ABOUT NECHUNG ORACLE TEMPLE
Nechung Oracle is a State oracle in Tibet. The Oracle assists the Dalai Lama in making important decisions. Nechung Oracle was guiding the search of the Dalai Lama’s and Panchen Lama’s reincarnations. He is also a head of the Nechung Temple in Tibet.
Nechung Temple is located about 1 km away from Drepung. The place is scenic with many juniper and fruit trees surrounding the temple. You can combine one day visit to Drepung with visiting Nechung Oracle temple.
The Oracle tradition has traces in pre-Buddhist traditions of shamanism and exorcism. The practice is mysterious, most of its aspects were kept secret until the recent years. When visiting the temple, you will see a different side of Tibetan religion and culture.
Nechung Oracle or Nechung Choje in Tibetan is a medium of Pehar Gyalpo. Pehar is a powerful Dharma protector. Dorje Drakden (Nechung), the minister of Pehar appears during the trance sessions. When medium goes into trance state, the minister possesses his body.
The Nechung Oracle tradition goes back to the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. During important events the Oracle would appear in religious ceremonies in Lhasa. However, most of the trance sessions with the Oracle were happening in the temple, kept secret from general public, and only monks were recording all events during the session. During the sessions The Dalai Lama and Tibetan Government discussed important question regarding the State and religion. That’s why these conversations were confidential.
There are other Oracles in Tibet of various level of importance. In the old days there were hundreds of oracles that served as mediums for different spirits. The Nechung Oracle is the principal State Oracle. Another State Oracle is Gadong, and one official oracle is Lamo Tsangpa. Nechung Oracle has a position of Deputy Minister, although he is a simple monk.
The Dalai Lamas consulted with the Oracle during New Year Festival and when they had to make an important decision about the country.
ABOUT THE ORACLE
To become Nechung Oracle, monks of the temple had to study and practice for many hours a day, memorize longs scripts, and perform certain rituals. The spirit of Pehar chooses the monk. The spirit would appear through that medium. High Lamas perform several tests to ensure that the medium’s spirit is truly Pehar. When it is confirmed, the monk becomes the abbot of Nechung. At the same time, monk has to dedicate every day to religious practices, meditation and spiritual rituals. The practices continue every day for 8 hours.
Before the state of trance, monk wears the special ceremonial costume. There are several layers of clothes underneath the golden robe. On the chest you can see the large round mirror decorated with precious stones. The Oracle is wearing a structure supporting flags and banners. The costume weighs over 30 kg/ 70 pounds. Before the monk goes into trance, his assistants have to support him in this costume. Once he falls into trance, monks put a heavy helmet on his head. During the ritual, Oracle dances and bows his head, that he cannot normally do, considering the weight of his costume.
You can see the costume with attributes on all paintings and sculptures depicting Nechung. In art, protector usually appears in his wrathful form. On the first floor of the temple you can see two statues of protector. On one he appears in his peaceful form, and on the second one in a more traditional wrathful form.
NECHUNG TEMPLE IN LHASA
There is a large courtyard where Tibetans burn Juniper tree incense. In the courtyard you can see murals depicting manifestations of Pehar. Before entering the temple, Tibetan buy barley beer. Tibetans use barley beer, along with black tea and milk in protectors chapels to keep the protector’s spirit happy. Upon the entrance to the temple, you can see red doors with painted human and animal skins. The mural paintings in the courtyard and inside the temple are some of the finest examples of frescoes in Tibet.
The first floor chapels display statues of Nechung Protector. There is also an audience chamber where Dalai Lama consulted the Oracle before making any important decisions. In the chapel on the left side you will see tree stump. It is the most sacred relic in the temple. According to the legend, Pehar was trapped in a box and sent down the Lhasa river. When Drepung monks opened the box and released him, Pehar turned into a dove. The tree became his first residence. This is the tree slump you can still see in the temple.
On the second floor there is a large balcony overlooking the courtyard. From the balcony you can also see Drepung Monastery on the mountain above the temple. Although temple belongs to the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, it has close connection with Drepung Monastery. The texts that monks study belong to Gelug tradition.
In the center of audience room on the second floor there is the Dalai Lamas throne. There are several statues on both sides of the throne. To the left, you can see statues of Tsongkhapa, The Fifth Dalai Lama, Shakyamuni Buddha and the Future Buddha. To the right from the throne, there are statues of Shakyamuni, Buddha of Compassion (Chenresig or Avalokiteshvara) and Yabshe Sum.
The third floor is dedicated to Padma Sambhava, also called Guru Rinpoche. His statue is the central statue of the chapel.
VISITING NECHUNG TEMPLE
Since Nechung temple is located near Drepung, it is best to visit Nechung Temple on a day tour combined with visiting Drepung Monastery. You can first visit Drepung monastery complex and spend time there. After that, walk down the slope of the mountain to reach Nechung.
In front of the West Gate of Nechung, there are several small tea houses where you can have a lunch break.
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