In King Gesar's footsteps
China Daily 26 Dec 2001 (SOINAM ZHOLMA)
(China Daily is an official publication of the People's Republic of China)
Where is the State of Ling, described as the home of King Gesar, the renowned historical figure? Some say the area covered Dengke, Dege and even the bulk of the Kamba area; others say it was in today's Sichuan area drained by the Yellow River, comprising Norgyi, Hongyuan and Aba; still others favour Qubu in today's Gansu Province, where people of the Tibetan ethnic group lived in a compact community. Other possibilities are today's Golog-Yushu area of Qinghai Province and the cross-border areas of Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces.
Books grappling with this issue include "Questions and Answers" by Somba Yexei Benjor, a historian from Qinghai Province in the 1760s; "Natural Area of Dorkam" by Ren Naiqiang in 1940; and "A Study of King Gesar and Balladeers in Tibet and the Ling Edition of Tibetan King Gesar" by R. A. Stein from France. All three publications agree that the Ling State could stretch from Aba in the east to Garze's Dengke in the west in today's Sichuan Province, but its influence was felt even in Qinghai.
Adding to recent studies of the birthplace of Gesar, four experts from Qinghai went to Golog and Yushu in Qinghai in 1999, and Aba and Garze in Sichuan, where King Gesar is most popular. Folklore and other materials collected by the experts convinced them that Jisuya in Xiongbaji, Axu Town, Dege County of Garze in western Sichuan Province was the birthplace of Gesar.
Tale of Gesar Axu Town sits across Zhaqu River on the upper reaches of the Yarlung River, and is 207 kilometres away from the county seat. Dotted with fluttering sutra streamers, it is a world of natural existence, with many fish swimming in the rivers and lakes.
By chance, the four researchers met the Living Buddha Bagyia with the Chacha Monastery in Dege County at a bus stop some 20 kilometres from Axu Town. Saying that he loved King Gesar very much, Bagyia began to pour out what he had learned about Gesar.
According to local legend, Gesar was Dongzhu Zarbao, the eldest of the 15 sons of Heavenly King Baifan. He was considered to be the reincarnation of Master Padmasambhava, an Indian monk who spread Buddhism in Tibet. In the face of rampant demons, Gesar decided to lift sufferers out of the abyss of bitterness. At Jisuya, the researchers were told the legend that Gesar was born on a Saturday in a yak hair tent in Jisuya.
Gesar was born into a poor herder's family and it was said the sky was covered with auspicious clouds and spanned by a rainbow. Gesar's mother, Gorsa, was working in the field when she felt a sharp pain. She struggled up onto a large rock. When Gesar was born, Gorsa discovered two deeply cut footprints that she made while climbing the rock.
There were other legends about where the legendary Tibetan king was born. One is that he was born by the Mamaoke Qu River to the south of the Bayankala Mountains, in the border area of Yushu and Garze. People there describe his birthplace in this way: to the left of a cypress tree in a place resembling the tail of a horse; to the left of a bowl-like fountain that lies beneath a rock resembling an arrow.
In a surprising coincidence, the area is located at the confluence of two rivers, where Gesar's mother put up her tent, amid the ruins of the Sutra Hall of King Gesar. Behind the Sutra Hall is a rock that looks like an arrow, with grasslands covering the rock resembling unfolded felt. Sutra Hall Whatever the speculations, researchers were led to a large rock said to be the place where Gorsa gave birth to Gesar, in Dege County.
To commemorate Gesar's birth, local people built the Temple of King Gesar near the large rock, and today, the temple has been renamed the Sutra Hall of King Gesar. Legend has it that the temple was built during the reign of Emperor Daoguang of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
But some insist it was built during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) by Ling Gesgyia, offspring of Wonbo Nganu Huasang, one of the four major headmen from the Ling area. Ling Gesgyia was said to be one of the four bravest generals of King Gesar.
Moreover, the temple served as the family temple belonging to the Headman of Ling Cang, which has been documented in the Family Record of the Mobudong Tribe and that of Headman Ling Cang.
Before the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, the temple housed Gesar's ivory seal, the family records of Gesar's bailiff Nganyichageng, arrows used by General Nyiancha Ngadain, armour and weapons used by Gesar, relics belonging to Gesar's father-in-law, a statue of Gesar's horse, and clay figurines of Dainma, Xinba and Zhumao.
In the temple were also frescoes depicting 30 generals of the State of Ling who served under Gesar's rule, 80 heroes who had distinguished themselves during the expeditionary war, 13 Buddhist guardians and 18 concubines of Gesar. Other frescoes depict how Gesar fought his enemies.
Although the temple was damaged during the chaotic "cultural revolution" (1966-76), in 1987 the government of Dege County earmarked some 30,000 yuan (US$3,600) for repairs. After that, the living Buddha Bagyia managed to raise money for further renovation of the Sutra Hall of King Gesar, which was consecrated on August 8, 1999, although Bagyia declined to serve as its abbot.
The Sutra Hall today enshrines the sculpture of King Gesar. Behind him are statues of 80 heroes with his generals, concubines and beauties standing in front.
Coincidence After examining the rock and the Sutra Hall of King Gesar, researchers re-examined the earlier scholarly works by Ren Naiqiang and Somba Yexei Banjor. The latter is a famous scholar whose speculation about Gesar's birthplace coincides with Bagyia's tales.
In his view, Gesar was a real person, who lived in the Ling area of Kham. "His birthplace lies in Lhagyixiong, where the three rivers - Yellow, Lancang River and Jinsha River - meet," Somba Yexei Banjor said. "It was to the left of the Dege Castle... with a mirror-like lake. In the area is a square-shaped rocky mountain. In the centre is a lawn where the parents of Gesar put up a tent."
The place was called "Ghinyi Maguanqi," he said. Ren Naiqiang is an accomplished Tibetologist who is an expert in the study of King Gesar. His 1929 survey of the Kham area suggested that the present-day area under Headman Ling Cang in the Yarlung River Valley was called Xiongba.
"Gesar was born in the Chacha Temple," Ren wrote. "After his birth, grass and flowers thrived in the area a year round. The temple houses Gesar's weapons and an ivory seal but some of his belongings were moved by a magician lama to Xiangdana, located in Xiangqian County in Qinghai Province."
Li Ming, another scholar, lived in the Kham area for years. In 1942, he completed a survey in Dege and later studied Buddhist doctrines in a Zuqing Temple in the area.
"Gesar was born in an area east of Shiqu on the western bank of the Yarlung River. It was called Xiongba and was still under the jurisdiction of Headman Ling Cang who built the temple for his family," according to Li, who also substantiates views by other scholars about a temple housing Gesar's weapons and an ivory seal, as well as the moving of Gesar's belongings to Xiangdana by a lama with magic powers."
King's relics In Tibetan, Dege means "a kind area." It is full of cultural relics that legends attribute belonging to King Gesar. Prints on the Rock: About two kilometres away from the Sutra Hall of King Gesar is a large rock bearing imprints of the bottom half of a boy. Legend has it that Gesar, possessing magic power, conquered three demon birds when he was only three years old. Fountain: To the left of the Sutra Hall of King Gesar is a fountain that gushes crystal clear water. The accounts of the rock print and the fountain found their way into the legend of the Birth of the Hero in King Gesar.
Researchers attempted to taste water from the fountain but Bagyia stopped them, explaining that the fountain would then become contaminated and eventually dry.
Gege Mountain: In the Tamranma Mountain in Gyike, Shiqu County, more than
150 kilometres to the north of Dege County, is a mountain mouth called Gege in Tibetan. Legend has it that Gesar's uncle tried to murder the boy on the advice of a sorcerer.
Upon learning the news, Gesar fought with the sorcerer, who fled to the mountains. When he saw Gesar in the distance, he uttered "Ge Ge."
From then on, the mountain mouth was so called, and a rock there resembles the image of the sorcerer.
Other places allegedly related to King Gesar include an ancient castle and temples containing armour used by the king.
Based on folklore and research, the experts concluded that the legendary King Gesar was born in the 11th century in today's Jisuya at Xiongbaji, Axu Town, in Dege County of Garze.
Born poor, he spent his childhood as a shepherd. He later married Zhumao and joined with her brother to build an army with 30 generals and tens of thousands of soldiers. After defeating their enemies, they established the State of Ling, which is now Ozhu Township in Dege County.
With Ozhu as his base, Gesar fought in present-day Golog, Yushuo, Garze, Xinlong, Daofu, Seda, Luohuo, Aba and Qamdo. His generals were given land to rule in Baiyu, Dengke, Shiqu, Golog, Yushu and Qamdo.
During his twilight years, Gesar decided to leave Qamdo and return home.
When he reached Dengke, his horse was startled by a dog, and the king fell to the ground and died.
Gesar's offspring, who took over his reign, were known as Headman Ling Cang during the Yuan (1279-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911)
dynasties, and the period between 1912 and 1949. (with photo and caption:
Legendary land: The birthplace of King Gesar.)