the publication of
The Origins of Relations Between Tibet and Other Countries in Central Asia
P. T. Takla
Before the beginning of the Christian era, some of the Tibetan tribes migrated to neighbouring states, or, may be, they had immigrated to Tibet from the outflanking regions. According to the Chinese annals, fHan Hrui(1), the state of Tokharai (the Indo-Scythians) stretched from north of the Tunhuang Caves to the Chi-ling Mountains north of Lake Koko Nor. Hiung-Nu, a tribal king, in a battle with the tribes of Tokharai, killed the Tokharain king and used his skull as a bowl for drinking chang. Led by the queen of the dead king, the remnants of the court and many followers fled to the west in the region of Amu Daria river and settled there. The same annals state that others of the tribe fled across the mountains in the south and settled in the area of the Jangrig people (a Tibetan people who once formed the kingdom of Nanchao, presently in Yunnan province). This happened around 200-300 B.C.
According to Wu Hriu(2), the facial features of the people of Khotan were dissimilar to those of the rest of the Horpa nomads of Drugu (Uighurs belonging to the Turkic people) and similar, to an extent, to the Chinese. Khotan in the north-west was called Li-yul by the ancient Tibetans. Since Khotan was territorially contiguous with Tibet, there are reasons to believe that the inhabitants of Khotan had originated from Tibet. In those days, the Tibetans used to graze their herds in the summer in Tibet and in the winter in the warmer climes of Khotan. In ancient times all the tribes of Central Asia were nomads, who roamed across the grasslands. This was also done by the Tibetans.
According to the Japanese scholar, Ao-ki Bunkuo(3) in his book, The Need for Research on Tibetan Culture, the Horpa nomads of northern Tibet were the descendants of the immigrants of other regions. According to him, before the Christian era, these tribes were able to bring the whole of Central Asia under their domination and made inroads into Europe, Mongolia in the east, India in the south and Tibet. He also states that the centre of the settlement of most Tibetans was in Eastern Turkestan.
According to the researches of Sir Aurel Stein on the origins of the people of Khotan, most were the descendants of the Aryans. They also had in them Turkic and Tibetan blood, though the Tibetan blood was more pronounced. He discovered ancient documents at a place called Nye-yar in Khotan and he has stated that the script of these documents contained no Pali, Arabic (Muslim) or Turkic terminology. All were Tibetan terms and phrases.
According to another Japanese scholar, Ukei Ryotai(4), most of the people of Khotan had Tibetan blood in them. They not only had Tibetan blood in them but their ancient documents and literature reflected strong Tibetan influence. Consequently the ancestors of the people of Khotan had either migrated from the east or from Tibet. The author has suggested that this needed further research.
According to the Chinese Han Hrui annals, on the basis of the research on the inhabitants of the western region, it is evident that the areas of settlement of the ancient Tibetans were the regions west of Eastern Turkestan. As such I feel that more research on this aspect of our common historical experience should be carried on. It is evident from the above facts that the Horpa nomads of northern Tibet are dissimilar in some respects to the majority of the Tibetans. When the Horpas set out on distant journeys or returned home from one, they greet their family members and friends by hugging and kissing on cheeks. This custom is not prevalent among the other Tibetans. Among the Asians, this custom is unique to the Central Asian peoples. Similarly, the word Horpa was used in the ancient Tibetan documents for peoples inhabiting the areas north of Tibet like Drugu (the region inhabited by the Uighurs) and A-sha (Chin: Tu-yu-hun). These areas were also known collectively as Hor-yul, 'the land of the Horpas'. In the 12th century at the time when Genghis Khan brought the whole of Central Asia, including Tibet, under his domination, the Tibetans referred to the Mongols as Horpas, or Mongol-Horpas. Whatever the case, the region north of Tibet was called Hor-yul and its inhabitants were known as Horpas. Based on the above facts, we come to the conclusion that one section of the Tibetans was probably descendants of the inhabitants of Tokharai and Khotan. Similarly, from the 7th to the 9th centuries, there was a lot of interaction between Tibet and Drugu. Gedun Chophel(5), the famous Tibetan scholar, researching on the Tun-huang documents, thought that Khotan previously contained a settlement of Newaris (Nepalese). The inhabitants of some of the countries occupied by Tibet were shifted to other regions. Many of the people of Drugu, north of Tibet, were forced to emigrate to Mon-yul in south Tibet (an area roughly covering Tawang in present-day Arunachal Pradesh in India), according to the Tang chronicles. Accordingly Gedun Chophel concluded that many Newaris might have been forced to settle in Khotan. During this time there was the Tibetan policy of shifting people rebelling against Tibetan rule to distant regions.
In 842(6) two tribes of Drugu fought each other and one of them escaped and sought refuge in Tibet. This is recorded in the Tang Hrui. At this time, the Uighurs of Tibet were able to bring the whole of the south-east region under their domination and at the time when the region of the Tun-huang Caves became the centre of culture and commerce, Uighur Chi-musa(7) (present day Pething, Chin: Huyuen district in Gansu province), one tribe of the Uighurs were forced to immigrate to North Amdo (Ga-yul, Chin:Kantru).
The Tibetans refer to this particular tribe as the Uighurs of the east. Gushri Khan, Tenzin Gyatso, was a descendant of the younger brother of Genghis Khan. He was the chieftain of the Qosot Mongols, one of the four tribes of the Oriat Mongols. In 1630 Gushri Khan(8) invaded Amdo and established the priest-patron relations with the Great Fifth Dalai Lama. Later he put himself at the service of the religious and secular rule of the Dalai Lama of Tibet. He and his descendants ruled as the kings of Tibet for three generations and the Mongols who followed him were assimilated in Tibet. The Mongol army which Gushri Khan led into Tibet used to camp at Damshung, near Lhasa, in the summer months. Gradually they settled in the area and since then till now they have been nomads, and as the years went by they shed their Mongolian customs and took to Tibetan social habits. It is possible that the higher aristocracy of the Tibetan government like the family of the new Horkhang were descendants of the Horpa nomads of Hor-yul. How they came and at what time needs further research but it is certain that they are not of Mongol stock.
During the 1959 political turmoil in Tibet, more than 200 families from northern Tibet crossed over to Eastern Turkestan and settled in the south of the region. In 1984 when we visited China, the Panchen Lama clearly stated that based on the above facts, it was clear that even before the start of the Christian calendar, there was a tradition of the Tibetan people and their neighbours crossing over to each others' countries. This tradition of seeking refuge in the neighbouring states was particularly strong during times of natural calamities like famine and political upheavals of civil wars and invasions. Particularly since the 7th century when Tibet brought the neighbouring states of Shang-shung, Minyak, A-sha and the southern tribes of Chiang under its domination heralding the dawn of a new age of Tibetan political strength, economic prosperity and cultural vitality and the cycle of invasion turned a circle to enable the Tibetans to launch their domination of Central Asia, the practice and the subsequent tradition of shifting whole populations to distant regions was started and maintained.
War and Peace between the Tibetans and the Uighurs
In the 7th century "the roof of the world" came under the domination of Songtsen Gampo. Gradually, the nations, principalities and dependencies of the whole of Central Asia--Shang-shung in the west, Drusha (Gilgit Sumpa) in the northeast, A-Sha and the various tribes of the Chiang people etc.--came under the domination of the Tibetans. In 658, after bringing A-sha under its domination, Tibet dispatched "the point of the spear of its military strength" against the Uighurs in the north, and the Uighurs, unable to match Tibetan military strength, became fearful. According to Chinese Tang Hrui annals, in 658, the A-sha (Chin: T'u-yu-hun) tribes rose up against the Tibetan occupation. Gar Tongtsen was dispatched to put down the rebellion. Su-hai Kob, one of the ministers of the A-sha tribes, fled to Tibet and having learnt defense secrets from him, Tibet was able to defeat the military forces of A-sha. The king of A-sha, Mo-tung Hri-po and his queen, Hungha Kongsho (one of the Tang princesses) with the remainder of their followers fled to the north of Lake Koko Nor. A-sha was brought under Tibetan domination during the reign of Songtsen Gampo. Again, according to the Chinese Tang Hrui annals, in 668 the A-sha tribes migrated from the region of present-day Lanzhou (the capital of the present Chinese province of Gansu) and settled in the region on the southern mountains. Because of this upheaval in A-sha, the emperor of China came to know of the threat of Tibetan military expansion. The destruction of the state of A-sha by Gar Tongtsen forced the tribes of A-sha to surrender to Tibet. But Tang China, apart from helping in the re-settlement of the A-sha tribes, did not assist them militarily. It was after this that Tibet came face to face with the Uighurs (Drugu). The continuous expansion of Tibetan military activities during the reigns of Songtsen Gampo's successors resulted in the advent of Tibetan military strength in the region of Drugu, and in collaboration, the Tibetan and Uighur armies were able to overthrow the imperial Chinese domination of the region. In 670 the Tibetan army, in collaboration with the kingdom of Khotan, conquered the Po-hen fortress of the city of Chig-tsi. According to the Blue Annals, on the twenty-first reign of Mangtsong Mangtsen in 670 the Tibetan army made an assault on Tang China and four tribes of the An-shi Uighurs came under Tibet. The relation between Tibet and Khotan were firmly established during the reign of Songtsen Gampo.
According to a school of Tibetan history, monks and nuns of Khotan started coming to Tibet to meet with Songtsen Gampo. Again, according to the old annals of Tang Hrui, the Tibetans in collaboration with the Uighurs of Khotan brought the area of An-shi (the Tun-huang Caves) under their control. Based on the evidence of the above facts, Gar Tongtsen died in 668 and his sons, Gar Tsen-nye and Gar Tri-dring brought greater administrative and economic improvement in the region of Khotan. According to the Tibetan documents of the Tun-huang Caves(9) in 676 the Tibetan king stayed at Dragki Shara in the summer and in the winter he suffered from fever and died at Trima Lung-gung, and a son, Tridu Tongdrik, was born. Minister Nyadru went to Khrom (Byzontium) and brought it under Tibetan control, which he subjugated. According to the same documents, in 687(10) the king was at Nyenkar and Minister Triaring brought Zen-yul, a principality of Khotan under Tibetan control. In 689 while the king was staying at Rana, Tri-bang, the king's daughter, was sent as a bride to the A-sha king, and Minister Tri-dring returned from Khotan.
While staying in Khotan for two years, Gar Tri-dring was able to establish cordial and friendly relations with the various tribes and principalities of Khotan. Ten years later, the king of Khotan, Tanya Gokha Khan, came to Tibet to offer tribute to the Tibetan King. According to the Tun-huang documents, the king moved in the summer to Nepal at a place called Dri-wu Thang in 696(11) and was met by the imperial Chinese envoy, Jiu Shang-sho, who offered tribute to the Tibetan king, just as the king of Khotan, Tanya Gokha Khan did. In the following year, Tanya Gokha Khan returned to his country and was given a lavish farewell. Since then the relations between Tibet and the Uighurs of Khotan characterised by intermittent war and peace became one of friendship, soon cemented, by marital ties. In 734, the princess Jewa Dronma Wojawa, the daughter of the Tibetan king, Tride Tsugten, was given in marriage to the king of Khotan, Gagen Dur. According to the Tun-huang documents,(12) in 734 while the king was at Drangyar Drogna, a Chinese imperial envoy again paid his respects and tribute to the Tibetan king, which was the same year in which Jewa Dronma Wojawa was sent as a bride. Since then the relations between Tibet and the Uighurs of Khotan were characterised as one between family members.
In 763 with Tibetan military assistance, the various tribes of the Uighurs of Khotan assaulted Tang China and the Chinese emperor fled his capital. However, soon the Chinese hit upon the policy of causing dissension and started a whispering campaign to disrupt the unity between the Tibetans and the Uighurs. However, the other Uighur tribes remained faithful allies of the Tibetans. For example, according to the Blue Annals(13), in the mid 9th century when the Tibetan king Langdharma started proscribing and then persecuting Buddhism and the monastic order, the Tibetan Buddhist scholars like Mar Sakyamuni, Yu Gejong and Tsang Rabsel fled to western Tibet. Unable to stay there, they took the northern route through Hor-yul(Li-yul or Khotan) and sought the protection of Trihor Gye-nyen Sakya Sherab. After some time, they fled to northeastern Tibet. Similarly in the 11th century, the descendant of the Tibetan emperors, the second son of Mang-yul, O-del Tride fled through Khotan to north-eastern Tibet and was able to bring most of the region under his rule. This event is recorded in Bo Cho-jung(14), Dome Cho-jung and in the chronicles of Sung Hrui. According to the above information the relations between the Uighurs of Khotan and Tibet withstood the vicissitudes of time. After this all the tribes of the Drugu Uighurs embraced the Islamic faith, and in order to prevent the spread of Islam, it is recorded that Tibet assisted some of the Uighur tribes of Khotan with military aid. According to the Japanese author, Ukei Ryotai's book The Buddhism of Western (Central Asian) Countries,(15) in 1009, the ruler of Kashgar Abdul Hussain Nasrilik Gara Khan and his brother, Yusuf Qudr Khan, together assaulted the ruler of Khotan. The ruler of Khotan, Jaqala Khalkhalu, was given military assistance by both Tibet and other Uighur tribes of the region. The war went on for 24 years and finally, having lost, the war, Jaqala Khalkhalu had to embrace the Islamic faith, and Yusuf Qudr Khan became the new ruler of Khotan. Since then Buddhism was finally eliminated from the region and Islam became firmly established. From the above facts we can at the most guess that the Tibetan ruler was Nyima Gon who was ruling western Tibet and was a descendant of Songtsen Gampo. Because of the close physical and cultural proximity between western Tibet and Khotan and because of the Tibetan king's deep Buddhist faith, Nyima Gon was compelled to come to the support of the Buddhist faith in Khotan.
However, I have not had the opportunity of seeing any mention of this in any other documents.
The 17th century Oriat Mongols in Eastern Turkestan and the Lhasa Muslims
In the 9th century A.D. Tibet's military power declined and civil wars broke out to disintegrate its empire. With this, Tibet's ties with the neighbouring countries were severed.
According to a Japanese scholar, Teramoto Tega, who wrote a book on the writing system invented by Drogon Choegyal Phakpa for the Mongols (16): Despite the turmoil in Tibet, the Uighurs of Turfan who had embraced Tibetan Buddhism continued their tradition of traveling back and forth between Tibet and their country. From then to the beginning of the 17th century, the Oriat Mongols living in the east of Khotan became powerful and interfered in the affairs of the whole of the Khotan region.
The Oriat Mongols were divided into four tribes: the Qosots, the Thosgos, the Dzungars, and the Thu-mes. Around 1660, when Godan Khan came to power, the expanding military influence of the Mongols reached the whole of Khotan.
As a boy, Godan Khan became a Buddhist novice and disciple of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, Lobsang Choegyal and studied for some years at the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas. Around that time his father Bahadur Hong Teji died and there was a succession struggle among the various sons.
Godan's elder brother Senge was killed by his two step brothers. Hearing this, Godan sought leave from the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama and returned to his country. He avenged the death of his elder brother by slaying the step-brothers. He then established himself as the ruler of all the Mongol tribes.
It was around this time that a struggle for political power in Khotan was going on between two rival Muslim religious sects, the White Hats and the Black Hats. The White Hats were defeated and they fled to Lhasa with their leader Apa Khel, where they sought the protection of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama instructed Godan Khan, the ruler of the Dzungar Mongols, to save the political fortunes of the Muslim priest and his followers. The Mongol ruler did as instructed by the Dalai Lama and was given the title of Boshoghtu Khan.
In 1678 Godan crossed the Tian Shan Mountains and took over many towns of the Uighurs. After this he took with him many of the provincial chieftains appointed during the Mongol dynasty. Apa Khjel of the White Hats was appointed the ruler of the Uighur tribes (Kashgar).
Having brought under his sway all the neighbouring regions and tribes, the country functioned as a independent nation, according to the Ching chronicles of China.
When Apha Khel (l7) returned home from Lhasa, he left behind some of his relations to acts as his representatives. They later married Tibetan women and their population gradually grew. According to the above facts, it is certain that the origin of the Kashmir Muslims in Lhasa dates back to the reign of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama.
During his reign, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama treated them with due respect and permitted them to build a mosque in Lhasa. They were also allotted a plot of land in the vicinity of Lhasa for their summer picnics and prayers. From then up until 1959 the Lhasa Muslims lived in absolute freedom. As stated above, since these people came from Kashmir, they were referred to as Kaches and their religion was also called the religion of the Kaches.
Religion, ancient custom and culture
From the above facts it is very clear that Tibet maintained a busy traffic of people, ideas, cultural and spiritual exchanges with Khotan, Drusha (Gilgit), Tagzik (Persia), and the other Uighur tribes of Drugu. For example, Tibet's native religion, Bon, was also widely spread in the above countries, according to both ancient Bon and Buddhist accounts. Bon had taken firm root in Tibet before the Christian era. According to the research works of Jampa Tsering, the author of a paper on the origin of Nyatri Tsenpo and the expansion of his political power (18) , the founder of Bon lived 500 years before the Buddha. This means that the Bon religion was prevalent in Tibet for 3000 years.
According to the Bon scholar Draton Kelsang Tenpai Gyaltsen (19), Shangshung was made up of three divisons: inner, middle and outer divisions. Inner Shang-shung was at a distance of three months' journey on horseback from Kang Tise (Mount Kailash) to the places of Mesar Parsi and Bata-sha in the north. Mesar Parsi is the name for Tagzik in the old Tibetan documents and covered present-day Iran. Beta-shan used to be in the north-cast of Tagzik in the region of the Pamir Mountains range. According to Khe-pai Ga-ton (20), at the time the land between India and Tagzik was called Gur-na-la-tra where lived a Bon priest called Asha.
Lobsang Chephel's research on the assassination of Drigum Tscnpo reveals (21) that Ihe Bon priest Asha's original birthplace was Tagzik, a place not far from the borders of India, at Gur-na-la-tra. If we take it as factually true that Nam Boh (sub-sect of Bonism) which was widespread during the reign of Pu-de Gongyal had its origin in Tagzik, at a place Wamo Lungring, then it is clear that Asha Bon, who lived at a place near Tagznik, also came from Tagzik.
According to a Russian scholar (22), the origin of the Bonist belief of Tibet can be traced to the Tokharians who previously inhabited the areas to the immediate north of Tibet. The common objects of worship, the sun and the moon symbols atop every Tibetan chorten (stupa) is an indication of this.
From the above facts it is clear that because of the constant traffic of travelers between Tibet and other countries in Central Asia in ancient times, relations based on ties of religion, culture and traditions took firm roots. In ancient Central Asia, Shamanism was widespread. Shamanism has many similarities with the Tibetan Bonist beliefs.
The origin of the Tibetan Bon religion lay in these countries and subsequently spread from there to Tibet. Along with the Bonist belief, the Tibetans also imbibed a few social customs of the religion. The same was also true with the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet from India, Nepal, Khotan and China when the Tibetans also adopted the culture and customs of these countries. For example, the turban worn by the ancient Tibetan kings was adopted from the royal traditions of India, Tagzik and Khotan.
The White Annals conjectures that most of the ancient Tibetan kings and ministers adopted the social customs of Tagzik (Persia). The turban worn by Songsten Gompo, the outer overall of brocade and the upturn shoes were all adaptations of the social customs of Tagzik. In the Chinese imperial painting depicting the Tibetan minister Gar Tongsten meeting the Chinese emperor Ta'i Tsung in the 7th century, the Tibetan minister is depicted as wearing either Muslim or Tagzik garments.
Similarily, many of the cultural traditions of Tibet came from Nepal. In the 8th century when the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen was promoting Buddhism in Tibet, he also introduced from the neighbouring countries the science of medicine and astrology.
At that time many physicians were invited from India, Kashmir, China, Tagzik, Drugu and Gilgit for a conference in Lhasa. The physician from Drugu was called Sengdo Wocheng. In ancient Tibetan documents, the medical practitioners were collectively referred to as the "nine physicians from the four directions." It can also be assumed that the Tibetan musical tradition was imported from the above-mentioned countries.
As stated earlier, many of the social customs and habits of the Hor nomads of northern Tibet were similar to the ones in the neighbouring countries.
Between the 4th and 5th centuries, the countries of Central Asia came under the sway of the people called Yenda (23) (Ephthal). The custom of polyandry which was prevalent among them, Drugu Uighurs, spread to certain pockets of Tibet. The Tibetan scholar Rigna Chang (24) has stated that this custom was prevalent amongst the Drugu Uighurs. Whatever it is, once the religion and culture of one land and people was adopted by another country it became the essence of the unique way of life of that people. The fusion of the old religion and culture of Tibet with outside cultural influence produced the present unique cultural heritage of Tibet.
Suggestion for sustaining and improving relations between Tibet and the Uighurs
Tibet's relations with the peoples of Central Asia and particularly with the Uighurs go back to over a thousand years, and it was characterised by friendship and mutual help, though occasionally punctuated by hostilities. Importantly, it was a relationship based on the promotion of culture. For example in the 8th century during the reign of Tibetan king Tride Tsugten, some monks from Khotan were invited to Tibet. There were no Tibetan monks then, according to the BIue Annals (25). The accounts of contacts between Tibet and the Drugu Uighurs are mentioned sketchily in the Chinese chronicles of Han Hrui and Wui Hrui. The contacts between Tibet and the Drugu Uighurs after the 7th century are recorded in the old Tibetan documents and in the both old and new Chinese chronicles of Tang Hrui. The relations between ancient Tibet and the Drugu Uighurs are recorded in the documents discovered in the Tun-hung Caves, which are of great benefit for research in this field.
However, around the 9th and 10th centuries, Tibet's relations with the Uighurs snapped. One reason could have been that the stability of the central governments of the two countries suffered and this incapacitated both from reaching out to each other. However, from the time of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, the Muslims from East Turkestan were treated with respect and the Dalai Lamas helped them on a number of occasions.
Tibet had the tradition of inviting the local Muslim population to all the government ceremonies. The Muslims, on their part, gave their full allegiance to the government of Tibet. The Tibetan Buddhists always have words of praise for their Muslim compatriots. Especially at this time when we face common problems of immense magnitude, we must revive the tradition of friendship and following the traditions of our illustrious ancestors struggle together for the fulfilment of our shared vision. This is my heartfelt prayer.
1) Han Hrui (Chinese Han annals) on Tayao hri state
2) Wui Hrui on the origins of Khotan
3) Page 30 of chapter 4 of Aoki Bunkuo's The Need for New Research on Tibet
4) Page 200 of the Japanese scholar, Ukei Ryotai's The Buddhism of Western Countries (Central Asia)
5) Page 40 of Gedun Chophel's White Annals
6) The old Tang annals on the history of the Uighur Turks
7) Bulletin of the Institute of China Border Area Studies (no. 8); The verification and explanatory note on Hsiu Tang Shu Uighur Chuan by Liu Yi-tang
8) Page 190 of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama's The Songs of the Queen of Spring (published and reprinted by Nationalities Press, Peking, 1981)
9) Tibetan Documents from the Tun-huang Caves edited by Wang Yao (Nationalities Printing Press, Peking)
13) Page 89 of the Blue Annals authored by Go Lotsawa Shonu Pel and reprinted at the Sichuan Nationalities Printing Press
14) Mentioned in Debther Gyatso by Drago Kunchok Tenpa Gyalrab and in the Sung annals
I5) Page 234 of Ukei Ryotai's book, The Buddhism of Western Countries (Central Asia)
16. The New Mongol Script Invented by Dragon Phakpa by Teramats Enga.
17. Page 34 of the first volume of the Ching Annals, Ching-trui cho-hri.
18. Page 53 of Tibet Research in an article by Jampa Tsering entitled Ngyatri Tsenpo and the Expansion of His Political Power.
19. Page 7 and 8 of Draton Kalsang Tenpa Gyaltsen's The Geography of the World.
20. Page 9 of Religious History of Powo Tsuglha Trowa, reprinted at Buxa in India in 1964.
21. Page 97 of Tibet Research (issue no.2) in an article by Lobsang Chophel entitled Research on the Assassination of Drgum Tenpo.
22. The origins of the Bon religion of Tibet by the Russian scholar, Hafu Chi-so.
23. Page 14 of the Nationalities of China by Li Ho-nan.
24. Page 47 of Tibet Research (issue no.2) in an article by Rigna Chang entitled the Probable Dates of Songsten Gampo.
25. Ngo Lotsawa Shonu Pel's book, The Blue Annals, (reprinted by the sichuan Nationalities Press)
Translated from Tibetan