Kitchen at Sera Monatery. South-Western Tibet 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.com
Sera Monastery is one of the 'great three' Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet, located 1.25 miles (2.01 km) north of Lhasa. The other two are Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery. The origin of the name 'Sera' is attributed to a fact that the site where the monastery was built was surrounded by wild roses (se ra in Tibetan language) in bloom. The original Sera monastery is located in Lhasa, Tibet, about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) north of the Jokang and is responsible for some 19 hermitages, including four nunneries, which are all located in the foot hills north of Lhasa. The Sera Monastery, as a complex of structures with the Great Assembly Hall and three colleges, was founded in 1419 by Jamchen Chojey of Sakya Yeshe of Zel Gungtang (1355–1435), a disciple of Tsongkhapa. Scriptures written in gold powder, fine statues, scent cloth and unparalleled murals can be found in these halls. Colorful debates on Buddhist doctrines are held here and these employ a style distinctive from those at Lhasa's other famous monasteries. The monastery is magnificent and covers an area of 114,946 square meters.
During the 1959 revolt in Lhasa, Sera monastery suffered severe damage, with its colleges destroyed and hundreds of monks killed. After the Dalai Lama took asylum in India, many of the monks of the Sera Monastery who survived the attack moved to Bylakuppe in Mysore, India. After initial tribulations, they established a parallel Sera Monastery with Sera Me and Sera Je colleges and a Great Assembly Hall on similar lines to the original monastery, with help from the Government of India. There are now 3,000 or more monks living in Sera, India and this community has also spread its missionary activities to several countries by establishing Dharma centres, propagating knowledge of Buddhism.
The Sera Monastery in Tibet and its counterpart in Mysore, India are the best locations to witness the “Monk Debates” on the teachings of Buddha and the philosophy of Buddhism. Sera Monastery developed over the centuries as a renowned place of scholarly learning, training hundreds of scholars, many of whom have attained fame in the Buddhist nations.
This temple is noted for its many shrines, and its blue and carved gold mantra in the hallway, inscribed with words meaning, "Hail to the jewel in the lotus".
Over the years, the monastery developed into a hermitage where about 6000 monks resided (but in 2008 it had only 550 monks in residence).