Kingdom of Zhangzhung
|c. 500 BC–625 AD|
|Common languages||Zhangzhung language|
|Historical era||Iron Age to Classical Antiquity|
|c. 500 BC|
• Conquest of Songtsen Gampo
|Today part of||China|
Zhangzhung or Shangshung was an ancient culture and kingdom of western and northwestern Tibet, which pre-dates the culture of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet. Zhangzhung culture is associated with the Bon religion, which in turn, has influenced the philosophies and practices of Tibetan Buddhism. Zhangzhung people are mentioned frequently in ancient Tibetan texts as the original rulers of central and western Tibet. Only in the last two decades have archaeologists been given access to do archaeological work in the areas once ruled by the Zhangzhung.
Extent of the Zhangzhung kingdoms
Tradition has it that Zhangzhung consisted "of three different regions: sGob-ba, the outer; Phug-pa, the inner; and Bar-ba, the middle. The outer is what we might call Western Tibet, from Gilgit in the west to Dangs-ra khyung-rdzong in the east, next to lake gNam-mtsho, and from Khotan in the north to Chu-mig brgyad-cu rtsa-gnyis in the south. The inner region is said to be sTag-gzig (Tazig) [often identified with Bactria], and the middle rGya-mkhar bar-chod, a place not yet identified." While it is not certain whether Zhangzhung was really so large, it is known that it was an independent kingdom and covered the whole of Western Tibet.
The capital city of Zhangzhung was called Khyunglung (Wylie: Khyunglung Ngülkhar or Wylie: Khyung-lung dngul-mkhar), the "Silver Palace of Garuda", southwest of Mount Kailash (Mount Ti-se), which is identified with palaces found in the upper Sutlej Valley.
"... then further west, the Tibetans encountered a distinctly foreign nation. - Shangshung, with its capital at Khyunglung. Mt. Kailāśa (Tise) and Lake Manasarovar formed part of this country., whose language has come down to us through early documents. Though still unidentified, it seems to be Indo European.... Geographically the country was certainly open to India, both through Nepal and by way of Kashmir and Ladakh. Kailāśa is a holy place for the Indians, who make pilgrimages to it. No one knows how long they have done so, but the cult may well go back to the times when Shangshung was still independent of Tibet. How far Shangshung stretched to the north, east and west is a mystery.... We have already had an occasion to remark that Shangshung, embracing Kailāśa sacred Mount of the Hindus, may once have had a religion largely borrowed from Hinduism. The situation may even have lasted for quite a long time. In fact, about 950, the Hindu King of Kabul had a statue of Vişņu, of the Kashmiri type (with three heads), which he claimed had been given him by the king of the Bhota (Tibetans) who, in turn had obtained it from Kailāśa."
History of the Zhangzhung
Iron Age culture of the Chang Tang—the Zhangzhung?
The Conquest of Zhangzhung
There is some confusion as to whether Central Tibet conquered Zhangzhung during the reign of Songtsen Gampo (605 or 617–649) or in the reign of Trisong Detsen (Wylie: Khri-srong-lde-btsan), (r. 755 until 797 or 804). The records of the Tang Annals do, however, seem to clearly place these events in the reign of Songtsen Gampo for they say that in 634, Yangtong (Zhangzhung) and various Qiang tribes, "altogether submitted to him". Following this he united with the country of Yangtong to defeat the 'Azha or Tuyuhun, and then conquered two more tribes of Qiang before threatening Songzhou with an army of more than 200,000 men. He then sent an envoy with gifts of gold and silk to the Chinese emperor to ask for a Chinese princess in marriage and, when refused, attacked Songzhou. He apparently finally retreated and apologised and later the emperor granted his request.
Early Tibetan accounts say that the Tibetan king and the king of Zhangzhung had married each other's sisters in a political alliance. However, the Tibetan wife of the king of the Zhangzhung complained of poor treatment by the king's principal wife. War ensued, and through the treachery of the Tibetan princess, "King Ligmikya of Zhangzhung, while on his way to Sum-ba (Amdo province) was ambushed and killed by King Srongtsen Gampo's soldiers. As a consequence, the Zhangzhung kingdom was annexed to Bod (Central Tibet). Thereafter the new kingdom born of the unification of Zhangzhung and Bod was known as Bod rGyal-khab." R. A. Stein places the conquest of Zhangzhung in 645.
Revolt of Zhangzhung in 677
Zhangzhung revolted soon after the death of King Mangsong Mangtsen or Trimang Löntsän (Wylie: Khri-mang-slon-rtsan, r. 650–677), the son of Songtsen Gampo, but was brought back under Tibetan control by the "firm governance of the great leaders of the Mgar clan".
The Zhangzhung language
A handful of Zhangzhung texts and 11th century bilingual Tibetan documents attest to a Zhangzhung language which was related to Kinnauri. The Bonpo claim that the Tibetan writing system is derived from the Zhangzhung alphabet, while modern scholars recognize the clear derivation of Tibetan script from a North Indian script, which accords with non-Bon Tibetan accounts. A modern Kinnauri language called by the same name (pronounced locally Jangshung) is spoken by 2,000 people in the Sutlej Valley of Himachal Pradesh who claim to be descendants of the Zhangzhung.
Zhangzhung culture's influence in India
It is noteworthy that the Bonpo tradition claims that it was founded by a Buddha-like figure named Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, to whom are ascribed teachings similar in scope to those ascribed to the historical Gautama Buddha. Bonpos claim that Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche lived some 18,000 years ago, and visited Tibet from the land of Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring, or Shambhala. Bonpos also suggest that during this time Lord Shenrab Miwoche's teaching permeated the entire subcontinent and was in part responsible for the development of the Vedic religion. An example of this link is said to be Mount Kailash, which is the center of Zhangzhung culture, and also the most sacred mountain to Hindus. As a result, the Bonpos claim that the supposedly much later teaching at least indirectly owes its origin to Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche.
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