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Emperor of Tibet
khri-sting-rmang-ri, pying-bar (modern Qonggyai County)
Full name
Tritsuk Detsen
Great Minister
Monk MinisterDranga Palkye Yongten
Motherbro-bza' lha-rgyal-mang-mo-rje
ReligionTibetan land Buddhism

Ralpacan (Tibetan: རལ་པ་ཅན, Wylie: ral pa can), born Tritsuk Detsen (Tibetan: ཁྲི་གཙུག་ལྡེ་བཙན, Wylie: khri gtsug lde btsan) c. 806 CE according to traditional sources, was the 41st King of Tibet, ruling from the death of his father, Sadnalegs, in c. 815, until 838 CE. He is referred to as "son of God" in the Testament of Ba.[1]

He was the second of five brothers. The eldest, Prince Tsangma (Wylie: lha sras gtsang ma), took Buddhist vows. The third, Langdarma, who was anti-Buddhist and ruled after the death of Ralpacan, is referred to in the sources as "unfit to reign". The younger two brothers both died young.[2]

Ralpacan is considered very important to the history of Tibetan Buddhism as one of the three Dharma Kings (chosgyal) — Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Detsen, and himself — who brought Buddhism to Tibet. Trisong had five wives, all from Tibetan noble families.[3]

Political activities[edit]

The Tibetan Empire reached its greatest extent under his rule, and included parts of China, India, Nepal, the Kingdom of Khotan, Balti, Bruzha (Gilgit and Hunza), Zhangzhung, Hor-yul, Sog-yul, Yugur, and Kamilog (roughly equivalent to present-day Sichuan),[2] as well as almost all of modern Xinjiang and Gansu.[4]

Ralpacan's power was aided by the able military leadership of Zhang 'Bro sTag. In 810 Emperor Xianzong of Tang wrote asking for the return of three prefectures. In 816 Zhang 'Bro sTag led a raid led to within two days journey from the Uyghur capital at Ordu-Baliq. In 819 he attacked the Chinese town of Yanzhou, in the southern Ordos Desert close to the Great Wall of China,[5][6] when he was referred to as "First Minister". During the negotiations for a peace treaty in 821 he led a violent attack against the Chinese,[7] which may have contributed to Chinese willingness to make peace.

The reign of Ralpacan was characterized by conflicts with China and the Uyghur Khaganate to the north. Tibetans attacked Uyghur territory in 816 and were in turn attacked in 821. After troops were sent towards the Chinese border, Buddhists in both countries sought mediation and the Sino-Tibetan treaty completed in 821/822, which insured peace for more than two decades. Tibet also made peace with the Uyghurs and also, apparently, with the Kingdom of Nanzhao in 822.[8]

A bilingual account of the treaty with China, including details of the borders between the two countries is inscribed on a stone pillar, erected in 823, which stands outside the Jokhang in Lhasa.[9] There was also a pillar with the treaty inscribed on it erected in China and a third was apparently placed at Gugu Meru at the border (which is said by locals to have been stolen by a party of French Tibetologists).[10]

Culture and Buddhism[edit]

Ralpacan was a generous supporter of Buddhism and invited many craftsmen, scholars and translators to Tibet from China, Nepal, Kashmir and the Kingdom of Khotan. He also promoted the development of Tibetan literature and translations, which were greatly aided by the development of a detailed Sanskrit-Tibetan lexicon, Mahāvyutpatti, which included standard Tibetan equivalents for thousands of Sanskrit terms.[10][11] He decreed that all translations must be done directly from Sanskrit.[12]

Ralpacan was considered to be an emanation of Vajrapani, and encouraged Indian and Tibetan scholars to translate the Tripiṭaka, the Commentaries, and ancient Tantras into the Tibetan language.[13]

During his reign, and even after his death into the 840s, thousands of copies of the Aparimitāyurnāma sūtra (Sūtra of Immeasurable Light), as well as hundreds of copies of the Śatasahasrikaprajñāpāramitāsūtra and the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra (Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra) were produced as offerings to Ralpacan.[14][15][16]

Ralpacan built a magnificent nine-story stone temple of 'U shang near the confluence of the Tsangpo and Kyi Rivers. The lower stories were of stone, the three middle ones of brick and the top three of wood. It was famous for its remarkable golden roof. On the top floors he stored Buddhist scriptures, stupas and images, while the middle floors were used by scholars and translators, and the bottom floors by the court and for state affairs. He also remodeled and restored older temples.[11][17]

He introduced standard weights and measures based on the ones in China. He enforced the Indian canonical regulations for the clergy and organised many classes of priesthood, assigning a revenue from seven families for each Buddhist monk and proscribed strict penalties for anyone showing disrespect to them.[11][17]

His royal summer camp near modern Lhasa was "a palatial military pavilion", "wonderfully decorated with golden figures of tigers, panthers, and dragons."[18]

Death and succession[edit]

Stone lion on burial mound of King Ralpacan in Chongye Valley

Ralpacan was, according to the most common Tibetan tradition, murdered by two pro-Bon ministers who then placed his anti-Buddhist brother, Langdarma, on the throne.[19] Some accounts suggest that his death was an accident due to a slip on the steps of the temple of Maldro, while the Old Book of Tang state that he became sick and was unable to take control of affairs of state and then, later, died.[20]

The latter theory finds support in a damaged manuscript from Dunhuang containing a prayer for the good health of the king.[21] The late Chinese work, the Tongjiangangmu by Zhu Xi (1130–1200), claims that Ralpacan had been sick for almost the whole of his reign and had, therefore, been unable to travel around his empire. He is said to have died at the end of the year 838.[22]

This same work mentions under the very next year, 839, that a feverish epidemic had gone on for several years among the Uighurs killing "an infinite number of people." [23]

A reference to this epidemic in 839 is also found in the New Book of Tang 217B.1b.[24] It is possible that it was this epidemic which brought about Ralpacan's death, though it could equally have been the result of his chronic illness.

Ralpacan, then, died late in 838 and was buried near the Yarlung Valley; his tomb decorated with "a remarkable stone lion carved in a style said by some modern scholars to be Persian."[25]


  1. ^ Diemberger, Hildegard; Wangdu, Pasang (2000). dBa' bzed : the royal narrative concerning the bringing of the Buddha's doctrine to Tibet = dBa' bzhed. Wien: Verl. der Österr. Akad. der Wiss. ISBN 3-7001-2956-4.
  2. ^ a b Vitali, Roberto (1990). Early temples of central Tibet (1. publ. ed.). London: Serindia Publ. ISBN 0-906026-25-3., p. 17
  3. ^ Stein, R. A. (1972) Tibetan Civilization, p. 63. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-8047-0901-7 (pbk)
  4. ^ Kolmaš, Josef. Tibet and Imperial China: A Survey of Sino-Tibetan Relations up to the end of the Manchu Dynasty in 1912 (1967), p. 8. Centre of Oriental Studies, Australian National University, Canberra.
  5. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia. (1987), pp. 165-167. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02469-3.
  6. ^ Lee, Don Y. The History of Early Relations between China and Tibet: From Chiu t'ang-shu, a documentary survey, p. 150. (1981). Eastern Press, Bloomington, Indiana. ISBN 0-939758-00-8.
  7. ^ Vitali, Roberto (1990) Early Temples of Central Tibet, p. 18. Serindia Publications. London. ISBN 0-906026-25-3.
  8. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia. (1987), pp. 150-151. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02469-3.
  9. ^ A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions. H. E. Richardson. Royal Asiatic Society (1985), pp. 106-143. ISBN 0-947593-00-4.
  10. ^ a b Shakabpa, Tsepon W. D. (1967). Tibet: A Political History, pp. 49-50. Yale University Press, New Haven & London.
  11. ^ a b c Ancient Tibet: Research Materials from the Yeshe De Project (1986), pp. 296-297. Dharma Publishing, California. ISBN 0-89800-146-3.
  12. ^ Yoshinori Takeuchi, Jan van Bragt. Buddhist Spirituality. Crossroad, 1993. p. 225.
  13. ^ Tantric Glossary
  14. ^ Dotson, Brandon (2015). "Remains of the Dharma: Editing, Rejecting, and Replacing the Buddha's Words in Officially Commissioned Sūtras from Dunhuang, 820s to 840s". Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 36/37: 5, 10. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  15. ^ Quenzer, Jörg; Bondarev, Dmitry; Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich (12 December 2014). Manuscript Cultures: Mapping the Field. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. p. 309. ISBN 9783110225631. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  16. ^ Wang, Michelle C. (5 February 2018). Maṇḍalas in the Making: The Visual Culture of Esoteric Buddhism at Dunhuang. BRILL. p. 105. ISBN 9789004360402. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  17. ^ a b Dás, Sarat Chandra. Contributions on the Religion and History of Tibet, p. 40. Manjushri Publishing House, Delhi (1970). First published in The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. L (1881)
  18. ^ Ancient Tibet: Research Materials from the Yeshe De Project (1986), p. 296. Dharma Publishing, California. ISBN 0-89800-146-3.
  19. ^ Shakabpa, Tsepon W. D. (1967). Tibet: A Political History, p. 51. Yale University Press, New Haven & London.
  20. ^ Pelliot, Paul. Histoire Ancienne du Tibet. Paris. Libraire d'amérique et d'orient. 1961, p. 133.
  21. ^ Richardson, H. E. "Khri Gtsug-lde-brtsan's Illness." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 44 (1981), p. 351-352.
  22. ^ Grosier, Jean-Baptiste. Histoire Général de la Chine ou Annales de cet empire: traduites du Tong-kien-kang-mu. (1778) Paris. Reprint: Ch'en-wen publishing company, Taipei, Taiwan. 1969. XIII, p. 471.
  23. ^ Grosier, Jean-Baptiste. Histoire Général de la Chine ou Annales de cet empire: traduites du Tong-kien-kang-mu. (1778) Paris. Reprint: Ch'en-wen publishing company, Taipei, Taiwan. 1969. XIII, p. 472.
  24. ^ Mackerras, Colin. The Uighur Empire According to the T'ang Dynastic Histories: A Study in Sino-Uighur Relations 744-840, p 125. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina. 1972. ISBN 0-87249-279-6.
  25. ^ Ancient Tibet: Research Materials from the Yeshe De Project (1986), p. 304. Dharma Publishing, California. ISBN 0-89800-146-3.

External links[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor of Tibet
Succeeded by