Located 28km southwest of Xining city, Ta'er Monastery is one the six great lamaseries of the Yellow Hat Sect (Gelugpa) of Tibetan Buddhism. Also called Kumbum in Tibetan language, this monastery originated in 1379 from a pagoda, which marked the birthplace of Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), the founder of the Gelugpa Sect (Yellow Hat) in Tibetan Buddhism. The lamasery stands a special position in the hearts of the Tibetan people, because Tsongkhapa was the teacher of the first Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. Built in 1560, it is one of the most important lamaseries for Buddhists.
Today thousands of disciples follow their Tibetan Buddhist leaders in devotion surrounded by the splendid culture and art of the lamasery. The most famous items are the "Three Treasures". The first one is the yak butter sculptures. Made from Yak butter, the sculptures bring to life Buddhas, animals and flowers, varying from a few meters tall to less than a centimeter. To prepare for the grand butter sculpture show on the night of January 15 on the lunar calendar, the lamas must start working at least three months ahead. To prevent the butter from melting, the lamas must work in sub-zero temperature and the sculptures are kept in giant glass boxes with air-conditioning after the show.
Another treasure is the appliquéd embroidery displayed in the Great Hall of Sutra. The pictureare pieced together with silk and the Buddha in the pictures all have eyes made from rare stones. Murals form the last treasure of the lamasery. They were painted with pigments made from minerals and plants, so the colors stay fresh and bright for centuries.
But the most interesting scene is perhaps the debate of the lamas. Standing in front of his teacher who is seated, the student must think of some difficult questions from Buddhist sutras, then clap his hands as loudly as possible and extend his right arm to his teach while raising the question. Generally the teacher will answer succinctly with one or two words. Occasionally he will speak longer and the students' smile clearly shows his gratitude for the advice. Tourists are now allowed to watch the debate, and if your show enough respect to the lamas, you might be able to have an interesting talk with them.
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