The Potala

Tibet in the 1930s: Theos Bernard's Legacy at UC Berkeley

The Potala

The Potala was the seat of religious and temporal authority when Theos Bernard visited Tibet in the 1930s—the monastery palace of the Dalai Lama. It is still the most recognizable and iconic structure of Tibet. The Potala is named for Mt. Potolaka, the abode of the boddhisattva Avalokiteśvara (of whom the Dalai Lama is supposed to be an incarnation).

The 5th Dalai Lama created the Potala as the permanent seat of religious and temporal authority following consolidation of power by the Gelukpa order because the location was central among the big three Gelukpa monasteries: Drepung (which had earlier been the Dalai Lama’s residence), Ganden, and Sera.

Construction of the Potala began in the mid-seventeenth century, with periodic additions over the centuries.  The White Palace is the site of ceremonial halls where important rituals took place, and the living quarters of the Dalai Lama were located in the building’s upper reaches. The Red Palace area houses the tombs of eight former Dalai Lamas. Throughout the Potala’s more than 1,000 rooms are many thousands of shrines, with Buddhist painting and images. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Interestingly, the sky in this photograph appears to have been painted in by hand.