Thursday, April 18, 2019

Stone Inscription from the 8th-Century Rule of Trisongdetsen Suddenly Shows Up

Samyé Temple and Monastery, founded in the era of Trisongdetsen. It has an inscribed stele of its own.

I apologize to my rare and for that reason all the more precious readers that I haven’t been exercising my writing disabilities here in this space much of late. My excuse is they are much needed elsewhere. Just yesterday I noticed something on the web that excited me so much I feel I simply must say something about it. It is what appears from its language characteristics to be a genuinely old stele inscription, what Tibetans call a ‘long stone’ (rdo-ring) that has never been studied before. I don’t propose to study it now or in the future, just to say a few words of introduction, and after that transcribe the Tibetan letters into Wylie in order to make internet searches more effective. I should emphasize that this will by no means be a scientific transcription, since I have never seen even one bad photograph of the stele, and rely entirely on the Tibetan-script version supplied on the internet (I did go over it to verify my readings), at a site called “Utsang Culture.” It was posted less than a month ago, on March 22, 2019, with the accompanying description, 
Khri srong lde btsan gyi skabs gtsang gi gro shod du btab pa'i pra dun rtse gtsug lag khang gi mdun du yod pa'i btsan po'i dus kyi rdo ring gi zhal bshus kyi ma phyi cha tshang.” 
If you will allow me a quick and rough translation: 
“A Complete Transcription of the Stele from Imperial Times that Stands in Front of the Traduntse Temple that was founded in Groshod of Tsang Province in the time of Emperor Trisongdetsen.”*  
(*If you want to know exactly where to find Traduntse (Pra-dum-rtse) on the map, look here. Or if you happen to be at this moment trekking in the ancient kingdom of Mustang, now forming a part of northern Nepal, head directly north, crossing the Brahmaputra, and you should be there in a matter of weeks, give or take a few. The name, probably Zhang-zhung in its origins, has been subjected to a Tibetanizing re-interpretation with the spelling Skra-bdun-rtse, meaning Seven Hair Tips. Contrary to what it says in my translation, Pra-dun-tse was founded by the wise emperor Songtsen somewhere near the end of the first half of the 7th century.)

As far as I am aware, there are no long stone inscriptions surviving from Tibetan history prior to the reign of Trisongdetsen, who ruled the plateau through most of the last half of the 8th century. Hugh Richardson’s well-known collection of inscriptions only has three stone stele inscriptions dating from his times, so now we have the pleasure and privilege to raise that number to four. (I haven’t counted the inscribed bell.)

Our inscription is dated to a Hare year, so it should be possible to decide its exact date once the entire document has been thoroughly studied by more competent authorities.

The gist of its content is a granting of boons and/or privileges* by the Emperor to a person of ministerial rank who evidently had been serving as a ‘governor’ (?) of some area or another in western Tibet and who had demonstrated outstanding valour in battle. The final line refers to him as the rgye-shin** of Phan-yul. The inscription gives his full personal name, a rather odd looking one if truth be told, but since it is repeated several times there can be little doubt:  Khri-dbang Gtsug-phud Rje-la Khwe.
(*Instead of me-rtags we have to read che-rtags.
**An internet search reveals that rgye-shin appears with exact same spelling in the name rGye-shin Blon-skyid found in an inscription that Francke has reproduced, evidently, in an article of his. For reference, see his Historische Dokumente von Khalatse in West-Tibet(Ladakh), published in 1907, p. 602, where he thinks it is a faulty spelling for "rgya [b]zhin." I think without good reason, even if I have no substitute explanation to offer. Perhaps the Rye-shin Khu-bul-bu that appears in Old Tibetan Annals entry for the year 677 CE is of some relevance, even if referring to a period a century earlier than our stone inscription.
To see the “original” Tibetan-script version of the inscription, look here:ཁྲི་སྲོང་ལྡེ་བཙན་སྐབས་/
If clicking on it doesn’t take you there right away, try cutting & pasting the entire line into your browser.

This surprisingly lengthy stone inscription mentions the absorption of neighbors into the territories of the expanding Tibetan state including Zhangzhung, Azha (Tuyuhun), and Dakpo already during the times of the ‘ancestor’ Khri-sta'u-snya-gzigs.* That means sometime in the middle of the 6th century.
(*Stag-bu-snya-gzigs is another spelling. It could be that this new inscription will cause modern historians to give more credence to the historicity of Songtsen the Wise's grandfather and father.)

We find here some important indications of early Tibetan religion, Tibetan paganism if you will permit the term, and Zhang-zhung language along with other things familiar in Bon religion. Notice it uses the Zhang-zhung language term dang-ra, meaning lake. I think the main action of conferring rank that happened in the winter of a Hare Year took place in the western Tibetan fort well known in Bon sources as [Gad-kyi] Byi-ba-mkhar [meaning Mouse Fort], although here called the palace (pho-brang) Gro-shod Pi-ba-mkhar.*
(*This and other western Tibetan forts as known to Bon sources are listed and discussed in footnote 18 of Namkhai Norbu's The Necklace of Gzi, Information Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama [Dharamsala 1981].)

It also has a very remarkable reference to vampire suppression (sri gnon) rituals that has to be one if not the earliest reference to this Tibetan exorcistic practice that surely predates the introduction of Buddhism if anything does. I fail to identify even a remote hint of Buddhism, per se. It mentions the royal ‘soul mountain,’ in the process using a strange word Amy Heller has noticed in an inscription on a piece of gold taken from a horse saddle, zhu-lub[s] (look here). Then we find a ‘soul lake’ using that Zhang-zhung word dang-ra, describing it as ‘having a halter of turquoise’ (g.yu mtshul can; this could conceal a more archaic way of speaking about the famous lake Dang-ra G.yu-mtsho [go here and search for Dangra Yutso, or click here for a map], since after all the Tibetan syllable mtsho for lake would have to be regarded as redundant to all who understand enough Zhang-zhung to know that dang-ra means lake). There is even a ‘soul field,’ something I don’t recall ever seeing before. We could go on and on, but let’s stop there for now, and let the Old Tibetan document experts take over, as they indubitably will. For now, I think it will be amusing to talk about what we see in it in the comments section you will notice below.

Nota bene: I’ve eliminated most of the line numbers along with the line breaks, so they will not get in the way of internet searches. I’ve marked up some of the main names in color to draw attention to them. I’ve bracketed a few of my suggested readings, where I imagine they could be helpful. I’ve added a few notes, I hope just enough to help you on your way to achieving your own understanding, but not enough to spoil your fun trying to meet the challenge.

gnam labs [~babs] kyi btsan po // sa lhund kyi mnga' mdzad // myi rje lha'i sprul pa / gnam gyi lha las 'greng myi'i rjer gshegs ste* / dud rngog chags kyi rkyen du bskyod pa'i bod kyi spu rgyal btsan po khri srong lde btsan gyi zha snga' nas pho brang gro shod pi ba mkhar [~bi ba mkhar? ~byi ba mkhar?] na bzhugs pa'i dus su // bka' lung gsal ba'i mdo' byang gu ge'i sde rgye shin blon chen po khri dbang gtsug phud rje la khwe la yos bu'i lo rgun zla tha chung gi ngo la bkas gnang ba / 
(*Echoes words of ITJ 0751:  gnam gyi lha las myi'i rjer gshegs pa...  Other OT documents echo the words "rjer gshegs" and "mi'i rjer gshegs." This may be verified at the OTDO website. Compare also the words from the Mnga'-ris Rgyal-rabs as found in Roberto Vitali's The Kingdoms of Pu.hrang (Dharamsala 1996), p. 72, opening words of what is evidently a quoted document in connection with a war of 1083 CE fought in the lands north of Tibet, in Rgya Gye-sar: gnam lha babs kyi rgyal po / sa lhun grub kyi mnga' bdag / bod kyi lha btsan po rtse lde'i zhal mnga' nas... (for English translation, see the same volume, pp. 123-124. But now, to see how this is mistaken, see the 2023 postscript below!)

[11] rgye shin blon chen po khri dbang gtsug phud rje la khwe mchis na yang btsan po gdung rgyud rim par pha mes rgyud kyis sku'i nye zhing zho sha cher phul / 

mes khri sta'u snya gzigs kyi sku ring la rgye shen blon chen po 'dzam gling khri don bzher btsan nes dru gu yul du dmag pon bgyis te / myang dbas mnon dang gsum / tshe spongs 'phrin dang sgo bstun nas / rgyal phran bcu gnyis kyi' srid brlag / zhang zhung sde dang bcas pa 'a zha' 'khor dang bcas pa / dags po rgyab dang bcas pa mngar 'dus te / zhabs 'degs phul / 

mes khri gnam ri srong btsan rlung nam gyi sku ring la rgye shin blon chen po rus rgya 'dzam bus dmag pon bgyis te / sbal ti dang nol thabs mdzad pa'i sar dpa'i ya rab bgyis chab srid rgyas par bcugs pas bka' rtags kyi sgrom bu mtha' dbus su brtsan bar rmeng chags pa'i zhabs 'debs phul / 

mes srong btsan sgam po'i sku ring la rgya shin blon chen po mang rje btsan la myis rgya'i phyogs su dmag drangs te ga ram gyi rgya thang du rgya dang nom thabs [~nol thabs] mdzad pa'i dus su dpa'i ya rab bgyis /  dpa' mtshan stag gi zar chen* gsal / 'gar stong brtsan yul zung dang / da rgyal mang po rje stong nam gnyis dang sgo bstun nas bod kyi mkhar bzhi brtsegs pa dang / bod rur phye ba dang / sum pa sder bcad pa la sogs pa'i zhabs 'degs phul bas dpen yon la gser gyi yi ge chu du [~chu ngu] bkas gnang /
(*See the comments on this syllable zar in Hugh Richardson's A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions, p. 19. Likely a borrowing from a late Persian language source, I think it is probably a luxury cloth woven in the design of the tiger's stripes, which would anyway be a badge of military heroism.)

[29] btsan po khri srong lde brtsan gyi sku ring la / rgye shin blon chen po khri dbang gtsug phud rje la khwes yul na gar du gnyi 'go dang nol thabs mdzad pa'i dus su / bya lo nas lo rgu'i bar du rgu khrom bgyis dpa' 'dzangs kyi phul bton te / mtha'i 'go mnan rje'i sku btsas chab srid kyi nol thabs sngar byung du sgo srog la ma 'dzems te chab srid grangs dang rim par phyag tu phul te / dpe yon la seng ge'i go lag gsal g.yu'i yi ge chu du [~chu ngu] bkas gnang / de ltar sug byad yun du bzang zhing gdung rgyud rim pa la myi rabs rgyud kyis zho sha cher bgyis pa'i rge yon dang sbyar nas bka' rtsigs gnang ba yin gyis mnga' mdzad gdung rgyud jo mo bdan zhur phyi ma rnams kyis nam nam zha zha / tshe tshe rabs rabs bu tsha mtha' rjes myi rabs rgyud mar myi bco myi bsgyur myi dbri myi bskur bkas myi bshu myi sha sman chal sma stong dang bcas pa yang gdung rgyud rim pas bkas gnang ba'i yig rtsang dang mthun bar bka' rtags 'gyur snyags dang bcas pa 'chang du gsald pa yin no //

nga'i rgye shig blon chen po khri dbang gtsug phud rje la khwe bu cha [~bu tsha] rgyud du khrag che bton chung bton ni shi ri shi thang du bkas gnang / sus bkum yang lha gnyan mchod pa dang sri gnon gyi rkyen la bran pho rus sna rgu bran mo rus sna rgu gser gyi mda' rgu hwa dar rgu / g.yu'i 'phang rgu la srin bal 'dab ma rgu btags pa / mon lug rgu / mon ra rgu / nas khal dgu / shin tog khal rgu / mar khug rgu dgu ram rgu bla snang rgu la sogs pa dang mchod pa bya'o //

bla ri spo ri rma bya mdongs gser gyi zhu lubs su g.yon / bla mtsho dang ra g.yu mthur can ni gzi mchod des gcal du bkram / bla thang g.ya' thang myir ma ris ni dar zab kyis g.yon / srad yas dar yug rgu / gser gyi sbram bu rgu / 'bri rgu / ro g.yogs la khrab mying can drgu / ro gal la sta rab rgu / snying non la gser srang brgya dang g.yu rab rgu / bar stong la rta rab rgu / g.yag rab rgu / za bog rab rgu / nas khal rgu / lug srang rgu / stong nag ni shi ri shi thang gi rkang grangs las bkas gnang /  srang rgu khri rgu stong rgu brgya rgu bcu rtsa rgu / zho rgu / nam rgu / lug rgu ting rgu bkas gnang / so sta sen gas na sgra lug ra yugs sa'i gos rin srang rgu / mchi phyis 'bri cig dang dar yug cig / spya rin la rta cig theb grib dar yug dmar pos byas te sar mar btus / mna' ma dang bu sring gi khrin srang bzhi brgya / mtshon che phyung chung phyung kheng rab kyi stong dang bsnum / myi zhing 'brog sogs gnang ba ni me nyag dang thag dar ljags dang nam pag ti 'di dang 'dre / skyu ru dang mo lcags tu rbar lasogs rus sna dgu grong brgya cu rtsa bdun / yul 'phan yul gyi rgya tshar srang / zhing rgod dor brgya bzhi bcu rtswa lnga pa / 'brog skyi thang ring mos yas bcad pa / spang ri 'brong tshang can gyis mas bcad pa / brag dmar chu mdo' lung lag gis bcad pa / na rlung 'om tshang gis bcad pa / bar gyi ro leb la shing lbag yu bkas gnang sngar chod pa'i myi zhing 'brog sogs bka' drin mdzad pa nyos zhing phru sa yan chod dbang bgyid par bkas gnang / spus lcogs pa rnams bla'i sgo gnyer chen po 'cham par bkas bsnan bka' zhang blon por bzhag cing gnya' snyom bar bkas gnang / sdos nyes che chung ci mchis kyang myi bkum myi spyug / gzhan snyan phra zhu ba byung na yang ma sbyangs par myi gsan zhing bkas chad ston myig myi mdzad par bkas gnang rtsigs zhing rtsigs 'brog 'tshal ba ma bka' skos myi mdzad par bkas gnang ba'i zhal phan gsal ba 'di sgrog rdo la than bar gyis shig /

[91] rgye shin blon chen po khri dbang gtsug phud rje la khwe nu tsha [~bu tsha] rgyud du spyan ras kyis myi btsa' re / 'khor yul blar bzhes re / gzhan du yang spyur re / snyan phra byung na yang gas re / shags khar rdzong re / 'dus 'gros ltar bkas myi bcad re / ma sbyangs par gtam slas gcod pa mdzad re / blon che khri dbang gtsug phud la bu tsha rgyud du 'di ltar bka' rtsigs 'chang du rung du brtsan bar bkas gnang ste  gzhi phyag rgya 'chang du gsald pa shang shang dum rtsen du btab pa cig las bshus pa lags s.ho //

[103] yul phan yul gyi rgye shin gyi me rtags [~che rtags] / yongs su rdzogs so //

Postscript (April 19, 2019):

Somebody kindly pointed out one of the things I neglected to mention, an article by Charles Ramble about Traduntse:  “The Demonesse's Right (or Left) Knee (or Ankle): A Pilgrim's Account of Traduntse Temple from 1898," contained in: Olaf Czaja & Guntram Hazod, eds., The Illuminating Mirror: Tibetan Studies in Honour of Per K. Sørensen on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, Dr. Ludwig Reichert (Wiesbaden 2015), pp. 375-388.  I was wondering, why is this particular message worthy of a major stone monument? The privileges granted to this Khri-la Khwe were granted in perpetuity, to be passed on to his descendents until the ends of time. Well, that was the intent anyway. So tell me, how better to say this than to have it chiseled into stone?  Actually, another stele from those times also includes statements about how a minister's descendents would continue to hold his privileges and ranks and even immunity from punishment for any offenses short of treason.  See the north face of the Lhasa Zhol pillar as transcribed and translated in H. Richardson's Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions, pp. 16-23.

More postscripts to follow!

Postscript (June 7, 2019):

I received a link from K.N. (indirectly via J.M.) to yet another web publication of the edict dated March 21, 2019, and entitled Mnga'-ris-nas Rnyed-pa'i Btsan-po'i Dus-kyi Yig-rnying Zhal-bshus-ma (Copying of an old document from the time of the emperors that was found in Ngari, western Tibet.)  Try going here:

That means it was published just one day before the webpage from "" that I used as the basis for my blog.  Meanwhile, what the March 21 posting suggested about how the document is consonant with Pra-dum-tse located as it is on the border between Tibet and Zhangzhung, and also consonant with society in that particular epoch (of the imperial period). This suggestion was, in a different blog entry posted on the following day, turned into an established fact. Right now, I see reason to doubt two things I had provisionally accepted:  [1] that the document had any particular association with Traduntsé Monastery and [2] that the document is necessarily a transcription of letters carved in a Long Stone.

I'm waiting for more confirmation on this point, but it appears that an archaeological team working in a cave in the vicinity of Khyunglung Ngulkhar in the upper Sutlej River valley found the paper document, and it was presented at a conference for the first time back in 2015. Thanks to J.M. for delivering all of this new information.

For more, return to this spot again in coming weeks.

Postscript (June 10, 2019):

At this point, it appears that some statements in this blog cannot be substantiated (or were based on insubstantial authority) and ought to be erased, if that were possible. Most of my rethinking is due to discussions with J.M. and evidence supplied by him. A partial retraction is likely to appear soon as a separate blog entry. The original blog will remain as it is.

Postscript (June 20, 2019):

Well, by now I’m changing my mind about my doubts and for the time being have returned to backing the messages of the original blog entry.  It’s all because of yet another blog. Its link was again sent to me by J.M., on the basis of information supplied to him by K.T.N.  I'll put the full link here but ask you to copy-and-paste it into your own browser instead of just clicking on it:

Here you can see the complete cursive manuscript.  Evidently it is a copy of a Long Stone inscription that may not (or not any longer) be available. Whether this is the case, and whether or not it was a Long Stone located at Traduntsé Monastery is something we’ll have to take on a bit of faith until we hear all the explanations and arguments that will be made in the official report of the archaeological group that made the discovery. The document itself while old is obviously *not* a document from the 8th century, but does seem to be a careful copying of a writing from that time. I’ll let you know when I find out more.

Postscript (March 19, 2020):

By now I’m giving greater credence to what I understand from a blog written by Sha-bo Mkha'-byams and posted on March 21, 2019. Its title is:

མངའ་རིས་ནས་བཙན་པོའི་དུས་ཀྱི་རྡོ་རིང་གི་མ་ཕྱི་ཞིག་གསར་རྙེད་བྱུང་ ཞེས་པའི་ཡིག་རྙིང་གི་གསལ་བཤད། “Mnga'-ris-nas Btsan-po'i Dus-kyi Rdo-ring-gi Ma-phyi zhig Gsar-rnyed Byung” zhes-pa'i Yig-rnying-gi Gsal-bshad.” To see it, and to see one end of the opening page of the original document, go here:

Shawo dismisses the idea it has any connection to Tradumtsé or that it is a copy from a Long Stone. He says it was first discovered in 2010 by a monk of Khyung-lung Monastery, who found it as part of the sacred consecration content of a nearby Chorten. It was only in 2015 when an archaeological team arrived in the area and realized its value for science. It was first reported in April of 2016, at a conference on the “One Belt One Road and Research on the Ancient Past of Amdo and Central Tibet.” Since it seems all recent humanities conferences in the Peoples Republic are somehow supposed to be about the OBOR (here called རྒྱུད་གཅིག་ལམ་གཅིག), we can take that with extra salt and pepper. In more recent years, Shawo himself has presented on the subject at other conferences. I’ll let you know when his article/s reach/es publication.

Postscript (April 27, 2020):

Oh my goodness, look what just showed up in this YouTube posted video from the program called Champa Talk Show (Byams-pa’i Kha-brda’), hosted by Champa Dorji.  Go have a look, or at least have a look at this screen shot from it:

This handwritten page illustrates Pra-dun-tse Temple with a Long Stone in front of it, and goes on to describe its content. Notice it is signed and dated, Ban-shul Dpal-mkhar-rgyal, May 26, 2018, in Central Tibet. In case you watch the video, and I do recommend it, you will know that this is one and the same as the person being interviewed, a noted author of several published essays, in Tibetan, on Bon studies.

April 21, 2021:  And for an essay by Ban-shul on the subject, with illustrations, look hereAnd for another version of that essay, only with what appears to be more complete photographs of the document, look here. According to Sonam Tseten, in the work mentioned just below, there was a print publication of Ban-shul Dpal-mkhar-rgyal’s essay with the title “Pra-dun-rtse Gtsug-lag-khang-gi Mdun-du Yod-pa'i Btsan-po’i Dus-kyi Rdo-ring-gi Gsang-ba Brtol-ba,” Gangs-ljongs Nyi-gzhon, issue 2 of the year  2019, pp. 57-69, although I haven’t see it yet.

March 12, 2023: At last an academic paper has appeared on the subject. Right now I’ll do no more than supply the bibliographical details as far as I know them:  Sonam Tsedan, “A Decree for Rgye-shin Family of Western Tibet: Comparing with Old Tibetan Inscriptions from Central Tibet,” China Tibetology, issue 2 for the year 2021 (September), pp. 62-73. You might be able to find it here. Thanks to J.M. for telling me about this since I would have missed it otherwise.

April 22, 2023:  Joanna Bialek pointed out to me that the first two syllables of the document would, in imperial period Tibetan, have to be read as gnam lhab, as it occurs in Old Tibetan documents and the Zhwa Temple doring inscription.  The phrase has been discussed in vol. 2, pp. 233-234 of her book Compounds and Compounding in Old Tibetan, a Corpus Based Approach (Marburg 2018). So please correct my correction to gnam babs that you see above.


  1. Dear Dan,

    Many thanks for this most fascinating post. Let's hope some good pictures will soon be available !

    Best regards,

  2. Thanks! Fantastic! Another proof Zhang Zhung kingdom existed and the stories of Bon, Yungdrung Bon, Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyud and Buddhism and Tibet are real.

  3. Dear Dan,

    Now that I've taken time to check a bit closer, I thought it might be worth noting that l. 17 "myang dbas mnon dang gsum / tshe spongs 'phrin" also echoes ms. PT 1287 l. 197 "myang dba's mthon dang gsum / tshes pong prin dang bzhis" (from the context, "mthon" is a mispell for "mnon").
    There is also "blon po myang dba's gnon dang gsum tshe spong 'phrin dang bzhis..." in lDe'u jo sras (page 107 of the 1987 edition).
    I wonder if this group of 3-4 can be found elsewhere...

    Best regards,

  4. Dear Lagat,

    That's an amazing connection you've found. Now that I look at the passage in the small Lde'u history, I see that the entire passage about Songtsen's grandfather corresponds well with the one in the inscription. And that Dunhuang text you mention, the Old Tibetan Chronicles, does share some of the same information, but not the same way of supplying it. Still, the small Lde'u and this inscription are very close in wording. The 4 names mentioned in all these sources seem to have been persons in the court of the Zing-po-rje who ultimately conspired with the Emperor Stag-bu against him. It would seem this coup was largely responsible for the expansion of power over a major part of the plateau, and very soon beyond the plateau...* This is a terribly important subject that needs to be studied for all it's worth by whoever is interested!

    Yours, D

    *For more, see note no. 5 in Brandon Dotson's article, “Sources for the Old Tibetan Chronicle: A Fragment from the Non-Extant Chronicle Pothī.” It's available on the net.

  5. So far I've only gotten one private (and therefore anonymous) message expressing doubts about the authenticity of the inscription. I think such doubts are very natural, given the fact we have no way to see the original artifact behind it, even no indication where it might be today (stone steles could, and very surely did in at least one case get relocated). Often when such previously unknown things appear the response is "Too good to be true," but in this case I think it's just as justifiable to respond, "Too difficult to do." Genuine until conclusively shown otherwise, I think. Go to work on that, will you?


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