Stories from lDe, 'Bro, and SMer: Politics and religion in ancient Ladakh

Wednesday 11 October 2017: Stories from lDe, 'Bro, and SMer: Politics and religion in ancient Ladakh, lecture by Nils Martin (PhD student at EPHE, attached to CRCAO).

« Do not drink the water under the man, nor eat the grass under the horse »
Expressions of power in Mangyu

The villages of Alchi, Sumda Chung, and Mangyu in Lower Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir, India) are famous for temples and stūpas decorated with Kashmiri-style murals that were erected during the Second World War. Dissemination of Buddhism in Western Tibet (Xe - XIIIe century). However, the historical context and the dating of these monuments, traditionally associated with the activity of the great translator Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055), remain obscure. The same is true of the nearby fortified sites of Alchi Khargok, Balukhar and Khaltse Zampa, hitherto associated with the Tibetan Empire of Pugyel (7th-9th century).

In his lecture, Nils Martin presented the foundation inscription and mural paintings of royal scenes, accompanied by inscriptions, present in the temple of Avalokiteśvara of Mangyu. Their multidisciplinary and comparative study allows to enlighten singularly the ancient history of the region and neighboring monuments. Above all, inscriptions and royal scenes offer varied and sometimes even contradictory expressions of the power held by the patron of the temple and his forefathers, compared to the kings of western Tibet for whom they governed the region. This was the heart of the subject.

In the first part, Nils Martin thus provided a partial but precise reading of certain sections of the foundation inscription. The search for the clan or the ethnic group to which the patrilineage of “patrons” (including the patron of the temple and his ancestors, also patrons of the Buddhist community before him) belonged, led Nils Martin to present materials various. Judging by the latter, the sMer, as they were called, would have been present in some Himalayan regions southwest of the Tibetan plateau. It also seems that they were endowed with the statute of minister or governor of high time, since the Tibetan Empire of Pugyel. In the inscription, it is notable that they appear in turn, as independent of any other authority, that is to say as chiefs among other chiefs, then as placed under the authority of the kings of Tibet. Western, the geography of Mangyu and the time of the "bosses" being subordinate to the geography of Western Tibet and the time of its kings. Perhaps the most mysterious expression of the power of “bosses” was the one chosen as the title by Nils Martin: “Not to drink water under man, nor to eat grass under horse. "In the form of a proverb still known at the beginning of the last century, it indicates that the" bosses "should not find themselves under the thumb of another for having accepted the drink or the food which was offered to them in exchange for their subordination.

The temple of Avalokiteśvara of Mangyu. © Nils Martin.

The foundation inscription. © Nils Martin.

In a second part, Nils Martin analyzed the structure of the two royal scenes painted in the temple and identified their subjects. The top one depicts a banquet in the center of which are enthroned four royal figures - two men and two women - luxuriously dressed in costumes decorated with diamonds. Behind them, on either side, are four men and four women dressed in simpler woolen costumes, identified by legends as "patrons" and "patronesses" (probably this time including the patron of the temple and his relatives , rather than his ancestors). In the lower scene, eight horsemen are chasing a yak with massive horns, depicted in the center. Of these riders, all appear to be wearing woolen clothes, except for the rider who heroically faces the yak, and one perhaps behind him. These wear the luxurious costume of kings, dressed in diamonds. Thus, the two scenes must be understood together, as well as in connection with the inscription. They express the greatness of the king, also praised in three aspects in a quatrain inscribed between the two scenes: the king annihilates his enemies filled with hatred; protects his loving subjects; and honors the Buddhist community. In these scenes, the "bosses", in woolen clothes, participate in the expression of royal power, banquet and hunt with the kings, but are set back, although they are the true founders of the temple.

Royal scenes. © Nils Martin.

Detail of the banquet scene: King Khri De and Queen So Khatun. © Nils Martin.

In a final part, Nils Martin focused on connecting the temple of Avalokiteśvara of Mangyu with other monuments of Alchi, Sumda, and Mangyu, again relying on the inscription of foundation and the Royal scenes. He thus proposed that the mysterious evocation of a 'bum ther (lit. 100) “of human size” ordered by the patron of the temple corresponds to an old Mangyu stupa-gate called sKu 'bum, in which there are statues of about 000m1. He also showed that the arrangement of the wall paintings in the temple of Avalokiteśvara was identical to that of the paintings in the assembly hall of Alchi. Finally, the re-reading of a verse from the genealogical inscription of the three-level temple of Alchi led him to reconsider the debated dating of this famous monument because there is the mention of a king of Western Tibet also named in the founding inscription of the temple of Avalokiteśvara, Wangde (late 30th century). Thus this temple, built three generations after his reign Wangde, should be dated no earlier than the middle of the XNUMXth century and not the XNUMXth century.




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