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A Tibetan Inscription by lHa Bla-ma Ye-shes-'od from dKor (sPu) Rediscovered*

  • Laxman S. Thakur


dKor and sPu are twin villages, separated by a rivulet, situated on the right bank of the river Sutlej in Kinnaur. A stēle inscription in question was first noticed from dKor by A. H. Francke in 1909, and subsequently by Giuseppe Tucci, in 1933 (Fig. i). Unfortunately neither Francke nor Tucci translated it in extenso. Francke, however, has published its main contents and Tucci relied on Francke's translation. Fragmentary it may be, but it contains invaluable information about the activities of Ye-shes-'od, a well-known monk-king of Western Tibet (formerly of the Gu-ge kingdom). To our knowledge, this seems to be the only Tibetan inscription which can definitely be dated to Ye-shes-'od's times. Fortunately, it mentions a specific date, i.e. the dragon's year (‘brug gi lo). In the year A.D. 1042 his grand-nephew Byang-chub-'od indirectly recalls Ye-shes-'od's deeds in the very first line of an inscription at rTa-pho. Thus it runs: spre'u'i lo la sngon mes byang chub sons dpas/gtsug lag khang ‘di bzhengs … [before, in the monkey year this temple (vihāra) was constructed by the grandfather the bodhisattva]. It is quite clear that the grandfather referred to in the line is none other than Ye-shes-'od. Another inscription also at rTa-pho, belonging to a somewhat later period, again records his name along with Byang-chub-'od and Zhi-ba-'od.



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1 Francke, A. H., “Historical documents from the borders of Tibet”, in Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Reports (19091910), pp. 104–12;idem, Antiquities of Indian Tibet (Calcutta, 1914), pt. i, p. 19.

2 Giuseppe Tucci and Captain Ghersi, E., Secrets of Tibet: Being the Chronicle of the Tucci Scientific Expedition to Western Tibet (1933), Tr. from the Italian by Johnstone, M. A. (London and Glasgow, 1935), p. 198.

3 Tucci, G., The Temples of Western Tibet and Their Artistic Symbolism: The Monasteries of Spiti and Kunavar (Indo-Tibetica, III: 1), ed. Chandra, Lokesh et al. (New Delhi, 1988), p. 95.

4 An inscription appears below the paintings of three figures in the dkyil-khang. It reads: pho-brang gtsug-pa Byang-chub-'od; bla ma Zhi-ba-'od; lha-bla-ma Ye-shes-'od; cf. Tucci, op. cit. p. 112. When I examined the inscription in situ, in June 1992, the first name had totally disappeared.

5 The length of the stupa at its base measures 38 cm and its total height is 59 cm.

6 Two damaged letters perhaps read bar.

7 Partially obliterated letters pose a problem for translation. K. Angrup Lahuli has read the missing letters as ‘phangs.

8 y blags below indicates that the missing character reads kyi.

9 After gra there appears a letter which in our opinion has been deleted, but the letters ga and sa are clear.

10 After grags a syllable looks like ba but I read it as pa. Due to the paucity of space the engraver was possibly forced to carve it in a compressed form. The last character in this line has been incised on the edge which may read de or te but I take it as de.

11 Remains a little problematic; however, it may read stod because the traces of a superscript t, which form a part of the second letter, are visible.

12 Damaged space measures 14 cm which can accommodate 7 or 8 letters.

13 It is not clear to which person a reference is made.

14 Exactly 14 cm space totally effaced as in line 5.

15 y btags below ba indicates that it reads byar or bya or ra separately. I prefer the latter.

16 Most likely dkon mchog. Six or seven letters after dkon mchog, however, are totally damaged which may be read as a name of some person either separately or along with dkon mchog.

17 The damaged portion measures 7 cm.

18 25 cm space totally erased in this and the following line.

19 zhes.

20 so.

21 lha bla-ma can be translated as devaguru but I prefer gurudeva.

22 bstan-pa has been explained by Das, S. C. (A Tibetan English Dictionary with Sanskrit Synonyms, rev. and ed. by Sandberg, G. and Heyde, A. William [Delhi, 1991], p. 560,s.v.) as “doctrinal teaching in general”, but in the next line he explains it as “sangs-rgyas kyi bstan-pa, i.e. the doctrine or religion of Buddha”; also cf. Krang dbyi sun (ed.), Bod-rgya-tshig-mdzod chen-mo, 3 vols. 2nd ed. (Peking, 1986), ii, s.v., p. 1126.

23 dard and the following two characters pose a problem for interpretation. A word following dard seems to be bar as explained by Körös (Essay Towards a Dictionary, Tibetan and English [Calcutta, 1834], p. 58, s.v.) as “to be diffused or propagated” and fits suitably in the present context.

24 Here the reading is doubtful.

25 chab and mnga’ thang mean power and authority. For mnga’ thang, a parallel can be seen in Richardson's A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions (London, 1985), p. 86, 11. 37; Thomas, F. W., Tibetan Literary Texts and Documents concerning Chinese Turkestan (London, 1951), ii, pp. 93: bl. I; 94: bl. I; 98: bl. 4.

26 The syllables ngo and la read together do not make any sense. Suniti Kumar Pathak, however, suggested that ngol may have been used for ngos in earlier days and the whole sentence may read dgun stod pa'i ngos, i.e. in the beginning of the winter month. Also ngo and la may be read separately and do not alter the meaning. I read them separately.

27 Here seven or eight characters are totally damaged. The preceding sentence tends to indicate that the missing part probably contains the names of Ye-shes-'od's son(s) Nāgarāja and Devaraja who also became monks along with their father. No information is available from inscriptions regarding the two brothers except a doubtful identification of Nāgarāja, the elder brother, in an inscription inscribed on the pedestal of the Cleveland Buddha. H. Karmay opines that the inscription “would date to the beginning of the 11th century”; see Karmay, , Early Sino-Tibetan Art (Warminster, 1975), p. 61. It is quite likely that one of Ye-shes-'od's sons visited sPu and stayed in the palace of some local ruler.

28 The early Tibetan inscriptions do not always convey the meaning of the word pho-brang as palace; since this inscription belongs to the beginning of the eleventh century it can be translated as “palace”; for varying meaning of the pho-brang, cf. Denwood, Philip T., “Tibetan pho-brang in the early period” in Indo-Tibetan Studies, ed. Skorupski, Tadeusz (Tring, 1990), pp. 7580.

29 If zhes preceded byar, then it can be taken as a future of byed-pa. However, bya and ra taken separately convey an altogether different meaning, i.e., “watched” or “superintendence” as explained in Das, S. C., A Tibetan-English Dictionary, p. 883, s.v. Professor Sempa Dorje of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, is inclined to read it as byar, whereas K. Angrup Lahuli read bya and ra separately.

30 The damaged letters after dkon mchog may read gsum because g is clearly visible.

31 Lines 8 to 11 are totally damaged; the occurrence of the bzhengs in the beginning of line 10 indicates that some structure was constructed. A single damaged word is partially visible in line 11 after a zig-zag recess.

32 Francke, , “Historical documents… ” p. 108.

34 English translation by Roerich, G. N., The Blue Annals (Delhi, 1988), p. 37.

35 See Tibetan text in transliteration, Kuznetsov, B. I. (ed.), rGyal Rabs gSal Ba'i Me Long (Leiden, 1966), pp. 196–7.

36 One can easily trace Tucci's remarks on the dKor inscription in Indo-Tibetica, ii, pp. 22, 68; cf. idem, On some bronze objects discovered in Western TibetArtius Asiae, V (1934), p. 113.

37 rDo-rje tshe-brtan brought out a reproduction of a collection of manuscripts from the library of dKyil monastery in Spiti, entitled, Collected Biographical Material about Lo-chen Rin-Chen-Bzan-po and his Subsequent Reembodiments (Delhi, 1977). The third biography in this collection (fols. numbered consecutively 51–128) was written by Gu-ge Khyi thang-pa dPal Ye-shes (folio 126, 1. 5). It has been translated into English by Snellgrove, David L. and Skorupski, Tadeusz, The Cultural Heritage of Ladakh (New Delhi, 1980), ii, pp. 8598.

38 In an earlier article (Thakur, Laxman S., “The Buddhist monuments of Himachal Pradesh” in Ratna-Chandrika: Shri R. C. Agrawala Festschrift, eds. Handa, D. and Agrawala, A. (New Delhi, 1989), p. 333), I mentioned that Rin-chen bzang-po spent thirteen years in Kashmir and eastern India during his first visit. My calculation was based on a wrong translation of the passage by Snellgrove and Skorupski (ibid. p. 90; Tibetan text, p. 105, line 22); also cf. Collected Biographical Material, no. 3, folio 86, line 3 which reads rgya-gar dang kha-che ru lo bcu song skad.

39 Chief Priest.

40 Vajrācārya.

* The author would like to thank V. S. Negi, Suniti Kumar Pathak, Sempa Dorje, and K. Angrup Lahuli for their helpful suggestions on the Tibetan text. I, however, am alone responsible for any error which may have crept in either in reconstructing the Tibetan text or offering an English translation. V. S. Negi took the trouble to accompany the author to sPu and dKor on 26 September 1992. During the course of three research tours earlier conducted in 1988, 1989 and June 1992, Mr Dilwar Sharma proved a good companion and successfully managed the tour programmes.


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