The superb Sera Monastery is located below Tatipu Hill just to the north of Lhasa City. It is one of the three great teaching monasteries in Lhasa along with the Drepung Monastery and the Ganden Monastery. It was built in 1419 by Jamchen Chojey, one of Tsongkhapa's disciples.
The complex covers an area of 28 hectares (69 acres), and the main buildings are the Coqen Hall and three Zhacangs (tantric colleges). The Coqen Hall contains an assembly hall and five Buddha halls, which contain a statue of the Maitreya and 16 arhats. Also to be found here is an almost complete copy of the Tripitaka in Tibetan, presented to Jamchen Chojey by the Yongle Emperor (1360-1424). The oldest of the three Zhacangs was built in 1419, and a well-preserved fresco from the period can be seen there.
In the Je Zhacang the Hayagriva – the horse-headed demon-god – is worshipped. It is also the site of one of the best-known of the attractions at Sera Monastery – the courtyard debates. The Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism requires lamas to take part in debates to strengthen their understanding of the scriptures. Debates are conducted by the lamas in a courtyard of the monastery every day beginning at 3pm. They form small groups and conduct lively contests, striding forward, clapping their hands for emphasis and challenging their opponents to answer them.