Located in Sakya County southwest of Shigatse, Sakya Monastery is the principal monastery of the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Originally, Sakya Monastery comprised both the Northern and Southern Monasteries. In 1073, Khon Konchog Gyalpo, the founder of Sakyapa sect, built a white palace on a grey clay hill near the northern bank of the Chun Qu River. The locals named the palace Sakya, which means ‘grey soil’. This was the Northern Monastery, but today only it ruins remain.
The Southern Monastery was built as a fortress and was surrounded by a moat. Construction of the monastery began in 1268 and was led by Benqen Sagya Sangpo under the charge of Choygal Phakpa, the fifth in the line of descent of the Sakyapa sect. The walls of this monastery were painted in red, white and grey, the colors respectively, of Manjusri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajradhara. Sakya Monastery is famed as the ‘second Dunhuang’ due to its huge collection of Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, murals and thangkas. According to statistics, about 40,000 volumes of scripture are housed there. A wooden bookcase which is about 57 meters (187 feet) long, 11 meters (36 feet) high and one meter wide (three feet) has 464 compartments. More than ten thousand texts are kept in the case. Among them, the most precious is Burde Gyaimalung, a record of Tibetan religion, history, philosophy, literature, agriculture and animal husbandry. It is 1.8 meters long, 1.3 meters wide and 0.67 meter thick, and boasts of being the largest scripture in the world. Additionally, the monastery houses 21 volumes of Buddhist scriptures written on palm leaves in Sanskrit. Each contains one hundred to two hundred pages and illustrations in four-color. These are the most precious sutras in the world. Sakya Monastery has many murals and thangkas. Most of the murals are from the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Among them, the most outstanding are the murals which depict the former Sakya ancestors, Phakpa’s meeting with Kublai Khan (the founder of the Yuan dynasty) and mandalas. There are over 3,000 thangkas. The 360 from the Song (960-1279), Yuan and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties are the most precious. The Main Chanting Hall (called lakhang Chenpo in Tibetan) is a must see for all visitors. Covering an area of about 5,800 square meters, the lakhang Chenpo can hold about ten thousand monks when they gather to chant sutras together. In the hall are enshrined three Buddhas – Dipamkara, Sakyamuni and Maitreya and five Sakyapa ancestors. There are forty huge vermilion pillars supporting the ceiling, four of which are about one meter (three feet) in diameter. Each of the four pillars has its own story. Gyina Seqen Garwa was bestowed by Kublai Khan. Chongbo Garwa, Dabo Garwa and Nabo Chaza Garwa were carried to the monastery by a wild yak (dhong), a tiger and the God of the Sea. On the second floor of the hall there are 63 murals of mandalas, the best preserved in the monastery. The monastery also houses some historical relics, such as seals, Buddhist figures, porcelain ware and embroidery from the Song and Yuan dynasties. A black wooden casket which contains a white whelk clarion is the most precious. It was presented by Kublai Khan.