Tibet history

In ancient history it is believed that the first generations of Tibetans were the six offspring of a holy monkey and mountain ogress who first appeared in the Yarlung Valley. It is believed that the monkey was a manifestation of Avalokitesvara and the mountain ogress a manifestation of Green Tara. As the legend goes, the monkey and mountain ogress married on the mountain Gongpo Ri in Tsetang. Six monkey offspring were given birth and gradually those six offspring multiplied to five hundred monkeys. Later on, after the number of the monkeys had rapidly increased, the monkeys faced a food shortage in the mountains. Gradually they learnt how to grow crops and were transformed into human beings. 
As time went by, they realized they needed a leader to rule the country. One day, as they were grazing their animals, some herdsmen bumped into a particularly good looking man, who stood out from the local inhabitants. They asked him where he came from whereupon he just pointed his fingers to the sky without speaking. The herdsmen believed him to be an angel from heaven and carried him on their shoulders and made him their king, naming him Nyatri Tsenpo in Tibetan (meaning shoulder-throned king) and thus began the history of Tibetan kings in the 2nd century B.C.


The history of Tibet is generally divided into four periods.
The royal period from 2nd century B.C till 9th century A.D.
The decentralization period from 9th century till 12th century,
The return and consolidation of Buddhism: of Sakyapa in Sakya, Pagdupa in Tsetang, and the period of Karmapa in Shigatse is from 12th century till 17th century
The reign of Dalai Lamas from 17th century till 1959.


The original religion of Tibet is called Bon and was practiced throughout Tibet from the first Tibetan king Nyatri Tsenpo until the advent of Buddhism during the reign of the 33rd King Songtsen Gampo (reign 630-49). According to folklore, a volume of Buddhist scripture (called Nyenpo Sangwa  - the melodious secret one) is believed to have descended to the roof of Yumbulakhang in the Yarlung Valley during the time of 28th King Lha Thothori Nyentsen, in the 5th century, but the scripture was not understood since Tibet had no written script before the 7th century.

King Songtsen Gampo sent one of his most educated ministers, Samboda, to India to study and urged him to bring back a written script for Tibet. Samboda  studied Sanskrit in India and, upon his return to Tibet, devised a unique script based on Sanskrit and presented it to  Songtsen Gampo in the Pabongka Palace, on the north side of Lhasa, whilst the king was meditating there. Songtsen Gampo was happy to confirm it officially as the new Tibetan script.

Songtsen Gampo married two princesses from Nepal and China. The princess Bhirikuti Devi of Nepal was invited to Tibet with the sacred statue of Akshobaya (Jowo Myikyoe Dorje in Tibetan), which resides in Ramoche temple to this day, built by the princess Wencheng of the Tang court.

The statue of Jowo Shakyamuni resides in Jokang temple today, built for the princess Bhirikuti Devi of Nepal in the 7th century under the instruction of King Songtsen Gampo.

Many Indian scholars were invited into Tibet, in the 8th century during the reign of the 38th, and greatest King Trisong Detsen (c755-97). The King invited Padmasambawa,  and many others to consolidate the spread of Buddhism.

The 40th  Tibetan king Ngadak Tri Repachen, constructed the first Tibetan monastery, Samye. The first Tibetans, seven royal men, were ordained as Buddhist monks in Samye monastery. The number of monks increased after many Sanskrit scriptures had been translated into Tibetan.

Buddhism in Tibet suffered a temporary setback, when the last king Tri Ralpachen (reign 817-36) was assassinated by his brother, Langdharma, who had fallen under the influence of reactionaries and supporters of the Bon faith.

Langdharma destroyed almost all the monasteries and temples in central Tibet. The monks however were spared, and Buddhism still held sway in Eastern Tibet. Not long after Langdharma became king he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk named Lhalung Paldor who in 842 shot an arrow through Langdharma's heart and the period of the Tibetan kings was over.

Langdharma had two sons, Woesung and Yonten, who each fled in different directions after the death of their father. Woesung to western Tibet ( Ngari) where he settled and built the Guge Kingdom, whose ruins and chapels are visible today, whilst Yonten fled to eastern Tibet ( Nyingtri ). The period of decentralization thus began at the start of 12th century.


During the subsequent period of decentralisation, Buddhism slowly returned to central Tibet from Eastern Tibet (Kham), where many of the monks with their scriptures had fled after Langdharma had destroyed all the religious sites.

The re-adoption of Buddhism in central Tibet accelerated after the arrival of the great Indian guru Atisha in 11th century, invited by Woesung’s descendant Lha lama Jangchup woe. Atisha spent more than nine years in different regions of Tibet, preaching, and composing a script called Jangchub Lamkyi Drolme ( The Stages of the Path to Enlightenment ).


During the 13th centuery Tibet fell under Mongol influence and the Sakyapa Lama, Sakya Pandit (1182-1251), became a teacher at the Mongol court in 1247 during the reign of the Mongol Emperor Godan. As a result, the Mongols adopted Tibetan Buddhism as their own religion. After Sakya Pandit's death his nephew Drogon Choegyel Pagpa, with Mongol support, became the ruler of a unified Tibet. This was the beginning of the period when Tibetan Lamas became rulers of Tibet and it lasted politically until the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959.

During this time many of the great monasteries of Tibet like Drepung, Sera and Ganden in Lhasa, Tashilhunpo in Shigatse, Palchoe in Gyangtse, as well as Kumbum and Labrang in Amdo, were constructed.

In the 15th century the great master Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), founded the Gelukpa or yellow hat sect and Ganden monastery.

The great fifth Dalai Lama became the leader of Tibet in 1642.  The Gaden Podrang in Drepung monastery became both the headquarters of the Tibetan government and the living quarters of the Dalai Lama.

The fifth Dalai Lama and his regent Desi Sangye Gyatso constructed the Potala Palace to its present size, after which it became the living quarters of the Dalai Lamas and the headquarters of the Tibetan government.

The seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso, built the Norbulingka which in time became the summer retreat of the Dalai Lamas. During the winter the Dalai Lamas resided in the Potala.


After the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, Tibet was divided into the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) consisting of one municipality and six prefectures, Amdo autonomous region in Qinghai and Garze autonomous region in Kham,

Lhasa is the municipality, Shigatse 280 km west of Lhasa, Ngari 1,655 km west of Lhasa, Tsetang 160 km south of Lhasa, Nyingtri prefecture 476 km east of Lhasa, Nakchu 315 km north of Lhasa, Chamdo 1,179 km east of Lhasa.

Tibet Autonomous Region lies on a vast plateau at an average elevation of 4,000 mts. It is bounded by the Kunlun Mountains to the north and the great Himalayan range to the south. It covers more than 1.2 million square km and today’s population of TAR is 2.5 million.

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