For most Tibetans it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. It is in some regards pansectarian, but is presently controlled by the Gelug school.
Along with the Potala Palace, it is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Lhasa. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace" and a spiritual centre of Lhasa.
The Jokhang temple was constructed by King Songtsän Gampo (see also internet variant Songsten Gampo) probably in 642. It was originally called the Rasa Tulnang Tsuklakang or The House of Mysteries, The Magical Emanation at Rasa [the early name for Lhasa]. Both Bhrituti and Wencheng, the Nepalese and Chinese wives of Songsten Gampo brought important Buddhist statues and images to Tibet as part of their dowries, and the were housed here.
It was boarded up during the reign of the Bönpo king, Langdharma (reigned 838-841 CE). The famous Buddhist Master Atisha taught here in the 11th century and it has been considered the most important temple in Lhasa ever since.
This temple has remained a key center of Buddhist pilgrimage for centuries. It was sacked several times by the Mongols, but the building survived. In the past several centuries the temple complex was expanded and now covers an area of about 25,000 sq. meters.
There is a walled enclosure in front of the Jokhang which contains some willows called the Jowo Utra ('Hair of the Jowo') and a doring or inscribed pillar erected by the Chinese in 1793 during a smallpox epidemic. It records the Sino-Tibetan treaty of 822 concluded by King Ralpacan and includes the following inscription: "Tibet and China shall abide by the frontiers of which they are now in occupation. All to the east is the country of Great China; and all to the west is, without question, the country of Great Tibet. Henceforth on neither side shall there be waging of war nor seizing of territory. If any person incurs suspicion he shall be arrested; his business shall be inquired into and he shall be escorted back," as well as advice on hygiene measures to prevent smallpox.
The Jokhang temple is a four-story construction, with roofs covered with gilded bronze tiles. The architectural style is based on the Indian vihara design, and was later extended resulting in a blend of Nepalese and Tang Dynasty styles. The rooftop statues of two golden deer flanking a Dharma wheel is iconic.
The Jokhang temple complex has several decorated shrines and rooms. The main hall of the temple houses the Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha statue, perhaps the single most venerated object in Tibetan Buddhism. There are also famous statues of Chenresig, Padmasambhava and King Songtsan Gambo and his two famous foreign brides, Princess Wen Cheng (niece of Emperor Taizong of Tang China) and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. Many of the statues were destroyed during the "cultural revolution" but have since been remade - often including broken pieces of the original statues.