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The Lukhang Temple stands on a small island in a park behind the Potala Palace, on the north side, west of the old city of Lhasa. It is known as the Dzonggyab Lukhang meaning literally "Water Spirit Temple behind the Fort". The island measures roughly 40 m. in diameter, and the rectangular lake 270 x 112 m. Nearby to the south-west stood the elephant stables, Langkhang, built in 1791 by the Eighth Dalai Lama, but these were destroyed in 1996. The temple itself faces south, like the Potala. A humped stone bridge, 24.67 m. long, in Chinese style, links the island to the shore. Altogether the surface of the temple covers 3700 sq.m.


  • 1654-1692, earth was continuously removed from the site for construction of the Potala Palace, forming an oblong basin which gradually filled up with water.
  • ca.1700, the first sanctuary was built by the Sixth Dalai Lama.
  • 1791, the present four storey mandala structure was completed by the Eighth Dalai Lama.
  • 19??, restoration by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (1875-1933).
  • 1980, proposal for restoration by the People's Government of the T.A.R.
  • 1984-5, major restoration undertaken, with much of the original structure being removed, concrete platforms and pillars installed.

In 1645, year of the Water Horse, at the beginning of the reign of the "Great" Fifth Dalai Lama (1616-1682), his Regent Sonam Rabten laid the foundations of the White Palace on the Red Hill of Marpori. This is thought to have been the site of an earlier palace built by the first emperor Songtsen Gampo, who unified Tibet in the 7th c. Following the death of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the next Regent Sangye Gyatso continued the work, finally completing the Red Palace in 1692. During that half century of massive construction work, large quantities of earth were continuously dug out from behind the Red Hill. Gradually water filled up the cavity, and it came to be known as the Lake of the King of the Water Spirits, or Lukhang. In exchange for the earth, the regent promised that he would build a sanctuary there.

A pavillion was built ca.1700, during the reign of the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso (1683-1706), in order that "timely rain might fall all over Tibet". According to popular tradition, the Dalai Lama himself often went there to meet his mistresses, and in one of his songs he refers in an oblique manner to the regent Sangye Gyatso, as the "fierce Lu demon behind", and to one of the Dalai Lama's charming ladies (see below).

Almost one century later, in 1791, year of the Iron Pig, the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jampel Gyatsho, enlarged it, building the three storied mandala, with four doors, outer galleries (?mda' yab), and a hexagonal "Mongol-style" roof (hor phibs tog can), that we can see today. On the top (fourth) floor a room for the Dalai Lama was installed, while below in the main Tsangkhang sanctuary, it is said in a recent publication on the Potala, that a statue of Lhachen Dribdzong Tenpa (Grib rdzong btsan pa) brought by the Princess Wencheng (?) was surrounded by images of the eight great peaceful Lu, a Lu mandala, "treasure substances" (gter rdzas), and "treasure vases" (gter bum), etc.

In 1801, year of the Iron Bird, the eighth Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, Tenpai Nyima, went together to the Lukhang and performed a "Lu vase realisation ritual" in propitiation of the deities. The rain fell and so they offered Lu vases to the Water Spirits, went round the lake on wooden boats, rode elephants, and strolled about. The metaphysicians from Sera and Drepung also set up a debating class there, on the "Great Classics", and the two great lamas gave them a feast. From then onwards, each year, "in order that timely rain might fall", all kinds of Lu vases are made and sPa chog(= dpa') "Hero rituals" (?) performed. On the 15th day of the 4th Tibetan month of Sakadawa, when the festivals of the Birth, Enlightenment, and Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha are held simultaneously, the people of Lhasa set out in the early morning to perform "virtuous actions", and in the afternoon go boating on the lake, sing, dance, play music and enjoy themselves.

However, in spite of the strong historic link between the two sites, in 1994, when the Potala Palace was put on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, the Lukhang was not inluded. The explanation given is that under the present administration, the park together with the temple come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Forestry.

None of the sources consulted so far give any indication of the date of the precious wall paintings inside the Lukhang. If as is suggested in the "Guide to the Potala", the major construction work was carried out during the reign of the Eighth Dalai Lama, it appears likely that the paintings would date to that time. However, it is possible that there is a difference in date of execution of the paintings on the second and third floors. Further research is needed.

In Ceremonies of the Lhasa Year, Hugh Richardson, former British resident in Lhasa, gives the following description of the Sakadawa festival as it was held on the 15th day of the 4th month, before 1959 :

"The fifteenth of the month (Saga Dawa) when the moon is in the constellation of Saga commemorates the Enlightenment of the Lord Buddha and also his death and attainment of Nirvana. It is perhaps the holiest day in the Buddhist calendar and the fortnight preceding it is devoted to prayer and religious observances such as fasting. More people than usual make the circuit of the city and special sermons are preached in the Jokhang which many officials attend.

On the fifteenth from early morning the air is filled with clouds of incense smoke from the leaves of artemesia, scrub rhododendron and juniper twigs in burners on every rooftop and also on surrounding hills; From dawn onwards the whole population sets out to offer scarves and butter from lamps at all the holy places of Lhasa and to walk around the Lingkor, the outer circuit of the city, telling their rosaries and turning their prayer wheels; some prostrate themselves the whole way. The Shappés begin their day at the Jokhang from where they go to Meru, the Ramoché and other temples such as the Jebum Lhakhang, pausing on the way at the office of the City Magistrates to order the release of some prisoners in honour of the day. Then they proceed on the five-mile walk around the Lingkor distributing alms as they go - as do all the other walkers - to the crowd of beggars from Lhasa and outlying villages who have gathered for the occasion.All offices of the Tibetan government also distribute money and food.

At that time of the year - late May or early June - the weather is usually very warm and as most high officials are unused to walking very far, the circuit in the full dress of their rank is hard going, even though some may be shaded by an umbrella carried behind them by a servant. Many of our friends used to drop in to the British Mission at Dekyilingka, just off the west side of the Lingkor, for tea and a rest before going on to Norbulingka to offer scarves at the altars and to attend a brief reception by the Dalai Lama.

After that they are allowed to ride to the Potala for a round of visits to the many chapels. From there they go down to the Lukhang, a small temple of the naga deities in a little lake to the north of the Potala. They are rowed out to the temple in leather coracles to make their offerings, after which they repair to a tent among trees on a pleasant green bank by the lake for a rest and prolonged lunch during which the Lugarpa, a party of dancers, dance and sing for them. They then embark again in the coracles and, shaded by large red laquered umbrellas, make the circuit of the temple. The Lugarpa accompany them in other boats, singing and playing a variety of instruments and making the proper "white" offerings to the naga deities. When the Shappés have left, other officials are also rowed round the temple and after them large numbers of the general public who have been enjoying picnics by the lake, dressed in their best clothes, take to the boats and go round the temple with much singing and laughter. It is a joyous and colourful scene. The Shappés pay a final visit to the Ramoché before riding home."

Songs on the Dzonggyab Lukhang

Lha sa Lha sa skyid pa
de las Lha klu skyid pa
Lha sa Lha klu'i bar na
rDzong rgyab Klu khang skyid pa

quoted by Sorenson, Divinity Secularised, Wien 1990, p.278.

Lhasa Lhasa's a delight
Lhalu's more delightful
Between Lhasa and Lhalu
Dzonggyab Lukhang's delightful.

rGyab gyi klu bdud btsan po
'jigs dang mi 'jigs mi 'dug
mdun gyi ka ra ku shu
'thogs su dgos pa byas song

Rig 'dzin Tshang dbyangs rGya mtsho'i
gsung mgur dang gsang ba'i rnam thar,
Beijing 1981, p.23, song 64.

No question of fear or no fear
Of the fierce Lu Demon behind me
I just had to go out and pluck
The sweet apple that hung before me.

sNyan snyan pi wang 'gyur ba'i dri za'i glu
lhang lhang sgra 'dzin bu gar thos pa yi
skyes rgu'i yid la dga skyed klu dbang khang
chil chil ma dros mtsho chen dag la 'gran

rTse Potala'i gnas bshad, TAR Cultural Relics Committee 1985, 214.

Sweet, sweet the song of the gandharva, on strings of the piwang
Clear, clear in our ears, bringing joy to the heart of man
Lapping, lapping round the Temple of the Lord of Lu,
Quiet, quiet! You're a rival to the great seas and oceans.

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