It is often times hard to photograph inside Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Lhasa and at other famous monasteries since these monasteries usually charge money for each picture. However, in the more remote regions of Tibet, away from where the tourists go, it is usually fine to take pictures inside a monastery, even while prayer services are going on. All of these photos were taken recently at Damkar Monastery འདམ་དཀར་དགོན་ 12kms north of Jyekundo in the Kham region of Tibet. Damkar is a Karma Kagyu sect monastery sitting on a mountain 250m above the valley below. It has around 450 monks. The above picture is of butter candles near a small alter int he monastery.
During prayer time, the assembly hall of the monastery fills with monks. They all sit on mats that are neatly lined into rows. There is one designated monk who leads the prayer and chanting time. The low pitched sound of hundreds of chanting monks can be heard from a far distance away. The assembly hall is usually dimly lit, almost dark except for the light from butter candles. Often times worshipers from the nearby village will come and listen at the doorway and even join in with the chanting.
The monks in the assembly hall all chant the same portion of Buddhist scripture together. Often times, older monks will have large portions memorized while the others will follow along by flipping through the scripture book, pictured above.
Large monasteries can hold up to a thousand or more monks inside the main assembly hall. The Damkar monastery assembly hall could probably hold only around 350. The assembly hall is elaborately designed with images of Buddha, thangkha's, murals, candles and various tapestries hanging from the ceiling. Almost every assembly hall I have been into is quite cold, even in the summer. Very little natural light enters and the room is not heated.
Throughout the prayer and chanting time, there will be scheduled stops where monks will beat drums, play horns, clang cymbals and blow through a conch shell. The picture above is of a monk beating a large drum.
There are usually two long horns measuring two or even two meters long that monks will blow during the chanting and prayer time. Above, two monks are blowing on horns at Damkar monastery.
Many thanks to the monks at Damkar who not only allowed me to photograph inside and outside the monastery for a couple of hours, but also gave me a great free lunch! I will be taking copies of pictures to the monastery when I return there next month.
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