist community. Today it has once again become a pilgrimage site for Buddhists and is a key tourist stop for foreigners visiting Tibet.

The palace remains one of the most sacred of sites to Tibetan Buddhists, though today it is essentially a museum without any official status. The oldest surviving temples in the country are contained within the walls of the White Palace. They date to the seventh century. One of these temples, known as Phakpa Lhakhang, houses possibly the most holy object recognized by Tibetan Buddhists: a statue of Bodhisattva Chenresi. The bodies of eight of the previous Dalai Lamas are housed there, preserved in stupas in the palace’s several chapels. The stupa of the fifth Dalai Lama is the largest. It is made of sandalwood and decorated with gold and precious stones.


Phuntsok, Namgyal. Splendor of Tibet: The Potala Palace, Jewel of the Himalayas. Dumont, NJ: Homa& Sekey Books, 2002.
Potala Palace. Llasa, Tibet: Managing Bureau of Cultural Relics, Tibetan Autonomous Region, 1988.
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