Drepung Monastery (literally “Rice Heap” monastery), located at the foot of Mount Gephel, is one of the "great three" Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet.
The other two are Ganden and Sera. Drepung is the largest of all Tibetan monasteries, and indeed at its peak was the largest monastery of any religion in the world. It was founded in 1416 by Jamyang Chojey, a direct disciple of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelukpa school. It is located on the Gambo Utse mountain, 5 kilometers from the western suburb of Lhasa.
Freddie Spencer Chapman reported, after his 1936-37 trip to Tibet, that Drepung was at that time the largest monastery in the world, and housed 7,700 monks, "but sometimes as many as 10,000 monks."
Drepung was known for the high standards of its academic study, and was called the Nalanda of Tibet, a reference to the great Buddhist monastic university of India.
Chapman reported that in the late 1930's Drepung was divided into four colleges, each housing monks from a different locality: "one being favoured by Khampas, another by Mongolians, and so on." Each college was presided over by an abbot who had been appointed by the late 13th Dalai Lama.
Drepung is now divided into what are known as the seven great colleges: Gomang (sGo-mang), Loseling (Blo-gsal gling), Deyang (bDe-dbyangs), Shagkor (Shag-skor), Gyelwa (rGyal-ba) or Tosamling (Thos-bsam gling), Dulwa (‘Dul-ba), and Ngagpa (sNgags-pa). It can be a somewhat useful analogy to think of Drepung as a university along the lines of Oxford or the Sorbonne in the Middle Ages, the various colleges having different emphases, teaching lineages, or traditional geographical affiliations.
Today the population at the monastery located in Tibet is much smaller with merely a few hundred monks, due to population capping enforced by the Chinese government. However, the institution has continued its tradition in exile with campuses in South India on land in Karnataka given to the Tibetan community in exile by Prime Minister Nehru. The monastery in India today houses over 5,000 celibate monks, with around 3,000 at Drepung Loseling and some 2,000 at Drepung Gomang. Hundreds of new monks are admitted each year, many of them refugees from Tibet.
The Ganden-Phodrang-Palace situated at Drepung Monastery was declared his chief residence/governmental palace by the 2nd Dalai Lama until the inaugaration of Potala Palace by the 5th Dalai Lama.