The Treasury of Lives

Andre Alexander, The Temples of Lhasa

Banak Zhol Gyelkhang is the oracle shrine operated by a katsara family (mixed Tibetan-Newari descent) lineage of which the female members acted as a medium for the spirit of the deity Gyelpo Shingjachen (rgyal po shing bya can), a minister of the national protector deity Pehar Gyelpo. Local Lhasa knowledge claims that it was the Second Dalai Lama (1476-1542) who founded the Gyelkhang which would date its founding to the sixteenth century. The chapel assumed its present dimensions during the first Gurkha war (1788-1792). The chapel was closed in 1959 and reopened in 1994. It was restored by the monastery of Drak Yerpa which supples a caretaker monk.

Until Lhasa developed a dense townscape, areas near the Barkor were often turned into tent towns to accommodate tens of thousands of pilgrims and visitors at festival times. Banak Zhol, meaning 'black tent base' was one such area. The Banak Zhol neighborhood in Lhasa had a high number of such oracle temples until the post-1959 period but the Gyelkhang is the only survivor.


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