An Introduction to the Vairocana/Wencheng Gongzhu Temple

This small temple is dedicated to the Snow-Lake Vairocana or Nampar Nangdzé (rnam par snang mdzad). According to local oral history, Wencheng Gongzhu (in Tibetan: Gyaza Kongjo, rgya bza' kong jo, 628-680/2) founded the temple on her way from the Tang capital of Chang'an to Lhasa (lha sa), where she was to become an imperial consort of the first Tibetan emperor Songtsen Gampo (srong btsan sgam po). One of the many Wencheng Gongzhu sites in Eastern Tibet, the Wencheng Gongzhu Temple is an important site along the so-called "Southern Route" the Princess might have taken on her trip from Chang'an/Xian prior to 641. Recently, Trangu Monastery (khra 'gu bkra shis bshad sgrub chos 'khor gling) just south of Jyekundo (skye rgu mdo, Ch. Yushu) has administered the Wencheng Gongzhu Temple. In the yu shul rdzong dgon sde'i lo rgyus mdor sdus, under the entry for Trangu we find "rgya bza' kong jos 'phrul bzhengs su grags pa'i 'bis gyi [sic] rnam par snang mdzad." The Bikyi Nampar Nangdzé ('bis kyi rnam par snang mdzad) is the famous rock carving of Vairocana and inscription that has been studied by Nyagong Könchok Tseten (gnya' gong dkon mchog tshe brtan) and Padma Bum (pad+ma 'bum) (1988), Amy Heller (1994, 1997), Samten Karmay (1998), and Matthew Kapstein (2000).

Karmay (1998:56-7) described the Wencheng Gongzhu temple as: "The most holy place in the local area of Jyekundo is no doubt the site of 'Bis rNam-snang gtsug-lag-khang. It is situated in a rocky gorge known to the local people as 'Bis-khog, tucked away under the overlapping of its low hill ridges at the mouth of the gorge as one enters from the main valley, called dPal-thang, to the south-west of Jyekundo... 'Bis-khog is situated at a distance of about 25 km from the town of Jyekundo as one travels up the river dPal-chu which flows from the south northwards in the dPal-thang valley. The temple of 'Bis rNam-snang in 'Bis-khong is situated to the north of the stream. It stands close to and leaning directly against a very high hillside, a flat and vertical rock-face which serves as the back wall of the main temple building. It is on this rock-face that we find carved in relief ('bur du dod pa) a seated figure identified as Thub-pa gangs-chen mtsho-rgyal i.e. a form of Buddha Vairocana in normal human size, and flanked on either side by eight standing figures, four on the right, two above and two below, and four on the left in the same fashion. The main figure is seated on a lotus throne supported by two lions back to back. Each figure is identified by the name in Tibetan engraved on the rock just beside its pedestal...."

This rock carving is certainly ancient. However, based on the rock inscriptions at the site, most authors doubt Wencheng's involvement and prefer to date the entire complex to 806 during the reign of Emperor Tridé Songtsen (khri lde srong btsan). Karmay (59) speculates that the present association with Wencheng can be traced in large part to a 1958 propagandistic pilgrimage guide written by a Sakya (sa skya) monk, Sanggyé Gyatso (sangs rgyas rgya mtsho), for the purposes of heralding ethnic unity. However, he does admit that there are several other Vairocana rock-carvings in Eastern Tibet, which had been attributed to Wencheng over 300 years ago (64-65). At the time of writing, Karmay reported Sanggyé Gyatso's pilgrimage guide, "Mdo stod gnas chen 'bis rnam snang zhes lha cig rgya bza' kong jos brkos pa'i dkar chag don bzhin ston pa'i zhal lung," was no longer available. Nyagong Könchok Tseten and Padma Bum quoted parts of the guide in their article.


gnya' gong dkon mchog tshe brtan and pad+ma 'bum. 1988. yu shul khul gyi bod btsan po'i skyabs kyi rten yig brag brkos ma 'ga'. krung go'i bod kyi shes rig, 4: 52-75.

Heller, Amy. 1994. "Ninth-Century Buddhist Images Carved at Ldan-ma-brag to Commemorate Tibeto-Chinese Negotiations." In Tibetan Studies, ed. Per Kvaerne. Oslo, Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture. 1: 335-349, and appendix to Vol. 1, 12-19.

Heller, Amy. 1997. "Eighth- and Ninth-Century Temples and Rock Carvings of Eastern Tibet." In Tibetan Art: Towards a Definition of Style, ed. Jane. C. Singer and Paul Denwood. London, Laurence King86-103.

Kapstein, Matthew. 2000. The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Karmay, Samten. 1998. "Inscriptions Dating from the Reign of btsan po Khri lde-srong-bstan" in Samten G. Karmay ed., The Arrow and the Spindle: Studies in the History, Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Tibet. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point: 55-65.