Temples, Shrines, and Altars

Artist Ngawang of Potala Paintings spent two years doing art work for the restoration of Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, one of largest of the more than 6,000 monasteries destroyed by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. In addition, he has created paintings and other works of art at both Ganden Monastery (two years) and Sera Monastery (6 months) in Tibet. Besides doing painting and temple decoration, he is expert in design, woodworking, and constructing altars.

Artist Jamphel was also trained in the arts in Lhasa. After he left Tibet, he received intensive training in painting, design, woodworking, and altar construction from master artists at the Norbulinka Institute in Dharamsala, India.

Tibetan Chorten

Tibetan Chorten with Shrine Room

A Chorten (stupa) is a symbol of the enlightened mind of the Buddha. The three main elements of the stupa are the base, dome and crowning parts. The shape of the monument explicitly resembles the body of the Buddha and evokes his physical presence.

The base symbolizes the five forces: faith, enthusiastic perseverance, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom. The dome is the vessel for the seven essential conditions of enlightenment: mindfulness, wisdom, effort, joy, flexibility, concentration, and equanimity. The harmika symbolizes the eightfold noble path; right view, right thought, right effort, right livelihood, right mindfulness, right concentration and right action. The ten discs of the spire correspond to the ten powers of the Buddha: thought, resolved thought, retention, concentration, perfect application, authority, and confidence.

A chorten contains within its walls sacred images, mantras and other holy objects.

This chorten has at its base a shrine room where offerings can be made. It is decorated with traditional Tibetan motifs.

Altar Room

Altar Room in a Small Tibetan Temple

The Altar Room displays sacred images and provides space for making prostrations and giving offerings.


Close Up of Decorated Altar

A typical Tibetan Altar displays images of Buddhas, Deities, and Bodhisattvas within a glass-enclosed cabinet. The images may be thangkas or statues.

Intricate paintings of flowers decorate the altar--giving homage to the sacred objects.

Wall & Pillar

Wall Decorations and Pillar

The walls and pillars of this temple room are decorated with lotus flowers. Mantras written in Tibetan script are painted on the wall. The colors are traditional Tibetan colors.

Border Detail

Detail of Border on Temple Wall

The border in this temple is painted around the four walls of the altar room and also appears in the vestibule. It shows a flaming jewel emerging from a lotus flower. The 3 precious jewels of Tibetan Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The lotus flower symbolizes the ability of the mind to transcend the muck of samsara and becoming enligthened.

8 Auspicious Substances

Painting on Temple Wall

This painting depicts the Eight Auspicious Substances: bringers of good fortune. They consist of a mirror, precious medicine, yoghurt, durva grass, the bilva fruit, a white conch, vermillion powder, and white mustard seeds.

The eight objects are probably of pre-Buddhist origin and were adopted into early Buddhist symbolism. They served to represent events in the Buddha's life and were deified in Vajrayana Buddhism to form a group of eight offering deities.

Design on Exterior

Detail of Border on Exterior of Temple Wall

The exterior of a Tibetan Buddhist Temple is highly decorated with traditional Tibetan symbols. The colors are the colors of Tibet: red, green, blue. yellow, and white.

Wall Borders

Wall Borders

The artist has decorated the walls of this temple with colorful borders that catch the eye whenever and wherever it looks upward

Border in Blue

Blue Border

A blue border decorates the entry hall of this temple.

Wall Borders

Temple Vestibule

The artist has decorated the entry way of this Tibetan temple with an ornate border of flowers and bells just below the ceiling. The mid-section is painted orange to fit in with the overall decor of the temple. The lower part of the wall utulizes a faux pattern to imitate a wood grain.