Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

Textual and visual odds and ends from India, Tibet, and around.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

An inscription from Spu hreng

Sam of earlytibet fame posted a very interesting article recently. In the comments thereon I suggested that the text was defaced in order to 'recycle' the text. Today however this interesting little inscription came to my attention which should perhaps be added to the argument, although this defacement (if it is one) is of an entirely different nature.

It has been some years that Precious Deposits has been published and shame on me for not browsing through its five volumes earlier. Volume one (amongst many other fascinating things) has a picture of this Avalokiteśvara statue (p. 173, sorry about the quality; I could not take out the book from the library so a bad photocopy-scan will have to do). According to the caption the statue was found in Zhi bde village in Spu hreng county.

Then there is this dedicatory inscription (p. 172) with all kinds of good wishes from the donor. I will not transcribe it since it is quite legible in the book.

But here is the interesting part: who is the donor? The right side says Seng ge zhang chen po 'Bro(?) khri(?) brtsan sgra||(!) mgon po rgyal, (?) meaning that you can barely make out the letters. The other side has a slight variant for the name: zhang 'Bro(?) khri(?) brtsan sgra mgon po rgyal. Notice how the clan name 'Bro and the khri are almost illegible in both cases. Furthermore, is khri some kind of pretense of royalty (at any rate, is that what the vandal thought)? But then why is he calling himself zhang and zhang chen po?

Below you will find the names. I might just be paranoid, but it is highly unlikely that someone vandalizes two sides of an inscription in exactly the same places where the donor identifies his clan and possibly arrogates to himself the royal khri. Quite clearly, this guy had a problem with the 'Bros. And who would those be? Well, who did not have a problem with them?

Suggestions/comments are highly welcome.

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Blogger earlyTibet said...

Thanks for this! Coincidentally, Hildegarde Diemberger pointed this inscription out to me when we were looking at the defaced prayer manuscript. I don't think one has to find any specific evidence to justify the existence of clan rivalry in early Tibet, which this seems to be an example of (unless this was just a particularly aggrieved subject of this particular ruler).

Having said that, the disintegration of the Tibetan empire seems to have involved a grudge between the Dba' and 'Bro clans, with the former being accused of the murder of Ral pa can and the latter associated with the faction that opposed Glang Dar ma.

And then the civil wars that broke out in Tibet were said to have begun in the Hexi region when an official from the Dba' clan started an uprising against the local Tibetan governor, who was from the 'Bro clan. Luciano Petech (in a 1994 article I think) has given a nice account of this and Ronald Davidson also tells the story in 'Tibetan Renaissance'.

And the 'Bro clan was also present in Western Tibet, with Roberto Vitali (his 1996 book I think) actually arguing that members of the 'Bro clan fled from Hexi to Western Tibet after the collapse of Tibetan rule there at the end of the imperial period, possibly bringing with them a statue that became known in the Ngari court as the "Ha se (read Hexi) 'phags pa".

This is probably not strictly relevant to the inscription, but perhaps we might find our suspect among the Dba' clan (who were also busy (re)writing their history with the Dba' bzhed)....

10:13 am  
Blogger PDSz said...

Many thanks for your comment. As far as I could search this name (the donor) is not known. I am still puzzled about the 'khri'. Of course, it is not unusual to have it a name-element (there are cases for the 'Bro: Khri sum rje stag snang just to mention the most famous).

Many years back I compared the 'list of principalities' in the Pt 1286 and Dpa' bo's chronicle. If my memory serves me right (it usually doesn't) one of the striking differences was that in Dpa' bo's list the 'Bro slid way down to the end of the list whereas in the old ms. they were at the top. I don't have the material at hand to double-check this. I conjectured then that this was the result of clan-rivalry based manipulation of text and was glad to discover this further example.

I really should start reading Dunhuang stuff again, especially that there is such great secondary literature coming out these days.

Best regards.

1:03 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

Don't you love it when things are 'written in stone' so nobody can change them! (smiley smiley)

There's an article about this Chenrezi Stele: Tshe ring chos rgyal & Zla ba tshe ring, Gsar du brnyed pa'i spu hreng gi spyan ras gzigs kyi rdo ring las byung ba'i gtam dpyad, Gangs ljongs Rig gnas, 2nd issue of 1994 (22nd in general series), pp. 4-20.

But there is also a long foot note (no. 231 on page 168) in Roberto Vitali's book "The Kingdoms of Pu.hrang." He supplies the text and an English translation. According to Vitali, the inscription reads like this:

east face: rta'i lo'i / ston zla ra ba'i ngo la / seng ge ZHANG CHEN PO 'BRO KHRI BTSAN SGRA / MGON PO RGYAL gyis / mtha' yas pa'i sems can thams cad dang / thun mong du bsngos te / 'phags pa / spyan ras gzigs / dbang phyug gi / sku gzugs / rdo 'bur du bgyis nas / bzhengs gsol pa / dge ba'i rtsa ba 'di skye 'gro ma lus pa kun gyi don du bsngo.

west face: na mo 'phags pa spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug gi spyan sngar / sdig pa thams cad ni 'chags so / bsod nams thams cad kyi rjes su yi rang ngo / nyon mongs pa dang shes bya'i sgrib pa rnam gnyis ni byang / bsod nams dang / ye shes kyi tshogs chen po rnam gnyis ni / yongs su rdzogs nas bdag ZHANG 'BRO KHRI BRTSAN SGRA MGON PO RGYAL dang / mtha' yas pa'i sems can thams cad / dus gcig du / bla na myed pa'i sangs rgyas su grub par gyur cig.

There's also a nice argument there, in the same footnote, that would explain the 'lion' part of the 'Bro clan member's name (actually as a preface to the name). It's because the 'Bro wore a white lion fur collar that was awarded as a mark of rank.

2:37 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

PS The most informative writing in English about the 'Bro and Sba/Dba' family rivalries is Luciao Petech's essay, "The Disintegration of the Tibetan Kingdom," which is pages 649-659 in Per Kvaerne, ed., Tibetan Studies (Oslo 1994).

I'd say that the attempted effacement of the clan name would likely have been the responsibility of either someone on the Sba side, or of whoever succeeded them as ruling powers in Pu-hrang.*

*The correct Zhang-zhung spelling of the name, which means 'head horse' or, to put the syllables in Tibetan syntax, 'horse head,' or Rta-mgo.

A lot of effacement of names of rulers took place in Egypt. Some say the reason the tomb of Tutankhamun remained intact for so many millennia is because someone destroyed the stele inscribed with his name that ordinarily marked the entrances to royal tombs. (And that probably happened because it wasn't considered good to have him as part of the royal lineage any more.) Maybe the Egyptologists will chime in about now.

3:49 pm  
Blogger Andrew West said...


Thanks for pointing out the etymology of Spu hreng -- I've added it to the Wikipedia article on Burang. Do you know what other placenames in the area have Zhang Zhung origins, and has anyone done any work on Zhang Zhung geographical names? Looking at the map, I guess Ru thog could be from Zhang Zhung ru tog "lightning" (although of course thog means that in Tibetan). I wonder what other Zhang Zhung place names there are, and whether you could map the extent of the Zhang Zhung culture from placename evidence.

11:50 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

Dear A.W.,

Yes, I was thinking of writing something up on just that subject. Very often the names, over time, got regularized and/or 'Tibetanized.' Like Kha-tse ('sharp point' or 'spear' in ZZ) becomes Mkhar-rtse ('fort peak' in Tibetan). I think this is a relatively simple and clear but therefore excellent example.

Gu-ge is itself a good example of an originally ZZ place name which evidently was too weird even to be Tibetanized. (It occurs twice in the Mdzod-phug with the Tibetan equivalent being yi-ge, 'letter,' but don't ask me why Letter would be a good place name... We could make something up I suppose, since that's what always happens...).

I believe Ti-tse is a not so interesting example (or it's an example of ZZ remaining in a ZZ form, and not getting 'Tibetanized'), since it isn't sure if Ti-se (the more usual spelling these days) might be an authentic alternative spelling from old times or not. In either case it probably just meant in ZZ 'Water Peak' (with the glacier of course being ice, which is water and in fact turns to the headwaters of some very big rivers... actually, we could probably just translate Ti-tse as 'river peak').

I'm fairly sure Tsaparang is ZZ, but haven't decided how best to explain it as such. The Rang syllable is probably the ZZ for 'mountain.'

The two syllables of Tholing are also good candidates for ZZ-hood, although I'm not sure how they would have gone together.

I wonder that more attention hasn't been paid to the preservation of ZZ (and related languages!) in western Tibet, but I imagine it's because ZZ is such a weird and unknown (in some ways perhaps unknowable, although I wouldn't want to put too much stress on that, because it is also in many ways knowable!).

I was going to write something about ZZ place names, but hell, it looks like I just did.


2:08 pm  
Blogger Andrew West said...

Thanks Dan, just what I was looking for. I'm sure that there are even more examples if we look hard enough. It would certainly make an interesting research topic.

12:06 am  

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