Nechung Monastery


This monastery, 10 minutes’ walk downhill from Drepung Monastery, is worth a visit for its historical role as the seat of the Tibetan State Oracle until 1959.

The Nechung oracle was the medium of Dorje Drakden, an aspect of Pehar, the Gelugpa protector of the Buddhist state, and the Dalai Lamas would make no important decision without first consulting him. The oracle was not infallible, however; in 1904 the oracle resigned in disgrace after failing to predict the invasion of the British under Younghusband. In 1959 the State Oracle fled to India with the Dalai Lama.

Nechung is an eerie place associated with possession, exorcism and other pre-Buddhist rites. The blood-red doors at the entrance are painted with flayed human skins, and scenes of torture line the top of the outer courtyard. Tantric drumming booms from the depths of the building like a demonic heartbeat.

For images of Dorje Drakden, the protective spirit manifested in the State Oracle, see the back-room chapel to the left of the main hall. The statue in the left corner shows Dorje Drakden in his wrathful aspect, so terrible that his face must be covered; the version on the right has him in a slightly more conciliatory frame of mind. The la-shing (sacred tree) in between the two is the home of Pehar.

The far-right chapel has an amazing spirit trap (a collection of coloured threads used to trap evil spirits), some fine painted cabinets and a statue of the Dzogchen deity Ekajati, recognisable by her single fang and eye and representing the power of concentration. On the 1st floor is an audience chamber, whose throne was used by the Dalai Lamas when they consulted with the State Oracle. The 2nd floor features a huge new statue of a wrathful Guru Rinpoche. Don’t miss the fine murals in the exterior courtyard (photos are allowed).

Nechung is easily reached on foot after visiting Drepung, on the way to the main road. A path leads past mani stone-carvers to the monastery (10 minutes). En route look for the metal icon moulds that are dipped in streams to act like underwater prayer flags, releasing fleeting fluid icons.

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