Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Innermost Treasury and Zhangzhung Language

Yes, I know what you are thinking. I am supposed to be on some kind of working holiday like I announced with such exaggerated drama not so long ago. But I feel constrained to put this blog entry up in fulfillment of a promise. Afterward I really will be disappearing from view for awhile.  

Just yesterday a two hundred and fifty page dictionary of the Zhangzhung language was put up as an issue of Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines.*

(*Go to the link, click on issue no. 18, meaning the issue for April 2010, and the PDFs should be there ready to download, but be warned the files are rather large for machines that are not well connected). 

I don't guarantee how useful this dictionary will be for you, particularly if you are not numbered among the hardcore Tibetarazzis. For one thing, the entries are in Tibetan alphabetic sort order. But I do want to recommend it to specialists in Tibeto-Burman linguistics and general Tibetanists. I like to imagine that the introduction would make sense to just about anyone.

There, in the introduction, I promised to make available two works that I consider to be by far the most important source works for the study of Zhangzhung. The first is the Mdzod-phugs (I like to translate this as Innermost Treasury, although Primordial Treasury could also work), and the second is the Zhangzhung glossary compiled by the Yogi of the Zhu Clan Nyima Dragpa (Zhu-yi Rnal-’byor Nyi-ma-grags-pa).

The Innermost Treasury is (no longer) here
(instead try here).

And the Zhu glossary is here.

Some links will lead you to “Tibetological,” the sister site of Tibeto-logic. Others will take you to a Dropbox file. Let me know if you have trouble with the loading of the pages, and I can try to do something about it, although I'm no expert in these matters, rest assured (or, OK, be worried if that’s what you do). I fear it is true, even more than it is with the dictionary, that these files will be next to impossible for people who haven’t studied Tibetan to use. What use are they? Using them as searchable electronic references makes it possible to find Zhangzhung words in their context immediately and with ease. The work of recovering Zhangzhung and deciphering may be partially done, but it’s still continuing. It’s a work in process.

OK, now I’ll be quiet.  This job is done here.  Your work is just beginning.

§ § §

The frontispiece shows a Bon scriptural volume done on indigo daphne paper with black sizing.  The huge raised gilded letters, with their protective cloth cover pulled up out of the way, read “Zhang-zhung skad-du,” which means In the language of Zhangzhung.

Here at the end is a photo of a rock face from Petra in Jordan (Petra means ‘rock’), which as far as I can know may have had trade relations with Zhangzhung. I'm not saying it’s a proven fact, mind you. But you should hear some of the other wobbly ideas that are floating about! Well, Petra was, and to some still is, an ancient mysterious hidden country that would be very exciting to discover. Sound familiar?

Readers of Tibeto-logic may be shocked to see an advertisement. It’s true, I don’t “monetize” as a rule. I try not to steer readers to commercial-laden sites if at all possible and do my best to keep the google-ads at bay. I try to make things available freely and for free. But here I make an exception. Dagkar Geshé Namgyal Nyima’s dictionary can be difficult to get ahold of. People are always asking me where they can get a copy.

That’s why I was happy to see that Ligmincha, one of a very few spots on the internet with a Zhangzhung-language name, has made it available for purchase. If you are hoping to become a Zhangzhungologists, you are really going to need it. If you already are one, you must already have it. Press HERE to go there. Considering its reference value, the price is a very reasonable 50 USD. And I don’t know anyone else who offers it, do you? Is it possible you are smug enough to think you can find a copy in your local library? Let me see. I guess you can find copies if you live in Berlin, München or Washington D.C. Otherwise I’m thinking you are fresh out of luck.  

Oh, I should warn you. There is an English-language introduction, and the entries have English translations from the Tibetan. But the Zhangzhung words are placed in Tibetan alphabetic order.  So unless you have studied a little Tibetan in the past, or at least in a past lifetime, you are not going to be able to make quick use of the dictionary itself.*

(*NN's dictionary has an introduction in Tibetan, in Tibetan script.  However, there is no Tibetan script to be seen in the dictionary itself. That means that even some Tibetans [few of whom see any value in romanizations — and why should they?] will have some trouble using it.) 
(Update in April 2013: I believe this book may no longer be available, although I'm sure it will come back into print.  It must.  WAIT, I may have spoken too soon.  Look here.) 

§ § §

If all this talk about Zhangzhung sounds like Yavana Bhasha to you, you might try the Wiki entry, which is only misleading in some of its more minor details.  

The historically significant Haarh dictionary,* as published in Acta Jutlandica in 1968, has not been put up in its entirety on the internet as far as I know. For some reason the introduction can be accessed only in bits and pieces in PDF format (try here). Still, it may be worth your reading if the original publication is out of reach, as it is likely to be. Perhaps a schmoogle search will turn up something. Give it a try by tapping here.  

If you see the name Jangshung (as you are bound to if you will just try searching for it), ignore it. My opinion? It's just an error that has been repeated all over the internet and it may prove impossible to get it out of the system during the next millennium, as if anyone were trying. Garbage in, garbage out. You can get a job being a translator from it. Hell, even the Christians seem to believe in it. So why shouldn't I be convinced? Do you have any idea why?**
(*It is basically Zhu's glossary in Tibetan alphabetic order with added English translations based on Zhu's Tibetan equivalents of the Zhangzhung words.  Update (April 2013):  Although made available in snippet view only, which seems petty, you can find those snippets of Haarh by using the search box found here.)
(**I think it makes its first appearance in Ethnologue of 1996, although some credit an Indian language census of 1981. One clue to the probability of its nonexistence is its absence in George von Driem's huge survey of Tibeto-Burman languages, or is that an argumentum ex silencio? Its thoroughness an illusion? I can't help wondering.  So many languages are dying, I guess it's not all that surprising that there would be a few ghost languages floating about free of any speakers, ever.) 

Postscript (January, 2012):  I just noticed that someone put back up on the web that old Ligmincha posting of the Zhang-zhung Dictionary (April 1997 version).  Look for it here, although I would no longer recommend it.  Seeing it makes me get all nostalgic... for the 20th century. It may have been, in some ways, a simpler time, this old version of the dictionary being one not very noticeable example.

Note, too:  I tried to fix some of these links, at least the more important ones, in April 2013, but found to my surprise that some of the linked pages may have disappeared out of embarrassment, especially the ones with the ghost language. Is it possible Tibeto-logic is having minor effect on other equally remote spots in the internet universe?  No, dismiss that thought.


  1. Thank you! The way that you make your tireless work accessible to everyone is a lesson to us all. Do go away for as long as you need to, but please don't forget to come back again.

    (By the way, the Ligmincha dictionary is available at the British Library too. On the open shelves no less. I'm not sure why it's not on WorldCat.)

  2. Dear Sam,

    That's good news! Now we can add London to the list. The very short list. Hope more good news will come out of England, but no, I'm fairly sure it will.


  3. Have a good break Dan. I will be checking if and when you return. Thanks for sharing your amazing work.

  4. Many thanks for making a revised version of your dictionary available to us. Internet publishing is a wonderful thing!

  5. thanks for posting this! There's a tendency in the Tibetan society to contribute many of our cultural identity to India, but the history of ZhangZhung and its script shows that Tibetans did indeed have a written history before King Songsten Gampo sent Tri song deutsen to India. (hope i got the name right) As a Tibetan I find the subject of ZhangZhung to be fascinating and so intriguing. thuk-je.

  6. Hi rTen-ne,

    Thanks for bringing these resources to my attention and for making them so easily accessible. I hope you have a wonderful working vacation.



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