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On the lower slopes of the hill leading up to Drepung Monastery is Nechung Monastery, a small temple that fulfilled an important function in old Lhasa. It was the seat of the state oracle, who was consulted by the Lhasa government when making important decisions. The monks who lived at the Nechung were trained in the secret rituals that accompanied the trances of the oracle.
When in a trance, the oracle was said to be possessed by the spirit Dorje Drakden-- the oracle shook, trembled, barked, rolled his eyes and stuck out his tongue. Monk-attendants quickly strapped on the oracle’s impossibly heavy headpiece and he would dance around. Questions were asked, cryptic answers were given. The state oracle’s last cryptic answers in Tibet concerned whether the Dalai Lama should leave or not-- the answer was interpreted as yes.
The state oracle himself escaped to India with the exodus of exiles in 1959: he died in 1985, but his successor was found, and the tradition has been kept alive in Dharamasala, India.
In keeping with its unusual function, Nechung Monastery has some strange, striking and imaginative murals lining the walls of the inner courtyard and main chapel-paintings of flayed humans held from the rafters by serpents, figures with dangling eyeballs, disembodied heads and legs, wrathful deities with garlands of skulls, and other ghoulish artwork. It also features an array of mythical animals, such as murals of snakes and dragons coiled around support beams in the main hall.
There’s a statue of Dorje Drakden in the main assembly hall, as well as a photograph showing the Nechung Oracle in a trance. Adjoining chapels were once used by the various Dalai Lamas when they visited or conducted retreats here. Some 20 monks currently reside at Nechung.
Tips of Nechung Monastery
1. If you want to watch the frescoes in detail, you may as well take a flashlight with you as a consequence of lack of light inside the monastery.
2. You can actually pass by the Nechung Monastery when visiting Drepung Monastery by foot.