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Tsangpa (Tibetan: གཙང་པWylie: gTsang pa) was a dynasty that dominated large parts of Tibet from 1565 to 1642. It was the last Tibetan royal dynasty to rule in own name. The regime was founded by Karma Tseten, a retainer of the prince of the Rinpungpa Dynasty and governor of Shigatse in Tsang (West-Central Tibet) since 1548.

Superseding the Rinpungpa[edit]

During the 16th century Tibet was fragmented among rivalling factions, along religious as well as dynastic lines. The old Phagmodrupa dynasty lost any semblance of power after 1564, and its rival Rinpungpa was also unable to achieve unity. Among the religious schools the Karmapa sect competed against the Gelugpa, which was headed by the leader later known as Dalai Lama. According to tradition Karma Tseten obtained a troop of horsemen by altering a document issued by his master the Rinpungpa lord. He then raised the standard of rebellion, in 1557, and managed to supersede the Rinpungpa in 1565.[1] Known as the Depa Tsangpa or Tsang Desi, he became the king of Upper Tsang and allied with the fifth "Red Hat Karmapa" or Shamarpa hierarch of the Karma Kagyu sect, Köncho Yenlak. The alliance between the Third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso and the Mongol Tümed ruler Altan Khan (1578) likely aroused the fear of some aristocratic families in Central Tibet, and of the non-Gelugpa sects. This motivated the Karmapa to seek protection from the Tsangpa rulers.[2]

Struggle against the Gelugpa[edit]

The history of Karma Tseten's closest successors is not well known, but in the early 17th century the dynasty is frequently mentioned as a competitor for power over Tibet. The family was generally opposed to the Gelugpa and Dalai Lamas, whose power meanwhile increased in Ü (East-Central Tibet). The Tsangpa ruler Karma Phuntsok Namgyal (or, in another account, his uncle Karma Tensung) reacted by invading Ü from his base in Tsang in 1605 and attacking the monasteries Drepung and Sera. 5,000 monks are said to have been massacred on this occasion.[3] Tsangpa expelled the Mongol troops which assisted the Fourth Dalai Lama Yonten Gyatso, himself a Mongol prince by birth. Yonten Gyatso had to flee and the Tsangpa ruler was close to become king of Tibet. In 1612 and 1613 he subjugated a number of local regimes in West Tibet: the Ngari Gyalpo, Lhopa and Changpa. There were also spectacular successes in the east. The new acquisitions included Dagpo (in the far south-east), Phanyul (north of Lhasa) and Neu (south-east of Lhasa).[4] He was less successful against Bhutan, where his enemy Ngawang Namgyal, the abbot of Ralung, had taken refuge.

Expansion and Mongol response[edit]

In 1618 Tsangpa pushed further into Ü and defeated the local leaders of Kyishod and Tsal. By now Karma Phuntsok Namgyal was virtually the ruler of Central Tibet and was consecrated as such by the Karmapa incarnation Chöying Dorje.[5] In the following year 1619 the West Tibetan kingdom of Mangyül Gungthang was conquered. The hegemony of Tsangpa was, however, only of a brief nature. After Yonten Gyatso's death, his successor as Dalai Lama Lozang Gyatso (1617–1682) received help from Mongol tribes. The Mongols pushed into Ü in 1621 and 1635, defeating the Tsangpa troops. At the same time the Tsangpa ruler Karma Tenkyong was threatened by Ladakh in the west, although it never came to open warfare.[6]

Triumph of the Dalai Lama[edit]

In 1641 the leader of the Khoshut Mongols of the Kokonor region, Gushri Khan, set out from his home area and attacked the king of Beri in Kham (East Tibet), who was a practitioner of the Bön religion and persecuted Buddhist lamas. The khan had been in contact with Dalai Lama since 1637 and was a major champion for his cause. After having defeated Beri he proceeded to invade Tsang. The Tsangpa stronghold Shigatse was captured after a long and bloody siege in 1642. Karma Tenkyong was taken prisoner with his foremost ministers and kept in custody in Neu near Lhasa. After a revolt by Tsangpa supporters in the same year, the incensed Gushri Khan ordered to put Karma Tenkyong in an ox-hide bag and drown him in a river.[7] Gushri Khan presented Tibet, meaning Ü, Tsang and part of East Tibet, to the Dalai Lama. In this way began the Dharma-based Tibetan state that would last to 1950.

List of rulers[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa (1967), Tibet: A Political History. New Haven, p. 90.
  2. ^ B. Bogin (2014), 'The Red and yellow war: Dispatches from the field', in B. Bogin & A. Quintman (eds), Himalayan passages: Tibetan and Newar studies in honor of Hubert Decleer. Boston, p. 324.
  3. ^ Ya Hanzhang (1994), Biographies of the Tibetan Spiritual Leaders Panchen Erdenis. Beijing, p. 26.
  4. ^ D. Templeman (2008), Becoming Indian: A study of the life of the 16th-17th century Tibetan Lama Taranatha. PhD Thesis, Monash University.
  5. ^ G. Tucci (1949), Tibetan Painted Scrolls. Rome, Vol. II, p. 697.
  6. ^ L. Petech (1977), The Kingdom of Ladakh C. 950-1842 A.D. Roma, pp. 46-47.
  7. ^ Tsepon W.D, Shakabpa (1967), pp. 107-112; Ya Hanzhang (1994), pp. 39-41.