Guge, the ancient dynastic kingdom once created a splendid culture, was the source of Tibetan Buddhism’s “Phyi dar”
Guge kingdom began at the end of the 10th century and was destroyed by the Ladakh kingdom in 1635 AD. It lasted for more than 600 years.
Its ruling area once included Ngari (Ali) area of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China today, as well as Maryul, Zanskar,
Note: At that time, the jurisdiction of Zanskar overlapped with some areas of Kinnaur, Lahore and Spiti in the northeastern part of Himachal Pradesh, India.
The ruins of the capital of Guge kingdom are about 1,500 kilometers west of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in Zaparang Township, approximately 260km west from Mount Kailash.
As the source of Tibetan Buddhism‘s “Phyi dar“, kings and great translators who revitalized Buddhism were born here; it also attracted Panditas from India and Catholicism missionaries .
In the long years, it had created a splendid culture. Even after its destruction, it left a large number of castle ruins, monasteries and grottoes, murals, statues, and Buddhist scriptures.
The type of murals named after “Guge” became the pinnacle of Tibetan painting art;
In 838 AD, after the last king of the Tubo dynasty Langdama gained the throne, he launched a series of campaigns to eliminate Buddhism in Tubo dynasty, destroying monasteries, buddhist scriptures, and forcing monks and nuns to return to laity
In 843 AD, Langdama was assassinated by monks, and a civilian riot occurred soon afterwards. The dynasty collapsed, and nobles or heads of various tribes successively supported their own independence, and the Tubo dynasty was torn apart.
Langdama’s two sons, Yundan and Vosung, fought each other for the kingship. Yundan occupied Lhasa and established the royal line of Lhasa King;
Vosung was squeezed out to Yo Ru (‘Ru’ was name of administration area of Tubo, it is the area of Eastern Shannan). Vosung’s son Bekaozan died in the riot,
In about 930 AD, Jigde Nyima Gon, son of Bekaozan (grandson of Vosung), saw that the situation was over, and led his men to flee to Ngari area in western Tibet.
In 934 AD (Tibetan Year of Wooden Horse), Jigde Nyima Gon led his subordinates to Burang, and was treated by the original local power, King Tashizan, who married his daughter to Jigde Nyima Gon.
Jigde Nyima Gon used Burang as a base to develop business, trade, and economy, he finally established his regime which was the predecessor of Guge Kingdom, and because its capital was determined to be Guge (Zaparang in Zanda county), so it is also called Guge Kingdom
Ngari is located in the western highlands of Tibet. It was influenced by Caliphate and India, and it was also the birthplace of Bon Religion. As the number of monks and nuns fleeing here to escape the war in U-Tsang area was increasing, Guge had gradually been developed into a place where all kinds of thoughts and forces gather.
In the late years of Jigde Nyima Gon, Guge Kingdom controled Burang in the east, Guge (Zanda) in the west, Rutok in the north, and Maryul (Ladakh) and Zanskar in the northwest.
Guge Kingdom’s territory
The area of Guge Kingdom at this time is much larger than that of the later Guge kingdom
Geographical division – Ngari Three Lands
Jigde Nyima Gon had three sons, it probably because of to prevent his sons from repeating their Parents’ mistake of fighting for power which might lead to the collapse of the dynasty. He divided the land of the Kingdom into three parts and gave them to his three sons in his later years,
–The eldest son, Ribha Gon took today’s Leh (now India-controlled Kashmir) as its capital, and governed Maryul (in the present-day Ladakh area), which later developed into Kingdom of Ladakh
–The second son, Tashi Gon ruled the land of Burang, Guge, Rutok, and Yazi (Mustang in Nepal today)
–The third son, Dezu Gon ruled the places west of Guge, south of Ladakh, the territory of Zanskar (also known as “Sangar”)
At that time, the jurisdiction of Zanskar overlapped with some areas of Kinnaur, Lahore and Spiti in the northeastern part of Himachal Pradesh, India.
Because the names of the three sons of Jigde Nyima Gon all have the word “Gon”. Therefore, historians of later generations called Jigde Nyima Gon’s act of entrusting the three lands to his three sons as “Three Gon occupying three lands”
Based on this, the descendants of Jigde Nyima Gon gradually formed three royal lines in the Ngari region: the line of Ladakh King, the line of Burang King and the line of Guge King
From then on, the Zhang Zhung area under Tubo’s jurisdiction was gradually changed to “Ngari-skorsum“, meaning Ngari (Ali) Three Lands. This makes the term “Ngari (Ali)” to be officially used, and till this day. “Ngari” means “the territory of the descendants of Tubo Dynasty”.
And today’s “Ngari Three Lands” regional concept evolved from here.
Location of Guge Kingdom
The Guge Kingdom is located at the westernmost point of the present Tibet Plateau, with the area of Xiangquan River (Langqen Zangbo) as its rule center. Its capital city “Zapparang” is located on an earth mountain on the south bank of the Xiangquan River, about 18 kilometers west of the current Zanda County.
It borders Ladakh (now India-occupied Kashmir) to the west, Kunlun Mountains and Khotan to the north, India to the south, and Latse County of Shigatse city to the east.
There used to be many acropolises in the Guge Kingdom, which were located at the Xiangzi, Xiangba, Dongga, Piyang in the north, Duoxiang in the west, and Daba, Mana, Qulong in the south, but with only the ruins remaining, however, they are all of considerable scale
Culture and Trade
To the north of Zapparang, there is a place called Luba, which is still a township in Zanda County today.
“Luba” means “craftsmen who are good at smelting” in Tibetan. It is said that there were artisans in this place during the period of the Guge Kingdom who were known for their expertise in smelting wares of gold and silver manufacturing.
Back then, all Buddha statues of the 24 monasteries under Tholing Monastery in Ngari area were all built by craftsmen from Luba. These Buddha statues were made of different raw materials such as gold, silver, and copper with exquisite craftsmanship and the whole body has no seams like natural formation.
Among them, the most accomplished is the statue called “Guge Silver Eye“, which is a unique craft of making Buddha statues in the Guge Kingdom. The eyes of the bronze statue are inlaid with silver, and the eyes seem to have life.
The largest and most complete remains are its murals. Guge murals are magnificent and unique in style, which fully reflect all aspects of social life at that time.
The figures in the Guge murals are prominent. The plump and dynamic female figures are particularly representative. Due to its geographical location and the influence of a variety of foreign cultures, the artistic style of Guge has obvious Kashmir and Gandhara artistic features.
Guge Kingdom also produces a large amount of gold and silver. A script written with melted gold and silver liquid has been found in Tholing Monastery, Zapparang, and Piyang Dongga sites, and a large number of them have been unearthed. The scriptures were written on a light-blue black paper, one row is written with gold liquid and the other is written with silver liquid. The words written in gold and silver glitter in the sun, making it extremely magnificent.
By the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, the Guge Kingdom experienced a prosperous period of economic, Buddhist, cultural and artistic development. By the 16th century, when the Guge Dynasty entered its heyday, merchants from India, Nepal, mainland of China, as well as Middle Aisa gathered in the capital.
According to the Catholic priest Antonio de Andrade, who went to Guge to preach: “During our stay in Zapparang, we saw merchants from the Chinese mainland. They brought a variety of goods, including raw silk, chinaware, tea, etc…”
Father Francisco Azevedo also said: “The merchants of Kashmir, Lahore and India sell their clothing, coral and amber here, and the wool here is the finest and most precious in the world. Outsiders come to this kingdom to buy wool”.
At that time, the royal capital of Zapparang and its surrounding suburbs had a huge population of more than 20,000 people. The valleys and plains were rich in highland barley, and there were flocks of cattle and sheep in the mountainous areas.
According to Tibetan history books that the Kingdom of Guge had been passed down to 28 generations of kings from the founding of Jigde Nyima Gon to the end of the kingdom.
The ruins of the Guge Kingdom are located on an earthy mountain on the south bank of the Xiangquan River (Langqen Zangbo) in Zanda County.
From the ground to the top of the mountain, the royal castle was built along the shape of the earth mountain.
There are buildings and caves with the same color as the earth everywhere, except for a few monsasteries, most of the houses have collapsed, leaving only a series of earthen walls.
There is a city wall on the periphery of the site, and there are watchtowers on the four corners.
The entire building complex is divided into upper area, middle area and lower area, followed by the royal palace, monasteries and residential buildings.
The royal buildings are mainly on the top of the mountain, with more than 40 houses, of which there are two or three two-story or three-story buildings
There is a hall like a meeting room with an area of about 200 square meters in the west of the palace. From the bottom of the mountain to the palace, one must pass through a tunnel-like gate.
According to records of expeditions conducted in this area by Tibet Autonomous Region Cultural Relics Management Committee in 1985 — Based on field measurement, the total area of the Guge kingdom ruins is about 720,000 square meters. There are a total of 445 house remains, 879 cave dwellings, 58 bunkers, 4 underpasses, 28 various pagodas, and 1 cave burial; 3 pagodas more than 10 meters high, 4 monasteries with 2 sutra halls.
In addition, 1 weapon storehouse, 1 stone warehouse, 11 large and small granaries, 1 wall burial and 1 wooden coffin were found. Half of the hillside below the palace gate is densely packed with houses, which are military and political residences and guard barracks. In some caves, armors, shields, and arrow shafts are scattered.
The entire site has a relative elevation difference of 175 meters. Among the buildings, the White Hall, Red Hall, Tara Hall, and Mandala Hall are the most spectacular. There are many exquisit sculptures and murals inside.
The important sites around Guge kingdom include Dongga, Daba, Piyang, Xiangzi, etc., all of which have a large number of cultural relics.
Religion — Buddhism
The founder of the Guge Kingdom, Jigde Nyima Gon and his descendants believed in Buddhism and were committed to promoting the revival of Buddhism.
The Guge royal family carefully selected about five or six talented Tibetan teenagers to study in Kashmir and train them to become translators, and also to invite some Panditas from India to come to Tibet to promote the Dharma for the benefit of all beings.
At the same time, Guge Kingdom funded to build monasteries. Among them, Tholing Monastery was built in the 11th century for the convenience of Rinchen Zangpo (AD 958 – AD 1055) and others to translate the scriptures in order to promote Buddhism. Today, there are a large number of pagodas, caves, and temple remains around the Tholing Monastery, which is the historical portrayal of the flourishing age of that period.
In 1042 AD, the Indian monk Atisa arrived in the Kingdom of Guge to preach Buddhism. At this time, the group of monks became larger and larger.
Atisa came to Guge at the age of 60. He lived for three years for preaching Buddhism. During this time, the gathering of scholars was like a cloud. For a time, the Ngari became the center of Buddhism in Tibet.
In 1076 AD, to commemorate Atisa’s 12 years of promoting Buddhism in Tibet, the royal family of Guge Kingdom held the “Fire Loong Year Puja (also known as Bingchen Puja)” in Ali, which marked the re-emergence of Buddhism into the mainstream in Tibet.
Guge gradually became the center of the revival movement of Tibetan Buddhism in the period of “Phyi dar (AD 978 – till now)”, which affected the entire Tibet plateau
The Buddhism that spread from the Ngari area is called the “Upper Road Dharmar Diffusion” of the period of “Phyi dar” of Tibetan Buddhism.
Religion — The spread of Catholicism in Guge Kingdom
Guge kingdom was located at the intersection of many civilizations, and various faiths also came to here through busy commercial roads.
The first Westerner who came into Guge Kingdom was Portuguese Jesuit missionary Antonio de Andrade, the time he arrived in Guge was in 1624 AD.
On March, 1624, the Portuguese Jesuit priest Father Antonio de Andrade set off from India to cross the western part of the Himalayas, and arrived in Zaparang – the capital of Guge Kingdom after a difficult journey in early August of that year. At this time, Guge kingdom was declining, and there were difficulties and contradictions inside and outside the kingdom. Later, Catholic missionaries began to try to spread the faith of Catholicism in here
In order to restrain and weaken the power of Tibetan Buddhism in the kingdom and consolidate the secular kingship, King of Guge gave strong support to Catholic missionary. He not only did they provide shelter and help build churches for Catholic missionary, but also they further developed to deprive various rights of the buddhism monasteries. There was a strong tendency to replace Tibetan Buddhism with Catholicism, which led to the conflict between the buddhism monastery group and the missionaries and Guge authority. The contradiction was intensifying day by day.
In 1633 AD, when King Guge was seriously ill, the monks and lay people, led by the buddhism monastery, joined forces with Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh, launched a riot, overthrew the Guge dynasty, destroyed the Catholic Church, and the missionary activities ended in failure.
Father Andord survived because he had been recruited back to India to serve as the executive chairman of Goa.
The fall of the kingdom
At the end of Guge Kingdom, the King of Guge tried to use Western Catholicism to weaken the power and influence of Buddhism, which aroused the dissatisfaction of the monks, and led to the deepening of the contradiction between the kingdom and the monastic group. At that time, the supreme Buddhist leader was the younger brother of the King of Guge.
In 1630 AD, as King of Guge became seriously ill, his control of the regime and the Buddhist monk group became weaker and weaker.
In 1633 AD, the monks launched a rebellion. Lamas and rioting people surrounded the palace. At the same time, the brother of Guge King contacted the Ladakh army to besiege the city of Guge.
The capital castle of the Guge Kingdom was built on the top of the earth mountain, which was easy to defend and difficult to attack, which the Ladakh army attacked for months without results.
Later, when Guge King walked out of the palace to prepare for peace talk, his guards were quickly annihilated. The king, the entire royal family, and missionaries were all taken back to the capital of Ladakh and imprisoned in Leh.
The Guge dynasty, which had a heritage of more than 600 years, came to an end. The land was ruled by the Ladakh royal family, and soon the entire Ngari area was occupied Ladakh kingdom
In 1679 AD (the 18th year of Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty AD 1636 -1912), the Ladakh War broke out. The 5th Dalai Lama Lobsang Gyatso and his disciple Deba Sangye Gyatso (Tibet King) ordered Galdan Chhewang to lead the Mongolian-Tibetan coalition forces to counterattack the Kingdom of Ladakh. Captured the capital of Ladakh, Leh, and forced the King of Ladakh to cede Guge, Rutok and other places that he invaded in his early years and restore the system of being Surrender and pay tribute. 4 Zong and 6 Ben were set up and under the direct jurisdiction of Ganden Phodrang government after the Ladakh war.