Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Tibet's Ge-Sar Epic

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Tibet's Ge-Sar Epic

Article excerpt

From the land of the Burushaski in the west to Mongolia in the east, in all the regions where Tibetan civilization prevails, the oral as well as the written tradition has preserved the name of a hero, Ge-sar, whose exploits fill an epic cycle (sgrung) which has many ramifications.

The name of "Ge-sar" of course brings to mind the title of the Caesars in the Mediterranean world and Byzantium. But there may also have been a historical Ge-sar, whose existence is doubted by Tibetologists, although coins recently discovered show that there was in the ninth century a certain Phromo Gesaro, who is thought to have been one of the sovereigns of Gandhara (in what is now northwestern Pakistan). Chinese and Tibetan documents also mention a Gru-gu Ge-sar, possibly a reference to the Turkish tribes of Central Asia, and a Ge-sar of Gling, who was connected with the kingdom of that name to the east of Tibet. The latter term, Gling, could be understood as an abbreviation of 'Dzambu-gling, which means "the world" in Tibetan.

In any case, the Ge-sar of the epic appears in turn as a king of armies, a universal sovereign who overcomes the demons of the points of the compass, and a god of war to whom worship is paid, and even a Buddha.

The many episodes that illustrates the exceptional qualities of Ge-sar include the miraculous birth of the hero, who was the son of a celestial father and a mother who was the daughter of a divinity of the underworld; his unhappy childhood; his accession to the throne of Gling and his marriage, after a horse-race; his victorious combats with Klubtsan, the demon of the north, Gur-dkar king of the Hor, Shing-khri king of the Mon, and Sa-tham king of the 'Jang.

In addition to these main episodes there were others, in an order that is not clear--the conquest of the Stag-gzig, Kashmir, China, and the four great and eight small castles, and indeed of the eighteen castles, and the descent into hell.

We have manuscript or wood engraving versions of most of these episodes, which take up tens of thousands of pages. A printed version, which is in Mongolian but is based on a Tibetan original, appeared in Beijing in 1716. …

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