Samye Monastery


This distant view of the Samye monastery (also seen as Sam-ye or Sam-yai in other sources) is from a collection of 50 photographs of central Tibet acquired in 1904 from the Imperial Russian Geographical Society in Saint Petersburg by the American Geographical Society. In the center, inside the walls furnished with small chortens (or ch'ortens), is the Tsug-la-k'an (also seen as Tsug-lha-khang), or golden-top house, the principal temple of the monastery. In his article “Journey to Lhasa,” G.Ts. Tsybikov writes: “The Sam-yai monastery is on the left bank of the Brahmaputra, 67 miles south-east of Lhasa. It is the oldest in Tibet, having been founded in the ninth century. Its five-storied sume (temple), of which the style is both Tibetan and Indian, is its chief attraction.” In The Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism (1899), L.A. Waddell writes: “Sam-yas . . . [was] the first monastery founded in Tibet . . . Its full title is 'Sam-yas Mi'gyur Lhun-gyis grub-pai tsug-lug K'han' or 'The academy for obtaining the heap of unchanging meditation'. [. . .] Part of the original building yet remains. The monastery, which contains a large temple, four large colleges, and several other buildings, is enclosed by a lofty circular wall about a mile and a half in circumference, with gates facing the cardinal points, and along the top of the wall are many votive brick chaityas, of which the explorer, Nain Singh, counted 1,030, and they seemed to be covered with inscriptions in ancient Indian characters.” The photographs in this collection were taken by two Mongolian Buddhist lamas, G.Ts. Tsybikov and Ovshe (O.M.) Norzunov, who visited Tibet in 1900 and 1901. Accompanying the photos is a set of notes written in Russian for the Imperial Russian Geographical Society by Tsybikov, Norzunov, and other Mongolians familiar with central Tibet. Alexander Grigoriev, corresponding member of the American Geographical Society, translated the notes from Russian into English in April 1904.

Last updated: March 22, 2016