Around 40 million years ago, movement in the earth’s crust formed the Himalayas and a high-altitude plateau that is known as “Tibet” located between two ancient civilizations, China and India. Tibetan history can be traced back thousands of years back. However, the written history only dates back to the 7th century when Songtsan Gampo, the 33rd Tibetan king, sent his minister Sambhota to India to study Sanskrit who on his return invented the present Tibetan script based on Sanskrit.
By the first century B.C., another Tibetan kingdom arose in the Yarlung valley. Drigum Tsenpo – the King of Yarlung Kingdom, attempted to remove the influence of “Shang Shung”. However, the attempt failed and “Shang Shung” continued to dominate the region until it was annexed by King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century.
The Three Dharma Kings were Songtsän Gampo, Trisong Detsen, and Ralpacan.
During this time, Tsongkhapa Lobsang Dragpa found Gelukpa sect, also known as the Yellow Hat Religion, and the first monastery of Gelukpa of Samye monastery was built, and the others including, Ganden, Drepung, and Sera monasteries were built near Lhasa.
In 1578, The abbot of Drepung, Sonam Gyatso, received the Mongol title of Dalai Lama. The title ‘Dalai Lama’ has traditionally been translated as the Ocean of Wisdom.
Mongolian King of Güshi Khan acted as a “Protector of the Gelukpa sect ofTibetan Buddhism“ and helped the Fifth Dalai Lama establish himself as the highest spiritual and political authority in Tibet destroying any potential rivals. The construction of the Potala Palace began under the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama.
In 1751, Emperor Qianlong installed the Dalai Lama as both spiritual leader and political leader of Tibet leading the government, namely Kashag.
In 1791, the Nepalese invaded Tibet, with assistance of Tibetan troops, Qing dynasty’s army defeated Nepalese troops.
In 1792, the Qing dynasty emperor issued a 29-point decree tightening Qing control over Tibet. The Dalai and Panchen Lamas were no longer allowed to petition the Chinese Emperor directly but could only do so through the Ambans.
The British invasion alarmed Manchu rulers in China. The Qing dynasty government in Beijing then appointed Zhao Erfeng, the Governor of Xining, Army Commander of Tibet to reintegrate Tibet into China. He was sent in 1905 on a punitive expedition. His troops destroyed many monasteries in Kham and Amdo, and a process of reintegration of Tibet into China begun.
In 1965, Tibet became an Autonomous Region of China.
During China’s Cultural Revolution, Buddhist monasteries in Tibet suffered damage – either through outright destruction or neglect.
Since the early 1980s, Deng-Xiao-Ping’s new policy of tolerance led to the rebuilding of many monasteries and revival of religious practices. Tibetans have been allowed to reactivate and repair surviving monasteries which can be seen in the brief timeline below:
In 1979, the Jorkhang temple, the most sacred shrine in central, re-opened for worship.
In 1980, the first organized group tours arrived in Tibet.
In 1984, Tibet finally opened to independent foreign travelers.
From 1990 to the present Tibet opened to tourists arriving from China and from abroad through Nepal.