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History of Tibet - Part One - artelino

Jokhang Temple

The settlement in organized, social communities of the Tibetan high plateau may be as old as 4,000 BC or even older. But our knowledge about the history of Tibet does not start earlier than in the 7th century AD when the Tibetans developed their own writing. This article is a short introduction to the history of Tibet from early settlements until 842 AD when the decline of the Great Tibetan empire began after the assassination of King Langdharma.

History of Tibet - until 842 AD

Early Settlements

The first written mentioning of Tibetans is in Chinese sources from around the second century BC. The Chinese mention a nomadic tribe in eastern Tibet that they called the Quiang. The Chinese source mentioned the Quiang as a pugnacious threat at the eastern borders of the Chinese empire.

The Tibetans have their own ideas about their origins. In Tibetan mythology the origins of the Tibetan people lie in the union of a monkey and an ogress.

The Kingdom of Yarlung Valley

The earliest reliable knowledge about a state-like civilization is about a kingdom in the Yarlung Valley with a fortress Yumbulagang. By the 6th century, the Yarlung kings had expanded their power from the small valley to a large area covering most of central Tibet.

Songtsen Gampo (Ruled 630-649 AD)

Namri Songtsen (ca. 570-619 AD) and his son Songtsen Gampo (ruled from 630 until 649 AD) expanded their rule to a huge Tibetan empire through smart politics of marriage and warfare. The Tibetan Empire reached from Mongolia in the North to Northern India in the South. In the East the Chinese Thang dynasty was threatened and reacted with diplomatic alliances.

Under Songtsen Gampo the construction of the Jokhang Temple, one of Tibetans' most sacred places, was ordered.

Princess Wencheng and Princess Bhrikuti

Tibetan rule was not only based on military power but was secured with a smart marriage policy. Thus Songtsen Gampo married the Chinese princess Wencheng and the Nepalese princess Bhrikuti. Both women were Buddhists and their arrival marked the first introduction of Buddhism in Tibet. Both princesses were influential and well respected at the Tibetan court. They may have been the historical sources for the mythological characters of the Green Tara (Bhrikuti from Nepal for her dark skin) and the White Tara (Wencheng from China for her pale skin).

The Tibetan writing was introduced, influenced by Indian Sanscrit.

The Tibetan Empire

The Tibetan empire continued to thrive for more than two centuries until the 10th century. Under the rule of King Trisong Detsen (755-797) and Tritsug Detsen Ralpachen (ruled 817-36) the Tibetan empire included Nepal and reached to northern India and northern Pakistan. In the east, the Chinese provinces of Gansu and Sichuan were controlled by Tibet.

Decline after 842 AD

In 836 the Tibetan king , Tritsug Detsen Ralpachen, was assassinated by his brother Langdharma. And in 842 Langdharma himself was assassinated by a Tibetan monk. The two assassinations had been preceded by religious quarrels about the right path of Buddhism. The assassination of Langdharma marked the end of the era of the Great Tibetan Empire as well as the rise of Buddhism in Tibet. A period of warring states followed and the old Bön religion gained the upper hand again.

Dieter Wanczura, June 2010.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 November 2010 23:18  

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