In the northern suburbs of Lhasa towers Mountain Serawoze. Sera Monastery lies on the southern slope of this mountain. Covering an area of 114,960 square meters, the monastery is comprised of Coqen Hall, three Zhacang dormitories for monks called Gyi, Mei and Ngaba, and some 30 Kangcun dorms for monks. It is one of the three great monasteries in Lhasa and one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug Sect of Buddhism in Tibet.
Sera in Tibetan means Wild Rose Garden since opulent wild rose woods once grew around it. A legend said Tsong Khapa and his two disciples once proceeded religious cultivation around. One day, they heard horse whinnying underground when they were taking a walk in the rose woods. A statue of Hynagriva (a horse-headed demon-god) was dug out then. Tsong Khapa started to build the monastery to enshrine Hynagriva. However, the truth is that in 1414, Jamchen Chojey (or Sakya Yeshe), one of Tsong Khapa's disciples, on behalf of Tsong Khapa, went to Nanjing to pay homage to the Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle, who granted him the honorific title “Western Paradise Buddha Grand State Tutor”, and a large number of sutras, Buddhist statues, monks robes, silks, gold and silver, which were used to build Sera Monastery. Then Sera monastery was set up in 1419.
Coqen Hall lies in the northeastern section of the monastery. It is four storeys high and is composed of a square, a Grand Sutra Hall and five Buddha Halls. The main statue at the monastery is that of the Qamba Buddha (Maitreya) which is six meters in height. In the western section is the Arhats Hall which holds 16 arhats each containing a carved wooden statue of arhat Sagya Yexei had taken to Tibet from China. In the east is the Hall of the Diamond Deity, and in the Yongle edition of the Tripitaka. This was the first woodblock printed sutra producted in China and it was presented to the monastery by Ming Dynasty Emperor Chengzu. The Gyi Zhacang rises four storeys in height. The Buddhist Guardian Hall holds the statue of the Horse-Headed Vajra (Dainzin), the most famous of its kind in Tibet. The Mei Zhacang is smaller than the Gyi Zhacang. The statue of Tuwo, a Buddhist guardian, is much revered because of its awesome appearance.
Sera is famous for its “Buddhism Scriptures Debating”. Monks can be seen preparing for monastic exam by staging mock debates in the ritual way. Some sit cross-legged under the trees, while others run from group to group giving vigorous hand-claps to end a statement or make a point. Master and dignitaries sit on the raised tiers when a real exam takes place.
On 27th of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar, the monastery holds the grand Sera Bungchen Festival, which attracts flocks of Buddhists and others.