Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Tibetan Olympics of 1695. The Nine Men's Sporting Events

A famous 1900 photo of the Potala Palace, Lhasa, by the Kalmuck Buddhist Ovshe Norzunov.  The darker building in the center is the Red Palace, which contains among many other things the funerary chorten of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama. This is one of the very earliest photographs taken in Lhasa. (Double click on the picture for more detail.)

It’s an Olympic year, in case anyone has noticed. Please, I’m joking, of course you noticed. Even I noticed. Now let me say first, before the opening shot so to speak, I truly dislike talking about things about which I know very little. But as much as I dislike it, I suppose by scrupulously circumventing this problem I would end up saying hardly anything at all. One of those things (the things about which I know very little) is this: sports. 

Ugh! It’s not just that I never majored in kinesiology. Maybe it was that sadistic physical education teacher in high school. He would make us run in circles endlessly, and if we seemed to lag behind he’d slap our bare thighs with a long measuring stick as we passed by. He made us do leg lifts, lower our legs until just four inches from the ground, and then command us to hold that position despite the heightened sense of excruciating pain this exercise caused us. He would make us hold our arms straight out to the sides horizontal with the ground, making the shape of the cross, for as long as fifteen minutes at a time until we started to feel, well, crucified

I never saw very much point in all this pain-inducing asceticism — I never bought into the Charles Atlas cult — although I suppose I sometimes enjoyed playing actual competitive sports, particularly soccer, even softball and basketball from time to time. For a few years in college I got addicted to occasional long bouts of ping pong playing. My opponents, who were largely of Chinese origins, taught me both to serve and return the balls with a very nasty spin attached. I won as many times as I lost, which to me sounds good, but hardly made me Olympic material. Not very long ago I attended a talk in which someone tried their best to communicate the rules of cricket. I really had (and have) no idea. Rule-governed behavior? No thank you. We get enough of that.  Where’s the fun exactly?  

These days most of my exercise seems to take place on the computer keyboard, but when that gets old, as it tends to, I take a walk or jump on my stationary bike and spin for awhile. Sorry, I didn’t mean to go on about my high school phys.-ed. teacher, although obviously this still rankles some ulterior lobes of my psyché. I did have another purpose in mind besides grousing about a childhood that could have been a little more perfect.

Today is the day when His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama’s two envoys arrive in Beijing to hold talks with Chinese government officials. I write this blog today in honor of the occasion, as a small tribute to its huge possibilities. I’m betting on optimism and hoping, even if cautiously as every Tibetan in the globe certainly is today, that the outcome will be positive. Since I know this means a lot to a whole lot of people in the world, I’ll also make a wish for a successful Olympic Games in Beijing, something for everyone to take pride in, as unlikely as this may seem at the moment. And I’m not even holding out for any particular outcome for Tibet and his proud people except that it must be a good one. Independence would be great. He (yes, that's right, he, for Tibetans know their country as a Father Land, Pha-yul) was an independent nation in the past, which would fully justify an independent future as a part of the world’s community of nations. Or failing that, autonomy that would include some degree of reliance on Beijing for one or another reason. I think it’s not wise for either side to have any hard preconditions, since this — the level or the definition of Tibet’s future autonomy — is precisely the solution that has to be arrived at through the coming dialogue and negotiation. Talking is one of the Olympic sports. The main thing is to get the game started.  Don’t pre-determine the outcome. That would be unsportsman-like. Perhaps even unfair.

Did I say talking is one of the Olympic sports? I guess I did. I imagine you might be wondering why. Well, all in the Tibetan past was not darkness and dread as Beijing’s self-serving polemical version of Tibetan history, now enshrined in a brand new museum, would have its intended victims believe. Tibetans are not opposed to games. Just the contrary. Tibetans in centuries past not only managed to find love and have fun, they even played games. Besides children’s games — about them I will say not one more word today — there were more serious games for mature athletes. These are known in pre-modern Tibetan literature as pho rtsed sna dgu, which means, translating syllable-for-syllable, except in reverse order: ‘Nine Different Games [of/for] Men.’*
{*There is a second way of enumerating the nine sports, but I'll save that for another time.}
Here they are. They come in triads:
1. Talking.
2. Letters.
3. Calculating.

4. Archery.
5. Stone[lifting and carrying].
6. Jumping.

7. Foot racing.
8. Swimming.
9. Wrestling.

1-3) Of course the first trio doesn’t appear to contain any ‘sports’ at all. Seeing the renewed popularity of the spelling bee, I would expect to see it there, perhaps. No. 1, talking, is in Tibetan a word that might tend to mean oral/verbal skills of all kinds, but more particularly story telling and speech making. I'm thinking, since I’ve not found any explanation, that ‘letters’ means calligraphy, but I'm not sure.  It could include spelling, which is certainly challenging sometimes.  'Calculating' in your own head without technological assistance, a mental skill (the two earlier ones were in some sense verbal), is basically a lost art, although when I was a child we took a lot of pride in it.

4) With ‘archery’ we find a most popular art among the Tibetans (in neighboring Bhutan, it is even a kind of cultural madness). Here is a depiction of an archery competition from the Tibetan Olympics of 1695 (I haven't made myself absolutely confident of the exact date yet) as found in wall paintings inside the Potala (I apologize for the poor quality of the digital photo... They will improve, I promise). These Potala murals are meant to depict the celebrations that took place following the completion and consecration of the Red Palace and the Fifth Dalai Lama's tomb-chorten in 1694-95.  The murals themselves are believed to date to that same time more or less, although they have no doubt been retouched in later centuries:

In Tibet, as in other neighboring cultures, the arrow is practically synonymous with manhood, so much so that arrows may serve as stand-ins for the male member of the family in various rituals (where women are represented by spindles), although at times it symbolizes long life as well.

5) Stone lifting is of course identical to weight lifting, only without the nicely designed equipment. Generally this involves not only lifting the infernally heavy hernia-inducing object, but carrying it some distance as well. Even the Jesuit Father Desideri, although he had hardly much of anything to say about Tibetan sports when he told of his time in Tibet in the 2nd decade of the 18th century, did say something about the stones (it's interesting that he, too, mentions archery first): 
Their games are archery, or shooting at a target with a musket, at both they are exceedingly expert. At other times they play with heavy stones as we do in Europe with quoits.
About 200 years later, Waddell would summarily describe Tibetan sports and games like this (Lhasa & Its Mysteries, p. 422):

The chief amusements of the men are horse-racing, wrestling, putting the stone, archery, quoits, dominoes, and a game like droughts called ‘Pushing the Tiger’.

The written Tibetan inscription on the Potala mural of the stone lifters specifies that the competitors in the stone lifting event were ‘Khampas, Mongolians, Tibetans and others’ (the exact reading is this:  644 kham sog bod pa sogs rdo mgyogs 'gran par nang zan glang ru 'ba' lug rtser son pa /).  I think it rather resembles the highland Scottish Stone Carry.

6) Jumping.  Jumping in Tibetan usage mostly resembles the broad jump, but with special Tibetan characteristics.  Melvyn Goldstein long ago wrote the classic article on the subject.  In old days there were, in Sera and Drepung Monasteries just outside Lhasa, groups of monks within the category of Dobdob, who would meet periodically for sporting events. And the main events would seem to have been variations on the broad jump done after running to the top of a ramp and leaping off (sometimes throwing stones at targets could be part of it... See Goldstein's article for more).  The setup for the jumping contest was called the chongra (mchong-ra), the ‘jumping enclosure.’  The following is after Goldstein’s article:

Charles Bell took a very nice photograph of such an event held by monks at Gyantse, with the competitor suspended in mid-air for all eternity.  It has been published many times, not only in Bell's own book, but also in David MacDonald’s Twenty Years in Tibet.  Try looking here, where the photograph itself is curiously missing, although you do find a description of it.

7) Foot racing. This was and has remained one of the most popular spectator competitions in ancient and modern Olympic games. It's relatively straightforward in its rules. Get to the ending point faster than the others. Given the altitude of the Tibetan Plateau, I don’t suggest that any foreigners try competing in this event. Well, perhaps some Peruvians.  In my understanding the Tibetan bang refers to footraces only, but it could be that horse racing (rta-rgyug) is also included here.  It ought to be included somewhere, since there is so much horse racing, racing that involves all kinds of fancy riding tricks, all over the plateau during the late summer months.*

{*Perhaps the most formal and elaborate of the annual sporting events was one called "Gallop behind the Fort" (in Tibetan rdzong rgyab zhabs 'bel or rdzong rgyab zhar 'phen) held in Lhasa in winter, on the 26th day of the first month.  In the Doring biography, it is called the rdzong rgyab rtsal rgyug.  All the Lhasa officials would attend it in their finest robes.}

8) Swimming.  The swimming event in the 1695 Olympics took place in the Kyichu River.  It’s maybe interesting enough to try and translate a few of the labels on the Potala mural paintings:

Don't these swimmers remind you of the "swimmer's" in our last weblog?  Only these swimmers are enjoying themselves, not going to a watery grave.
488 Among the water sports were these:  sitting [on top of the water] in the Vajra Posture and...

489 ...diving [and]....

490  ...carrying banners into the middle of the current [evidently an underwater swimming competition to judge from the mural, with flags to indicate their locations].
You see the cross-legged figure in the Vajra Posture on your left.  Another figure is clearly walking on the water like Saint Peter on the Sea of Galilee.  The divers are on your right. It looks like one of them is getting a slight push.  The three things at the bottom are the banners mentioned in an inscription.

Here are the shorter Tibetan inscriptions in the painting:
488 chu rtsal gras / rdor dkyil dang /

489 gting 'dzul /

490 chu gzhung dar lcog 'khyer ba /

9) Wrestling.  I don’t know much about Tibetan wrestling. It certainly is not as famous to the world at large as Mongolian wrestling, and of course the Japanese wrestling style called Sumo are. Nowadays it would seem that the top Sumo wrestlers are ethnic Mongolians, like Asashoryu. It seems that Tibetan wrestling is primarily done with the arms while avoiding the use of the feet, just as classical Graeco-Roman wrestling did.  In any case, that’s how it appears in this piece of the Potala mural.

The inscription tells us that most of the wrestlers were Mongolians (643 sog po shas che ba'i sbar kha rgyab par drang ma byung ba /... notice how the word for 'wrestling' which ought to be sbe-ka, is here misspelled sbar-kha). The Tibetan word for wrestling probably is, as Berthold Laufer argued over a century ago in his famous article on Tibetan loanwords, borrowed from the Sanskrit word bheka, which means ‘frog’ (as it does in Hungarian, also, strangely enough). I'm still trying to find a good explanation for this. Is there something frog-like about wrestlers? You be the judge.

One last ‘sport’ I would just like to mention is rope sliding. Sometimes it’s classed with acrobatics, but I believe it actually belongs in the category of ‘extreme sports’ or the dare-devilry of earlier times. I think it’s probably much more dangerous than bungee jumping. Many foreign travelers to Lhasa witnessed it.  And there are wonderful old photographs which you should go and look at right now at this website. Waddell (Tibetan Buddhism, p. 505, n. 4) says:
The games include archery; putting the stone (and called Ling-sing ch'en gyal-po), in which the losers pay forfeits; acrobates, in the Lhâsa festivals these come usually from Shigatse (Tsang-jo-mo-Kha-rag), and slide down long ropes of yak-hair from the gilt umbrellas on the top of Potala to the foot of the edict pillars.
Another work by the same British imperialist scholar, describes it like this (Lhasa & Its Mysteries, pp. 397-8):
At the foot of the great staircase stands a tall monolith, a counterpart of the one outside (see photo, p. 336), but bearing no inscription. To this is fixed the lower end of the great rope for the "Flying Spirits" at the festival of the New Year, the upper end of the rope being tied to the topmost roof of the palace, over 500 feet above, and down this terribly dangerous incline slides an acrobate, carrying good luck for the incoming year admidst the huzzas of 50,000 people. The man who personates the flying spirit belongs to a class of professional acrobats. He rides a wooden saddle, and encases his body in thickly padded vestments to counter-act the friction of the rope. Taking his stand on the top of the palace, he throws a libation of wine and dough images of men and animals to the devils and then slides down the rope, sometimes sitting astride as on a horse's saddle, at other times flying with the saddle under his breast. Although he travels down with terrific speed, and the dangers of being killed or lacerated by the friction are great, he seldom suffers accident, the present performer having accomplished the feat for several consecutive years. Its object is to confer good fortune on the Grand Lama and his country, and the "Flying Spirit" appears to take the part of a good angel rather than a scape-goat, as he is fêted and does not flee into retirement.
(A footnote adds that the practice, as known in Garhwal, is described under the name "Barat" by Dr. Moorcroft.)
Spencer Chapman, who attended the event at the Tibetan New Year in 1937, described it like this (I’ve abbreviated considerably):
Then followed a ceremony that all Lhasa turned out to see. In the old days a yak-hair rope was stretched from the roof of the Potala to a stone edict pillar at the foot of the southern staircase, hundreds of feet below. Then several men, protected by leather saddles, slid down the rope at terrific speed. To provide these men was a form of taxation levied on certain villages. The men usually arrived at the bottom in a half-dead condition, and on one occasion a performer slipped beneath the rope in his descent and was nearly killed. So the Dalai Lama stopped this performance on the grounds of cruelty, and substituted another acrobatic feat, which I was lucky enough to witness and photograph from the flat roof of the "War Office" building overlooking the edict pillar.

Here a tall pole, say fifty feet high, and swathed in yak-hair cloth to prevent it splitting, was put up on the flat paved platform at the foot of the wide Potala staircase, and was held in position by yak-hair shrouds. Meanwhile crowds of people were settling themselves down to wait on the steps ...

All at once there is a hush, and a man looking — and probably feeling — singularly like a sacrifice, is swung astride a rope preparatory to being hauled to the top of the pole. While he is only just above the heads of the crowd he starts to chant, and drinks a cup of tea which is handed up to him. His head is bound with a white cloth. On the summit of the pole is a small platform on which there is just room to stand. Above this projects a short rod of iron. To begin with the man, chanting all the time, stands for a moment on the platform; but a strong wind makes this too precarious, and he is obviously not too confident. After all, the pole was only put up a few hours ago, and he cannot have had much opportunity for rehearsals. He takes his boots off and throws them down into the crowd. Several times he stands up with his arms outstretched, but only for a brief moment. Then, tying a bobbin-shaped piece of wood on to his stomach, he fits this over the top of the metal rod and, with arms and legs outstretched, starts to spin round and round. After he has repeated this several times he is allowed to return to terra firma, where he bows down three times towards the Potala, offering thanks that his ordeal is safely over. Many of the crowd throw coins into his hat as they disperse to their homes.
The Tibetan names for this acrobatic performance have been given as “Sliding Down a Rope Like a Bird” (bya mkhan thag shur), "Rope Sliding" (thag bzhur), “Rope Sliding from the Royal Fortress” (rgyal mkhar thag bzhur), and “Sky Dancing Rope Game” (gnam bro thag rtsed).

So now that I’ve gone on and on much longer than I intended to, I’d just like to end by saying that I believe it is now well enough established that the 1695 Tibetan Olympic Games were an international sporting event. This is explicitly stated in the label to one part of the mural, where it says that athletes from China, Mongolia and Tibet attended. Observe the different hats in the picture below and try to decide which is which if you can. I was going to say something about Tibetan “psychic sports,” about psychic heat, trance running and the like, but maybe some other time. Oh, and I also thought I would pick out a particular, and particularly Tibetan, sport for nomination to the Olympic board for future inclusion in the international gaming events, perhaps before the 2012 London games. There is time enough for that. And anyway, we ought to include a sport or two that originated in China.  The only Asian games that will be included in the Beijing Olympics are two, one from Korea and the other from Japan.  

We know that the Nine Men’s Sports were the basis for the 1695 Olympics.  Just look at the first words of this long inscription: pho rtsed sna dgu.

READ more & then some more then even more than that:

Tamim Ansary, What Makes a Sport 'Olympic'?  Available online here. Highly recommended. Charmingly written. Quite readable. Insightful. Gives good links. This article ought to demonstrate to anyone's satisfaction that the original Olympic sports were similar in number and content to the Tibetan Olympic sports. Much more so, of course, than the modern Olympics.

Gerald D. Berreman, Himalayan Rope Sliding and Village Hinduism: An Analysis, Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, vol. 17, no. 4 (Winter 1961), pp. 326-42. The performance of rope sliding was once widespread in Garhwal district in India bordering western Tibet. On p. 330 are references to English literature on the event that took place annually at the Potala Palace.

Chabpel Tseten Puntsog (Chab-spel Tshe-brtan-phun-tshogs), Bod mi rigs kyi srol rgyun lus rtsal pho rtsal sna dgu zhes pa'i skor cung zad gleng ba, Bod ljongs zhib 'jug, issue no. 59 (3rd issue of 1996), pp. 98-114, 164.

F. Spencer Chapman, Lhasa the Holy City, Readers Union (London 1940), pp. 313-314.

Ippolito Desideri, An Account of Tibet: The Travels of Ippolito Desideri of Pistoia S.J., 1712-1727, tr. & ed. by Filippo de Filippi, George Routledge & Sons (London 1932), p. 189.

Doring Tendzin Paljor (Rdo-ring Bstan-'dzin-dpal-'byor), b. 1760, Rdo ring pandi ta'i rnam thar, Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang (Chengdu 1987), in 2 volumes, at vol. 1, p. 182, makes reference to the Nine Men's Sports (pho rtsal sna dgu'i gras kyi mda' rdo mchongs gsum dang / bang rkyal sbo gsum sogs kyis rtsed 'jo'i go chod sbyong brdar dang...; note the mispelling sbo instead of sbe) and elsewhere in this biographical work there are plentiful mentions of horse races, archery contests and so on. This information ought to be included in a future study.

Melvyn Goldstein, A Study of the Ldab-ldob, Central Asiatic Journal, vol. 9, no. 2 (1964), pp. 125-141.  This has nicely been made available as a PDF at the author's own website.

Siegbert Hummel & Paul G. Brewster, Games of the Tibetans, FF Communications (Folklore Fellows Communications), vol. 77, no. 187 (1963).

Könchog Jigmé Wangpo (Dkon-mchog-'jigs-med-dbang-po, Chos kyi rnam grangs (=Mdo rgyud bstan bcos du ma nas 'byung ba'i chos kyi rnam grangs shes ldan yid kyi dga' ston), Mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang (Xining 1992), p. 121. This is my main authority for the list of Nine Men's Sports: pho rtsed sna dgu ni / gtam yig rtsis gsum / mda' rdo mchong gsum / bang rkyal sbe gsum rnams so.

Kunga T. Dorji & Tashi Phuntsho, Archery: The Real Game is Played Elsewhere, reprint from Kuensel newspaper here.  And try this video about Bhutanese Da.

Berthold Laufer, Loan-Words in Tibetan, contained in:  Sino-Tibetan Studies, ed. by Hartmut Walravens, Aditya Prakashan (New Delhi 1987), vol. 2, pp. 483-552.  Sbe-ka appears at entry no. 33 on p. 534.  Malla is the usual Sanskrit word for 'wrestler.'

Lobzang Chödrag (Blo-bzang-chos-grags), De sngon se 'bras kyi grwa pa rdab rdob kyi gnas tshul dang de'i shed ngoms rtsal rtsed kyi skor, Gangs ljongs rig gnas, issue 6 (2nd issue of 1990), pp. 55-59.

Andrea Loseries-Leick, Körperkultur und Klosterleben, contained in: G. Bernhard, et al., eds, Traditionssport in Tibet, evidently a special issue of Spektrum der Sport-wissenschaften, vol. 8, no. 1 (1996), pp. 108-116. I've never seen this, but it seems interesting.

Andrea Loseries-Leick, Psychic Sports: A Living Tradition in Contemporary Tibet? contained in: Helmut Krasser, Michael T. Much, Ernst Steinkellner, Helmut Tauscher, eds., Tibetan Studies I & II: Proceedings of the 7th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Graz 1995, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna 1997), vol. 2, pp. 583-593.

Alex C. McKay, The Other "Great Game": Politics & Sport in Tibet, 1904-1947, The International Journal of the History of Sport, vol. 11, no. 3 (1994), pp. 372-386.

Ferdinand Meyer, The Potala Palace of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, Orientations, vol. 18, no. 7 (July 1987), pp. 14-33.

Robert & Beatrice Miller, On Two Bhutanese New Year's Celebrations, American Anthropologist, n.s. vol. 58, no. 1 (February 1956), pp. 179-183.

Mingyur Je (Mi-'gyur-rje), Bod rigs kyi srol rgyun lus rtsal dang bod kyi gna' bo'i rtsed rtsal rta thog po lo'i skor cung zad gleng ba, Bod ljongs zhib 'jug, vol. 9 (2nd issue for the year 1984), pp. 13-26. On the history of Polo.

W. Müller, K. Pieringer, B. Stockinger, T. DeVaney, K. Gmoser, Traditional Tibetan Sports: A Field Documentation. A paper given at the 7th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies at Schloss Seggau, Austria in (1995), abstract only.

Rosalind O'Handlon, Military Sports and the History of the Martial Body in India, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 50, no. 4 (2007), pp. 490-523.  Recommended if you are interested in the history of martial exercises, bodybuilding and sports, archery and wrestling included, in India during the last 4 or 5 centuries.  With two very interesting illustrations.

Katrin Pieringer, Bewegungskultur in Tibet: Vom Festcharakter zum sportlichen Ereignis, doctoral dissertation, University of Graz (1998).

Katrin Pieringer & Wolfram Müller, Traditionelle tibetische Bewegungskultur: Tibet auf dem Weg zu einer differenzierten Sportkultur? contained in: Helmut Krasser, Michael T. Much, Ernst Steinkellner, Helmut Tauscher, eds., Tibetan Studies I & II: Proceedings of the 7th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Graz 1995, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna 1997), vol. 2, pp. 769-784.

Christian Schicklgruber, Race, Win and Please the Gods: Horse-race and Yul-lha Worship in Dolpo, contained in: Anne-Marie Blondeau, ed., Tibetan Mountain Deities, Their Cults and Representations, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna 1998), pp. 99-108.  Like the following article by Elke Studer, this one emphasizes the important link between the local deities (generally mountain deities) and the horse races that are regarded as an integral part of the offerings made to them.

Elke Studer, Ritual under Change: Mongolian Influences on Horse Races & Mountain Divinity Worship in Tibet, Inner Asia, vol. 4, no. 2 (2002), pp. 361-373.  This advances the interesting idea that Tibetan horse race events may have been influenced in the 17th and 18th centuries by Mongolians, with their own traditional set of three men's sports called Naadam.  That means wrestling, horse racing and archery.

Elke Studer, Wettreiten für die Götter. Ritual im Wandel: Religiöse, politische, historische und rezente Veränderungen des nordtibetischen Reiterfestes in Nagchu, Diplomarbeit, University of Vienna (Vienna 2002).

Tubten Puntsog (Thub-bstan-phun-tshogs), Bod kyi lo rgyus spyi don padma ra ga'i lde mig, Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang (Chengdu 1996), vol. 1 (stod cha), pp. 330-335. Although brief, this is as far as I know the best general survey of Tibetan sports and sporting events down through history. I haven't made much use of it, but list it here for your information only.

Hugh Richardson, Ceremonies of the Lhasa Year, Serindia (London 1993).

Tsepak Rigzin (Tshe-dpag-rig-'dzin), Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Terminology, p. 172. This dictionary translates the nine men's sports as 1. oratorship, 2. writing, 3. calculation, 4. archery, 5. weight lifting, 6. jumping, 7. running, 8. swimming, 9. stick-games. All these translations seem fine, with the exception of the 9th.

L. Austine Waddell, Lhasa and Its Mysteries, with a Record of the British Tibetan Expedition of 1903-1904, Dover (New York 1988), reprint of John Murray (London 1905).

L. Austine Waddell, Tibetan Buddhism with Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, Dover (New York 1972), reprint of W.H. Allen (London 1895).

Wang Yao, An Inquiry into Polo: Tibetan Contribution to the Athletic Sports, Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 5th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Narita 1989, Naritasan Shinshoji (Narita 1992), pp. 849-52.

- - -

See the webpage “Life on the Tibetan Plateau,” January 29, 2007, for a photo with description, Tibetan Horse Festival in Amdo.  Another fine photo here.  Or try this extremely brief video (watch very carefully).  This 4-minute video is very artistically done, and well worth seeing for the racing with yaks alone.  Here is a PRC site (you will find in this strong arguments for the impossibility of automated machine translations from Chinese... this absolutely requires direct human mental input, imho; anyway I apologize that the link has gone dead), with some very interesting pictures, including a photo of Tibetan-style tug-of-war, which is done by two opponents using a long loop of rope.  The two men loop the rope loop around the backs of their necks facing away from each other.  Then they let the two ropes go between their legs, go down on all fours, and use both feet and hands to push like crazy.  This makes it quite different from tug-of-war (which was once an Olympic sport) as normally understood in the rest of the world. Namkhai Norbu also describes this in his book (in Tibetan) about nomadic culture. He supplies a drawing, and calls it Gurten (sgur-'then, literally ‘pulling while hunched over’), although most dictionaries give the name just as Tagten (thag-'then, 'rope pulling'). Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Could this be the Tibetan Olympic sport the world has been waiting for?

POSTSCRIPT (08/08/08):

I would like to refer you to a fascinating story of how Beijing's propaganda efforts to make it appear as if traditional Tibetan horse races were being held in homage to the Beijing Olympics have, for the moment at least, fallen flat (a few days ago the words "Tibetan Olympics" popped up in the straight (non-blog) media for the first time, and Yes we do wonder where that came from!).  A recent blog entry from Agam's Gecko tells it well. Go there as soon as you can.  It won't take long to read.

Two giant pieced-fabric tangkas hanging in front of the Potala, as depicted in a mural inside the Potala.  The cloth image (göku, gos-sku) 0n your right with the red Amitabha was commissioned by the Regent Sanggyé Gyatso in 1683, soon after the actual death of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and displayed on the anniversary of his death on the 30th day of the 2nd lunar month of the Tibetan calendar.  It measures about 47 by 55 meters.  The two göku became worn and had to be replaced at least twice in Tibetan history.  Once in around 1787, and again in the early part of the 1940's, after the enthronement, in 1940, of His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama.

Since the nearly one-fifth million Tibetans living in exile were denied entry into the Beijing Olympics (the application of Team Tibet met with complete silence from the IOC), they are holding their own.  Look here.  (And here.)  This event will be held from the 15th through the 25th of May 2008 in Dharamsala, India, the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in Exile. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe its organizers have ever heard of the Nine Men’s Sporting Events, although I’m thinking somebody ought to tell them.


  1. Great post! The BBC aired a programme called The Lost World of Tibet last month (presumably as a counterbalance to their controversial A Year in Tibet documentary series), which included colour footage of Losar celebrations in Lhasa from the 1930s. Wrestling was one of the events depicted, but according to the commentator the (rather scrawny-looking) participants did not take part willingly as they had to be semi-naked and that was considered humiliating or embarrassing; so as soon as they had finished their bout the wrestlers were quickly wrapped up in a blanket to protect their modesty ... but I think that maybe it was just because it was cold.

    Pole spinning was also shown ... very scary! According to the programme the pole spinner was chosen from a particular region (I can't remember where) as a punishment for some act of rebellion by the people of that region. Do you know this story?

  2. Are you aware of James Webb’s thesis that Ovshe Norzunov was actually George Gurdjieff working as an agent of the Russian intelligence services? Personally I don't buy it, although it is quite possible that Gurdjieff was in Tibet in 1900. The oft-repeated assertion that Agvan Dorjieff was in fact George Gurdjieff is certainly false. Dorjieff, however, may have been recruited by Russian intelligent services when he was attending Gandan Monastery here in Ulaan Baatar. He did go with the Mongolian caravan to Lhasa to retrieve the 8th Bogd Gegeen, passing himself off as a Khalkh Mongol, since Buryats, as Russian citizens, were not allowed in Tibet. This may have been his first foray as a Russian agent. In any event, Dorjieff accompanied the 13th Dalai Lama to Mongolia when the latter fled from the 1904 Younghusband invasion. At Amarbuyant Monastery Dorjieff left the party and went ahead to Ulaan Baatar to inform the Russian government that the Dalai Lama was in Mongolia. Dorjieff was apparently advancing the idea that the Czar was actually the King of Shambhala and that the Dalai Lama should meet him. Dorjieff died in a Soviet prison camp in Ulaan-Ude in, as I recall, 1938. Gurdjieff died in France in 1949.

    By the way, I was in Beijing when the whole Tibet thing broke loose. Almost everything about Tibet was blocked on CNN, but they (the censors) did not block the interview with Dalai Lama about the events. I would have thought that was the first thing they would have blocked.

  3. Dear Don,

    Yes, I agree, I don't believe the Webb idea, for one thing because the photographic evidence, barring extensive plastic surgery, doesn't permit Norzunov and Gurdjieff to be the same person, not to mention the chronological discrepancies you point out. It was a silly speculation, so we'll just drop it.

    If you read French I highly recommend an article by "Ovché Narzounof, Pèlerin Kalmouk," entitled Trois voyages a Lhassa (1898-1902) in Le tour du monde, new series year 10 (1904), which includes photos of Norzunov. It's really worth looking up. There are other works from the same years by J. Deniker and G. Tsybikov that are also quite relevant.

    The British imagined Dorjiev was a spy because he advocated relations with Russia that the British did not approve of. Calling him a spy was a way to discredit him, and arouse the British public against the policy of Tibeto-Russian relations he worked to build (calling him a spy was just a move in what after all was called the "Great Game"). From his point of view and that of the 13th Dalai Lama he was a kind of diplomatic envoy. And he acted as such. I don't buy the "Russian spy" label at all. If anything, he was a Tibetan Buddhist spy on the Russians and not the other way around. He was interested in advancing Mongolian, Tibetan and Buddhist interests in Russia and elsewhere. That's what truly motivated him. Have you read his autobiography? And that Ovché in front of Narzunof's name (O-pa-shi in Tibetan) I believe is just a Mongolian version of Sanskrit upâsika, which means someone who has taken basic Buddhist lay vows (5 or 8 vows, which don't require wearing monk robes).

    We could go on and on about this stuff, and it would turn into another oversized blog entry. But nice talking. Write again soon!


  4. Dear Andrew,

    Yes, just imagine wrestling in a nearly-nude state near the end of the first Tibetan month (in around mid-March) on the Plateau! I'm shivering at the thought. Thanks for the DVD tip, but it looks like it would be quite expensive for me to order it. Wish I had seen it.

    H. Richardson, in his Ceremonies of the Lhasa Year tells the story how the pole spinners (and apparently rope sliders as well) were made to do it as an involuntary public service, an indemnity imposed on a place in Tsang province because of the opposition of the King of Tsang to the rule of the 5th Dalai Lama. This would have the practice originating in the middle of the 17th century. Richardson mentions that S.C. Das as well as Fathers Huc & Gabet mention the practice (Das saw a 300-foot rope slide in Shigatse, not in Lhasa!), and I know there are a lot of other descriptions in travel accounts that really ought to be collected and studied in a more comprehensive way.

    Here's what the Huc book says, in its final chapter (p. 302 in mine): "They have at Lha-Ssa a kind of Gymnastic Exercise, called the dance of spirits. A long cord, made of leathern thongs firmly plaited together, is fastened to the summit of the Buddha-La, and descends to the foot of the mountain. The spirit dancers pass up and down this cord with an agility that can only be compared to that of cats and monkeys. Sometimes, when they have reached the summit, they extend their arms, as if going to swim, and fly down the cord with the rapidity of an arrow. The inhabitants of the province of Ssang are reputed the most skilful in this kind of exercise."

    Of course, by Buddha-La, he means Potala, and by Ssang, he means Tsang Province.

    Do you think the IOC should adopt rope sliding as an Olympic sport?


  5. I have read John Snelling’s biography of Dorzhiev. And I was in Ulaan Ude several times and once tried to visit Dorzhiev’s birthplace, but strangely enough I could not find anyone who knew where it was. His later history is quite well known in Ulaan Ude, although there is still argument about whether he was killed in prison or just died of old age. Most likely because of his age he succumbed to ill treatment. A very sad case. He seems to have bought into the idea, which the Roerichs flirted with, that communism and Buddhism were compatible. Perhaps in an ideal world but not in Soviet Russia. Maybe best treatment of Dorzhieff, however, is A. Andreyev’s "Soviet Russia and Tibet.” Andreyev relies almost entirely on Russian and Soviet archival material and he presents some eye-popping information. For instance, the OGPU (proto-KGB) wanted to fund an expedition to Mongolia to search for the underground kingdom of Agharti; this was before F. Ossendowski sprung the Agharti mythologem on the unsuspecting world in his “Beasts, Men, and Gods.” And it is Andreyev who avers, based on archival material, that the Russians had placed an agent with the Mongolian caravan to Tibet to retrieve the Bogd Gegeen. He suggests that this may have been Dorzhiev. In any case, it is perhaps too strong language to say that Dorzhiev was a “spy.” He was certainly a Great Game Player, and based on Andreyev’s archival material it would certainly seem that he was Russia’s man in Tibet. He seems to have devoted his life to some kind of rapprochement between Russia and Tibet. Whether he was the sinister manipulator portrayed by Curzon and other British Great Gamers is of course a matter of perspective.

  6. Dear Don,

    I haven't read Andreyev's recent Brill book, since it's so expensive and my local libraries are too poor, too. I think the Snelling book is a fine one, and quite readable, but there is nothing quite like getting it straight from the autobiography. There are Russian & Mongolian versions floating around (and I think there is a not-yet published English translation of the Mongolian), but I believe Dorjiev's autobiography was first composed in Tibetan when he was 70 years old.

    And I think that still the only translation of the Tibetan into English (which was then translated into Russian) is this one:

    Dorjiev: Memoirs of a Tibetan Diplomat, Hokke-Bunka Kenkyû (=Journal of the Institute for the Comprehensive Study of the Lotus Sûtra), Hokekyô Bunka Kenkyûjo [Rissho University, Tokyo], no. 17 (March 1991), pp. 1-105 (an annotated translation with introduction and bibliography). Russian translation from the English in: Agvan Dorjiev (1854-1938), Predanie o krugosvetnom puteshestvii, ili, Povestvovanie o zhizni Agvana Dorzhieva, Olzon (Ulan Ude 1994), pp. 10-75.

    Here's where Dorjiev says he was born:

    "When you look off to a far distance from the southeastern direction there is, as if floating in the sky like an eagle, the mountain called Dabhor Tshagan. On a stream flowing from the left underarm of that mountain is the area called Hara Zhiper. There I took birth in the Wood Male Tiger year of the fifteenth sixty-year cycle to a father named Dorje or Yeshe and a mother named Drolkar, a couple both generous and faithful, respecting the Three Precious as supreme."

    And here's what the footnotes say about the place names:

    "4. Dab-hor Tsha-gan. Buriat, Dabqar Cagan, name of a glaciated mountain in the range Ulaan Burgasa, about 50 to 60 kms. from Ulan Ude. (BD) Ngag-dbang-nyi-ma, Works (I 13.2) gives a similar description of a mountain Ldab-khar Sa-kan (probably a different Tibetan spelling of the name for the same mountain) near Sho-lo-tha'i Monastery.

    5. Ha-ra Zhi-sper. Buriat, Qara Siber, name of place now in the territory of the Zayigrayeskogo raiyona Buriat ASSR, about 50 to 60 kilometers from Ulan Ude to the northeast. (BD) Xara Shiber in Poppe, 'A Buriat Literary Source' (111)."

    Does that help at all? It doesn't seem very precise about the neighborhood, does it!


  7. PS: What I just said about English translations of Dorjiev's Tibetan-language autobiography was not accurate, now that I think about it, since anyway John Snelling's book makes use of just such a translation (quite surely done by Stephen Batchelor). But you don't seem to get the work in its entirety, scattered as it is throughout the book in mostly rather brief quotations.

  8. I really enjoyed Snelling's book too. And thanks for the information about Dorzhieff's birthplace. I would really like to get up into Transbaikalia again - it is a fantastic area - and look into Dorzhieff's background some more, but it devilishly hard for an independent U.S. traveler to get a Russian visa here in Ulaan Baatar. For some reason I seem to be persona non grata with the embassy here.

  9. You think somebody tipped them off about your penchant for uncovering subterranean worlds?

    (smiley smiley with wink)

  10. As for the question whether there is something frog-like about wrestlers, ever heard of the frog splash? Only joking.

    You mentioned some sources on polo. Is there anything in there that sheds light on the etymology of the term?
    It is widely claimed to be a word of Tibetan origin (e.g. OED: < Tib. pho lo, lit. "ball-game" ???)
    Jäschke lists it as bo lo of Ladakhi origin. There seems to be a similar Balti word. Nothing in Laufer's list.


  11. Dear Mr Nymous,

    I'm curious about that, too. I was meaning to get around to saying something about it, but the blog was getting way too long. I think the word in question ought to be in the spelling pho-long, although I don't feel confident to insist on it (Laufer finds reason to accept both spellings).

    The Yisun Chang Dictionary at least has this entry:

    pho long, 1) skud pa'i gru gu,... 2) rtsed chas po lo,...

    1) a ball of thread. 2. the play-thing polo.

    Prof. Wang Yao's article has interesting stories about Polo from Tang times, when it was sometimes attributed to Tibetan origins.

    Some modern Chinese professors believe Polo is of Persian origins. Wang Yao ascribes the view that it is Tibetan in origins to Berthold Laufer (citing "Loan-Words," pp. 541-542, the appendix at the very end, about "Tibetan Loan-Words in English"), but Laufer cites lots of earlier authorities for its Tibetan (and/or Balti) origins. Evidently it's also in the pentaglot dictionary as pho-long. Laufer was hoping to publish a detailed history of the game, but I don't think he ever got around to it. He tells how a Tibetan team defeated the Chinese in a polo match held in 709 CE at the Pear Garden Pavilion.

    Polo used to be an Olympic sport.

  12. At least in Madagascar, I believe it may be true that the bull frogs actually do have wrestling matches.

    Of course they do it to attract the attention of the female of their species, and apparently it's a real winner-take-all situation.

    Look here:

    Do you think humans could have learned it through frog observation?

  13. Check out these moves:

    Looks like a territorial dispute here.

  14. I may have spoken too soon about Laufer. He did publish a short piece in a Polo magazine. I located this reference in an online bibliography.

    Berthold Laufer, The early history of polo. Polo, The Magazine for Horsemen, vol. 7, no. 5 (Apr. 1932), pp. 13, 14, 43, 44.

    Not very long, is it?

    And he seems to have delivered a paper on the history of polo for the American Anthropological Association's meeting of Dec. 27-29, 1905.

    This had the same title "A History of the Game of Polo," as an unfinished manuscript left behind after his death. Was it ever published?

  15. Dear Dan,

    Many thanks for sharing your findings on polo and frog fights.
    Pho long was once explained to me as a soft and roundish thing used for waking up a sleeping monk during prayer sessions or teachings by aiming it at him. Interesting that this should be the word behind po lo. Why on earth, when the Tibetans didn't play polo when the latter found its way into the English language?

    I can easily beat your YouTube reference by this one:

    Fighting Frogs

    Au revoir...


  16. Arno mon cher,

    As far as I know there may be fatally flawed steps in the argument for polo's Tibetan origins. That's why I'd really wish for B. Laufers at-length discussion of the evidence. I guess he considered his work on the prehistory of television* more pressing. I did see a brief review saying that the word 'polo' comes from the Tibetan word for willow root, since that was the material the balls were made out of.

    Try here. Even the often-trusted Encyclopedia Britannica says so. I don't see how pho-long could possibly mean 'willow root,' do you? Need I point out that even your softer woods could pain the poor sleeping monks sorely?

    *THE PREHISTORY OF TELEVISION. The Scientific Monthly, November 1928, pp. 455-459. He also wrote a much longer work on the prehistory of aviation. Gotta fly.

    Ciao for now,

  17. Oh, I don't think we should rely on Laufer's findings. He was sooo unreliable, even CNN once reported on his failure to return books to the library of the Museum of Natural History in New York.


  18. Oh, but I'm sure that he intended to return them. Even if it took decades for his intentions to be fulfilled. I heard about the ostrich egg breaking incident, but they say that was just an accident.

  19. jerk or geek?
    From Wikipedia: 'The word geek is a slang term, noting individuals as "a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual". Formerly, the term referred to a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken, bat or snake.'

  20. Dear Conceição,

    I suppose the answer is that I'm both a geek and a jerk. What do you think? There's no contradiction here, and wikipedia is hardly the authority for these words imho. Perhaps instead of jerk you were searching for the word 'jock,' in which case it definitely does not apply to me.

    Thanks for writing.


  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. No, I think you're in the right b[l]og. It's just that at a certain point in life geek gets 'outshone' (zil-gyis gnon-pa) by geezer and, well, I'm already there. You know, like the way the stars disappear when the full moon rises? Maybe the full moon is a metaphor for alzheimers? The stars for knowable objects (shes-bya)?

  23. today it´s the birth of Buddha

  24. But today's the quarter moon. The full moon is still 8 days away. Maybe you got it mixed with Portugal Day. Tell me it isn't true!

  25. Hello world,

    Arno says: Yes, what Mrs. Conceição needs is a bog. On the other hand, as even a Tibetan geek (now long gone) once put it (and please excuse his French):

    da nang lto ci bzas dang/ do nub skyag pa 'di ru gtong rang gi lo rgyus skag sken bris pa la dgos pa chung

    Czech Republic 1 Portugal 3

  26. Dear Arno,

    Nice having you back. Have you had your breakfast yet? Anyway, thanks for the proverb. Is skag sken the right spelling for this nonsense?


  27. Hi Dan,

    No regular breakfasts these days as I'm in retreat in one of these new WiFi enabled (courtesy of CITS) sgom phugs in Lhun rtse county. Generally quite pleasant but so dark! I must tell you of my recent discovery: a hitherto unknown species of olms. Olms, as you know, were previously thought to be absent from outside southern Europe, that's why it's worthwhile mentioning. I have provisionally named it Proteus tibeticus martinii, CHEERS!

    As for the skag sken problem, I should have known that you would bring this up. But rightly so!
    I left the cave last night and went over to check the 1892 print in the Dre'u lhas monastic library to make sure I didn't get it wrong. Can you believe it, they only hold the Darjeeling reproduction of 1978! If this is not a sign of globalization I don't know what else. The passage is correct as I quoted it, see p. 340, line 5 of the Darjeeling ed. (= vol. kha, fol. 1v5 in the xylograph). The title of the work, in case you want to know:
    rNal 'byor gyi dbang phyug chen po kun dga' legs pa'i rnam thar gsung 'bum rgya mtsho las dad pa'i ku shas chu thigs tsam blangs pa ngo mtshar bdud rtsi'i zil gar.

    What exactly the term in question means, you tell me! It's bound to have a negative connotation ("one's own stupid/ idiotic/useless story"?), no? A. Kretschmar (1981) also translated along these lines (see p. 66).
    Might skag sken be a somewhat distorted onomatopoetic form like skag skeg / ska ge ske ge? Only that these forms don't seem to exist either. This useful dictionary at least doesn't list anything. Well, only a minor problem compared to the antelope = gcig ru conundrum you recently pointed out, this really puzzles me (though Laufer didn't seem to be bothered).

    All best from


  28. Oh Arno,

    I'm speechless! I've never been so honored as to have an amphibian of any kind named after me, let alone a Slovenian albino amphibian. Speechless! Really, I mean it!

    Btw, the gcig-ru unicorn is for real. They found one in Italy (my best source for this so far is the Yahoo news where they have real photographic evidence).

    What other deadend-forks in the chain of evolution are there out there besides ourselves?


  29. Dear Dan,

    As for your last question, this must surely have been a rhetorical one, considering the following (none of which I have ever eaten!):

    Melanerpes hoffmannii
    Rhamphocottus richardsonii
    Myotis schaubii
    Bacteroides goldsteinii
    Chamaeleo Trioceros Jacksonii
    Scalpellum stearnsii
    Branchipus schaefferii
    etc. etc.

    And from the world of plants:

    Ulmus thomasii
    Astragalus beckwithii
    Oreanthes sperlingii
    Aratitiyopea lopezii
    Telipogon steinii
    Pituranthos pelliotii
    Brachystegia hopkinsii
    Quercus macdonaldii
    Mastixiodendron stoddardii
    Opuntia soerensii Beware, do not consume, it'll make you nervous!

    N.B. The undersigned declares that the order given above is arbitrary. Omissions are unintentional and do not reflect any possible judgement on the value of Tibetological scholarship.

    Yours ever,


  30. Arno-lags,

    Impressive list! Still I'm surprised that you over looked Gymnocypris waddelli.

    L. Austine Waddell, Lhasa & Its Mysteries, p. 489, with photograph at 1/8th natural size facing p. 306.

    Is this the same or different fish from
    Gymnocypris przewalskii?

    The carp is a bottom feeder, isn't it?

    Going out to get some sun.

    Yours truthfully,

  31. Wishing everyone a Purnima for Saga Dawa with every blessing multiplied an hundred thousand times. I'm going to go hang my wind horses now.

  32. All best wishes for you too, dear Dan, from arnonymous Arno.

    And in the words of Li Bai 李白 (701-762):

    The floor before my bed is bright:
    Moonlight - like hoarfrost - in my room.
    I lift my head and watch the moon.
    I drop my head and think of home.

    (translated by Vikram Seth in his Three Chinese poets, London 1992)

  33. Previously mention was made in this blog's mchan 'grel section of pho long in its well attested meaning of something like a "thread ball".

    Just for the record, A Lexicon of Zhangzhung and Bonpo Terms (Bon Studies 11 = Senri Ethnological Reports 76), ed. by Y. Nagano and S. Karmay (Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2008), glosses pho long as gshang gi rigs shig, "one sort of Bon po bell".

    Sorry, don't know whether you've already listed this meaning in your own Zhangzhung dictionary, which I fail to find. If it's still available online, could you possibly post the url? Thanks and greetings,


  34. Dear Arno,

    Just got that "Lexicon of Zhangzhung and Bonpo Terms" you mentioned in the mail yesterday. It looks very useful. At 300 pages, with average aout 10 words per page it has about 3,000 entries. That may not seem like many for a lexicon, but since these are some of the very words people are most likely to stumble over in their efforts to read Bon literature, I think the book is very important for the literally thousands of people who fit the category of Bon literature readers.

  35. Dear Dan,

    Of course it's useful, and one of the many good things about it is that thanks to Prof. Nagano's generosity (well the generosity of his institution) this dictionary and all other volumes from the series are distributed for free to institutions all over the world. Great!

    Tibetan lexicography is still in its infancy I think, at least if one takes a Tibetan incarnation of the OED as one's goal. Every word list compiled by a reader of Tibetan texts has some value to others doing the same. Someone should really compile an electronic database of all published glossaries hidden in textual studies of whatever kind (e.g. Emmerick's TTCK and 50 others), and record source and locus. We often come across your entries in The Online Tibetan to English Dictionary and Translation Tool, and I for my part must thank you for your generosity to make your efforts available to the community of olms.



  36. My mother also used to tell me: "Everyone who does the best they can is a hero."
    I honor you all as heroes. I am honored to share this world with you. Thank you for your shining example.
    ps. a bodisattva hero, of course

  37. Somebody from the official Beijing Olympics web page wrote to me suggesting I put up a link to their site. They even offered to make a link back from their site to this one. While I feel strangely flattered, I do very much worry about the political concept of 'linkage' these days. That translates into: There are definite concerns that Beijing will, as usual, bend things to their own purposes. And now I understand that Chinese Wife Nepalese Wife, a traditional Tibetan Lhamo performance, will be part of the upcoming Olympic entertainment. Only of course the Nepalese Wife will be edited out. (No big surprise from my side... I know they've been doing this since the early '80's.)

  38. free hugs

  39. "In NYC when asked what makes him happiest, the Dalai Lama replied: “Oh I don’t know (laughs), yes, I know, talking to you people, talking and talking bla bla bla bla bla!” People there just fell out laughing with him."

    dan you are a happy man even if i don´t know what you say.:)

  40. So then I guess His Holiness does agree that talking is an Olympic sport, even if one of the more funny ones. Last I knew Ven. Matthieu Ricard, who recently acted as H.H. the Dalai Lama's translator in France, was "the happiest man in the world." I can't hold a candle to a person like that, although I'm planning to hold one this saturday. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  41. after seing Carla Bruni....

  42. Just couldn't resist saying that, could you?

  43. you know me.....

  44. ps: talking is the 10ª men´s sporting events.

  45. Dear Anon,

    If you just check the list above, you'll see quite the contrary. Talking is number one on the list. But I don't want to talk about it any more.

    Thanks for writing.


  46. hello,
    do you've any further informations on Ovshe Norzunov photo? Could you please point me to the source (book, archive or catalog)?
    Kind regards from berlin

  47. Dear Jan,

    Let me try to answer briefly.

    One place it was published was in one of those "Pomegranate" postcard books put together by the Newark Museum called "Tibet: A Hidden World."

    This and other Norzunoff photographs were published in the books and articles of Gombojab Tsybikov and Joseph Deniker.

    Check the January 1905 issue of National Geographic.

    Tsybikov's (Tsybikoff's) book Lhasa and Central Tibet may be hard to find, but University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee has put up a digital version.

    I remember seeing a Russian-language Wiki entry about Norzunov with a picture of him.Норзунов,_Овше_Мучкинович

    Especially recommended is La première photographie de Lhassa, par M. Joseph Deniker, La Géographie, vol. 4 no. 4 (October 1901), pp. 242-247, but there are more photos in other Deniker articles.

    Does any of that help? Thanks for writing.

    Yours, D

  48. Dear Dan,
    thanks a lot for your quick response and these informations. I just was wondering why the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee didn't mention "Norzunov" in their credits for the picture:
    I'am working on a series of pictures called "Potala south face from Chakpori"(from 19xx-2010). Though Date and Photographer are very important for me. I'll go for your other informations. All the best and a happy new year jan

  49. Hi Dan,

    It's two and a half years now since polo and its origins were mentioned above.
    I just stumbled across a book by Horace A. Laffaye unavailable back then:

    The Evolution of Polo (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2009).

    I haven't read it but from glancing at it I have learnt that a certain George John Younghusband wrote a book entitled Tournament Polo (Pioneer Press: Allahabad, 1897).

    I think he might be the elder brother of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband, so here at least I have constructed a little Tibet connection.



  50. DearArn,

    Oh my, Googlebooks doesn't let you see very much of the book at all! To judge from the TOC there are only about 15 pages at the beginning that discuss the local Asian history of the game. I did word-search for "Tibet" in the book, and it does occur a few times, although its author doesn't seem to believe it's possible to decide which Asian culture developed it first.

    I'm sure you're right about the G.J. being an older brother of F.E. Younghusband. Look HERE.


  51. Tibetan Olympics 2008

  52. Dear Reader,

    Live and learn. That Tibetan word for wrestler that looks like it might mean 'frog' (like the similar Sanskrit word) really has to come from the Mongolian word for 'wrestler,' which is böke.

    I'm hoping to see some Mongolian wrestling in a couple of weeks (who isn't? you say?)


  53. Are you hearing me, Berthold?

  54. Strange, "Unknown," on behalf of some "Green Media" site has apparently taken up this blog entry as their own. I guess I can tolerate that. Meanwhile I've noticed something interesting. The Yakut up in Siberia have a fairly similar set of seven men's sporting events. This is rather remarkable and worthy of further investigation. Have a look at this YouTube video:
    Be well and exercise.


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