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When Wencheng went to Tibet in 640 as the Chinese wife of the king (known as Gyasa in Tibet), she brought an image of Sakyamuni Buddha as a young prince.

The image was deified in a temple originally named Trulnang, which became the Jokhang.

Over the next nine centuries, the temple was enlarged; its last renovation was carried out in 1610 by the Fifth Dalai Lama.

The temple's design and construction are attributed to Nepalese craftsmen.

To forge ties with neighboring Nepal, Songtsen Gampo sent envoys to King Amsuvarman seeking his daughter's hand in marriage and the king accepted.

His daughter, Bhrikuti, came to Tibet as the king's Nepalese wife (tritsun; belsa in Tibetan).

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Gampo, wishing to obtain a second wife from China, sent his ambassador to Emperor Taizong (627–650) of the Tang dynasty for one of his daughters.

Tibetans viewed their country as a living entity controlled by srin ma (pronounced "sinma"), a wild demoness who opposed the propagation of Buddhism in the country.

To thwart her evil intentions, King Songtsen Gampo (the first king of a unified Tibet) developed a plan to build twelve temples across the country. In the first stage central Tibet was covered with four temples, known as the "four horns" (ru bzhi).

The Jokhang was founded during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo.

According to tradition, the temple was built for the king's two brides: Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang dynasty and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal.