The Khön family from which the Sakya lineage is descended is known by three special names. Because the family is descended from Gods of the Realm of Clear Light who entered the human realm, the family came to be known as the “Celestial Race” (lha rigs). Then because a member of this family was born when his father was subjugating a rakshas, a class of harmful spirits, the child was called “Born-amidst-strife” (Khön-par-kyay) and the family was called “the Strife Lineage” (‘khon rigs). Finally, because the first monastery a family member built was on a patch of pale earth (sa skya), the monastery took the name “Sakya,” as did the town, this family (the Sakya Lineage), and their religious order (the Sakyapa).
Prior to the building of Sakya Monastery, the Indian master Atisha was traveling through Tibet. When he saw the patch of pale earth on the hillside where Sakya Monastery would be built, he dismounted and made prostrations to the hillside. He explained that he saw the syllables HRIH, HUNG, and DHIH, indicating many bodhisattva emanations of Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, and Manjushri would come to this region. Accordingly, the Sakya lineage is famed for its bodhisattva emanations, especially of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom.
In the fourteenth century, the Sakya family had as many as four branches. Only one branch now survives, the Duchö. In the early nineteenth century, this branch split into two palaces (phodrangs): the Drolma and the Phuntsok. Members from each palace have served as the Sakya Throne-holders.