The Sagya Monastery is located in the Sagya County, 149 kilometers from Xigaze. It comprises the Southern and Northern monasteries and got its name for the Northern, although only the Southern Monastery remains today. In 1073, Kun Gongjor Gyibo, founder
of the Sagya Sect, built a white palace on the gray clay hill on the northern bank of the Chun Qu River, and named it Sagya, which means gray clay. Now, only wall ruins remain, which are called the Ancient City Monastery or the Northern Sagya Monastery. In 1288, Benqen Sagya Sangbo built the Southern Sagya Monastery. With renovation and expansion by his descendants, it has thus evolved to its present state. The floor space of the monastery occupies 14,700 square meters, and its surrounding wall is five meters high and nearly two meters thick. On each of the four corners stands a watch tower. The main hall occupies 5,700 square meters, and 40 red pillars support the ceiling. The four in the center are the thickest, and the thickest of the four is 1.5 meters in diameter. It is named Gyina Seqen Garna, meaning pillar sent by the emperor; the second thickest is named Chongbo Garwa, meaning pillar sent by the wild yak; the third thickest is Dabo Garwa, meaning pillar sent by the tiger; the fourth thickest is Nabo Chaza Garwa, meaning bleeding pillar sent by the God of Sea. In the largest renovation during the Pagba time, a number of craftsmen were sent for from the inland, thus making the Sagya Monastery a combination of Tibetan, Mongolian and Han architectural styles with obvious influences from the Tibetan religion. With the Sagya Monastery being the center, the Kuns steadily developed the Sagya Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Because the murals in the interior wall of the monastery had three separate stripes of red, white and blue, which represent Wisdom Buddha, Bodhisattva and Buddha's warrior attendants, the Sagya Sect is also called Stripe Sect.
Five descendants from the Kuns have made great contributions to the founding of the Sagya Sect, so they were claimed to be the five founders of the sect: Gonggar Nyingbo, who inherited and spread the Buddhist Neo-Secret Sect; Soinam Chemo, who advocated the practice of recruiting disciples for the Neo-Secret Sect; Zhaba Gyaincain, younger brother of Soinam Chemo, who excelled in both the Open and Secret sects. The three married and had children, so later generations called them Three Founders in White. The other two were called Two founders in Red, who became lamas, and abided by Buddhist principles and excelled in Buddhism. They were Gonggar Gyaincain, who was knowledgeable and respected as a man of wisdom, and Pagba, who was a famous Buddhist scholar and political activist. During the times of Gonggar Gyaincain and Pagba, they visited the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty twice, thus making great, historical progress in integrating Tibet into the territory of China. In 1260, Pagba was granted a title of State Master by the Kubla Khan of the Yuan Dynasty, and later titles of Great King of Dharma and Teacher of the Emperor. The Yuan Dynasty had conducted a census in Tibet, established a prefecture that ruled 130,000 households, set up posts, sent troops to Tibet and appointed head officials of Sagya to represent the Central Government in tackling political affairs in Tibet, thus establishing the ruling status of the Sagya Sect in Tibet. The Yuan-dynasty government also set up the General Council (later changed to Political Council) to administer national religious affairs and administrative affairs in Tibet.
The Sagya Monastry is proclaimed the Second Dunhuang, and boasts many classical books, relics, and rich and precious mural paintings. More than 40,000 volumes of books are housed there. A wood book cabinet, which is 57.2 meters long, 11 meters high, 1.3 meters wide, has 464 book shelves, on which are thousands of volumes on Buddhism. The most precious is Buddhist scripture Burde Gyaimalung, which is 1.8 meters long, 1.03 meters wide and 0.67 meters thick. This omus opus describes the religion, history, philosophy, literature, agriculture and animal husbandry in Tibet.
The temple also stores 21 volumes of Buddhist scriptures on pattra (originally over 100 volumes). On each pattra are Buddhist scriptures written in Sanskrit. Each volume contains 100 to 200 pages, including four-color illustrations. Also in the monastery are ancient porcelain wares, jade bowls, gold-gilt Buddha statues, armors, musical instruments used in Buddhist mass, robes, boots, seals, tangka painting scrolls, satins and silks and other numerous rare relics presented to the Prince of Dharma in Sagya by emperors through the dynasties. Murals in the monastery, superb and representing the epitome of Tibetan murals, depict Buddhist stories, portraits of Princes of Dharma of Sagya through the dynasties, Pagba's meeting with Kubla Khan and the construction scene of the Sagya Monastery. Wrought in a vigorous, meticulous style, the murals, being rare artifacts, are fresh and lively with changing compositions.