Phagmodrupa Dynasty

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The Phagmodrupa dynasty or Pagmodru (Wylie: phag-mo-gru-pa, Chinese: 帕木竹巴; IPA: /pʰʌ́kmoʈʰupa/) of Tibet was established by Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen at the end of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. Changchb Gyaltsen came from the monastic fief Phagmodru ("sow's ferry crossing"), which was originally founded as a hermitage in 1158 by the famous Kagyu scholar Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo.[1] It was situated in the Nêdong district southeast of Lhasa. After the death of the founder in 1170, Phagmodru evolved into a large and wealthy monastery which was governed by members of the Lang family. One of their line was Changchb Gyaltsen who became lord of the fief in 1321. He managed to defeat various local opponents at a time when the Yuan Dynasty, overlord of Tibet, was on the decline. The Sakya regime had hitherto wielded power over Tibet on behalf of the Mongols. However, Tai Situ Changchb Gyaltsen superseded Sakya in the period 1354–1358, thereby recreating an autonomous Tibetan state.[2]

Administrative renewal[edit]

The new regime governed from their palace in Nêdong in the Yarlung Valley. Changchb Gyaltsen reorganized the old Mongol-Sakya administration by dividing the territory in various dzong (rdzong), districts. He abolished Mongol laws and customs in favour of traditional Tibetan ones. The dynasty in the first place wielded power over Central Tibet (Ü and Tsang). They periodically dispatched formal tributes to the emperors of the Ming Dynasty in China, and received from them the title Chanhuawang (Chinese: 闡化王, prince who expounds Buddhism).[3] The Ming court established a number of prefectures (都司) and counties (寨) in Central Tibet, but preferring to appoint Tibetans as rulers rather than sent officials or military commanders. Only essential matters, for instance the ownership of Sakya Monastery, should be judged by the emperor.[4]

Period of political stability[edit]

The first rulers were lamas who did not marry, and the succession up to 1481 went via collateral kinsmen. At first the rulers declined to take royal titles, being content with the title regent (desi, sde srid). The fifth ruler Drakpa Gyaltsen appropriated the royal title gongma (the high one, superior). From 1354 to 1435 the rulers managed to uphold a balance between the various fiefs. This period is famous for being culturally productive, and included the work of the Buddhist reformer Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug sect.[5] The rulers in the first century of the dynasty were as follows:

  1. Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen (Wylie: ta'i si tu byang chub rgyal mtshan) (1302–1364)
  2. Desi Shakya Gyaltsen (Wylie: sde srid sh'akya rgyal mtshan, ZYPY: Sagya Gyaincain) (1340–1373) nephew
  3. Desi Drakpa Changchub (Wylie: sde srid grags pa byang chub) (1356–1386) nephew
  4. Desi Sonam Drakpa (Wylie: sde srid bsod nams grags pa) (1359–1408) brother
  5. Gongma Drakpa Gyaltsen (Wylie: gong ma grags pa rgyal mtshan) (1374–1432) cousin
  6. Gongma Drakpa Jungne (Wylie: gong ma grags pa 'byung gnas) (1414–1446) nephew

Renewed political fragmentation[edit]

After a civil war 1435 members continued to be enthroned as kings, although they were always contested by other local powers, especially the Rinpungpa (1435–1565) and Tsangpa (1565–1642) dynasties.[6] After 1564 their position was purely nominal, and the final incumbent was expelled from Lhasa in 1635.[7] The last eight rulers were:

  1. Gongma Kunga Lekpa (Wylie: gong ma kun dga' legs pa) (1433–1483) brother
  2. Gongma Ngagi Wangpo (Wylie: gong ma ngag gi dbang po) (1439–1491) nephew
  3. Tsokye Dorje (Wylie: mTs'o skyes rdo rje) (1450-1510) regent from the Rinpungpa line
  4. Gongma Ngawang Tashi Drakpa (Wylie: gong ma ngag dbang bkra shis grags pa) (1488–1564) son of Gongma Ngagi Wangpo
  5. Gongma Drowai Gonpo (Wylie: gong ma gro ba'i mgon po) (1508–1548) son
  6. Gongma Ngawang Drakpa (Wylie: gong ma ngag dbang grags pa) (d. 1603/04) son
  7. Mipham Wanggyur Gyalpo (Wylie: mi pham dbang sgyur rgyal po) (c. 1589-1613) grandnephew (?)
  8. Mipham Sonam Wangchuk Drakpa Namgyal Palzang (Wylie: mi pham bsod nams dbang phyug grags pa rnam rgyal pal bzang) (d. 1671) grandson of Ngawang Drakpa Gyaltsen[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Snellgrove & Hugh Richardson (1986) A Cultural History of Tibet, Boston & London: Shambhala, pp, 135-6.
  2. ^ David Snellgrove & Hugh Richardson, (1986), pp. 152-4.
  3. ^ Giuseppe Tucci (1949) Tibetan Painted Scrolls, 2 Volumes, Rome: La Libreria dello Stato, pp. 692-4.
  4. ^ Chinese perspectives of this may be found in Ya Hanzhang (1991) The Biographies of the Dalai Lamas, Beijing: Foreign Language Press, pp. 12-3; Chenqing Ying (2003) Tibetan History, Beijing: China Intercontinental Press, pp. 42-52.
  5. ^ David Snellgrove & Hugh Richardson (1986) pp. 153-4, 180-2; Laurent Deshayes (1997) Histoire du Tibet, Paris: Fayard, p. 120
  6. ^ Laurent Deshayes (1997) pp. 122-3, 134-46.
  7. ^ Günther Schulemann (1958) Geschichte der Dalai-Lamas, Leipzig: Harassowitz, p. 230.
  8. ^ List of rulers culled from Ngag-dBang Blo-bZang rGya-mTSHo (1995) A History of Tibet, Indiana University, Bloomington, pp. 126-60; Giuseppe Tucci (1971) Deb t'er dmar po gsar ma. Tibetan chronicles by bSod nams grags pa, Roma: IsMEO; Giuseppe Tucci (1949); Olaf Czaja (2013), Medieval rule in Tibet: The Rlangs Clan and the political and religious history of the ruling house of Phag mo gru pa, Vol. I-II, Wien: ÖAW. A list, questionable in some details, is found in Sarat Chandra Das, 'Contributions on the religion, history &c, of Tibet', Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 1881, p. 242.


  • Dung-dkar blo-zang 'phrim-las (1991) The Merging of Religious and Secular Rule in Tibet, Beijing: Foreign Language Press.
  • Rossabi, Morris. China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries (1983) Univ. of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04383-9
  • Shakapa, Tsepon W. D. (1981) “The rise of Changchub Gyaltsen and the Phagmo Drupa Period″ in Bulletin of Tibetology, 1981 Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology [1][dead link]
  • Shakapa, Tsepon W. D. (1967) Tibet: A Political History, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  • Sorensen, Per, & Hazod, Guntram (2007) Rulers of the Celestial Plain: Ecclesiastic and Secular Hegemony in Medieval Tibet. A Study of Tshal Gung-thang. Vol. I-II. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
  • Tucci, Giuseppe (1949) Tibetan Painted Scrolls, 2 Volumes, Rome: La Libreria dello Stato.
  • Tucci, Giuseppe (1971) Deb t'er dmar po gsar ma. Tibetan Chronicles by bSod nams grags pa. Roma: IsMEO.

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