The Epic and Nationalism in Tibet

Geoffrey Samuel


[This paper was originally written for the session "Public Discourse and ‘the Nation’" at the Australian Anthropological Society conference, Macquarie University, Sydney, October 2nd-4th, 1991.]

1. Introduction

The subject of this paper is the Tibetan Epic of King Ge-sar of gLing, considered as a form of discourse about the nation and the state in Tibetan societies. To begin with, I shall introduce the epic and give a brief sketch of the history of the state in the Tibetan region.

The Tibetan epic consists of a series of episodes linked by their central characters, a Tibetan king called Ge-sar and his entourage. [1] These Ge-sar stories are also found in Mongolia, and among several minor peoples in the Tibetan region, such as the Tu or Monguor of Qinghai, the Lepcha of Sikkim, and the Burushaski-speaking people of Hunza in northern Pakistan, but they are primarily associated with Tibet, and particularly with the Khams-pa people of Eastern Tibet (Khams). For the Khams-pa, who have a strong tradition of political autonomy and martial pride, the Ge-sar epic is an expression of central values of their society. Ge-sar, however, is not just a warrior. His victories result as much from his magical or spiritual power as from his fighting ability, and much of his behaviour in the epic calls to mind the archetypical figure of the trickster (Radin 1955, Samuel 1990: 119).

The epic, usually performed by a solo singer without instrumental accompaniment, consists of a prose narrative interspersed with lengthy songs for the various characters (Samuel 1991a). It may be performed from memory, or through visionary inspiration, as with the small number of "inspired bards" or 'babs sgrung who are particularly valued and authoritative performers of the epic. Many episodes have been written down, however, and modern performances are usually based on one or another of these written texts, now available cheaply in printed versions. Often, two or more Khams-pa men will gather together to read and sing from the epic from one of these published texts. Women rarely sing the epic, although there are exceptions, and one of the most famous contemporary ’babs-sgrung is a woman.

There may have been a historical Ge-sar, who perhaps lived in East Tibet in the 11th century, just as there may have been a historical King Arthur. As in the case of Arthur, however, the relationship between any such historical figure and the narrative of the epic is remote, at least from the point of view of Western historical scholarship. It is not necessarily remote for Tibetans, who have a strong indigenous historical tradition, but do not generally indulge in Western-style historical criticism (cf. Kapstein 1989).

This does not imply that all Tibetans "believe in" Ge-sar as a historical figure. However, views on this topic have less to do with the historical plausibility of the events of Ge-sar's life than with the extent to which the speaker "believes in" Ge-sar as a significant spiritual entity. As I will explain later, Ge-sar has affiliations with the Tibetan mountain-deities, who are invoked for protection and good fortune. Tibetan lamas describe the mountain-deities as local, pre-Buddhist deities who were converted to Buddhism and bound to obedience to the Buddhist teachings by the great Indian teacher and Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhist) magician Padmasambhava. They are nevertheless of considerable importance in the lives of Tibetans, particularly but not only lay people.

Ge-sar is also regarded by a significant number of Tibetans as a Vajrayana Buddhist deity, and in this context he becomes, in effect, equivalent to the major deities of the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon (cf. Samuel 1991b).

Whether Ge-sar is a significant figure in the spiritual life of a particular Tibetan can be fairly closely predicted from his or her regional origins, and his or her location in relation to the traditional Tibetan religious and political system. In regional terms, East Tibetans (Khams-pa) are much more likely to believe in Ge-sar's existence and importance than Central Tibetans, with the A-mdo-ba of North-East Tibet somewhere in between. As far as religious affiliation is concerned, the closer the speaker's association with the dGe-lugs-pa (Gelukpa) tradition, the religious order which dominated Central Tibet, and particular to its more conservative factions, such as that associated with the great monastery of 'Bras-spungs (Drepung), just outside Lhasa, the less likely he or she is to regard Ge-sar as a significant figure.

Two examples can illustrate the two extremes. The first is a monk of the dGe-lugs-pa order who teaches at the secondary school at the Tibetan settlement in Chandragiri, Orissa, which I visited in August 1990. [2] When I mentioned in an address to the local school that I was carrying out research on Ge-sar, this monk reacted with a diatribe in which he claimed that such research was a total waste of time, and that there had never been any such person as Ge-sar. He went on to imply, more or less, that the whole thing was a Chinese plot of some kind. (This accusation is not quite as bizarre as it might sound, as will be seen.) My second example is the reincarnate lama Gru-gu Chos-rgyal Rin-po-che (Drugu Chögyel Rinpoche), of the 'Brug-pa bKa'-brgyud-pa (Drukpa Kagyüpa), whom I visited at the refugee settlement of bKra-shis lJongs (Tashi Jong)in North India in July 1989. For this non-dGe-lugs-pa lama, the historical Ge-sar was merely an earthly projection of a transcendent power acting through history to achieve peace and harmony in the world.

The meaning of Ge-sar, in other words, is a matter of contest within Tibetan society, and any consideration of the epic as a form of discourse about the nation in Tibet needs to take into account the contested nature of Ge-sar. That the meaning of Ge-sar is under dispute is not really surprising. I have suggested elsewhere (Samuel 1993) that many aspects of Tibetan society are contested. Perhaps the primary line of cleavage concerns the role of state power.


2. The State in Tibet

In Ernest Gellner's entertaining recent survey of human history and its underlying social mechanisms, Plough, Sword and Book, he suggests

as a provisional hypothesis that concentration of power will generally obtain, unless special countervailing factors operate (1988:149).

Two examples of countervailing circumstances which he instances are pastoral societies and peasant societies in difficult terrain (pp.149-50). In each case, economic exploitation and the developement of centralized government tends to be limited. For the pastoralists, this is because their wealth is mobile, for peasants in inaccessible areas (such as the Moroccan Berbers Gellner himself wrote about in his Saints of the Atlas, Gellner 1969) it is because it is not worth the effort fpr any state to extract what surplus they manage to produce. Now, these two cases cover between them a large part of the population of Tibet. A third set of circumstances which Gellner cites is also quite relevant to Tibet; that of a society where diversified trade is prevalent, and is carried on by large numbers of relatively independent and autonomous traders (pp.152-3).

Whatever the causes, Tibetan societies, as I have suggested elsewhere (Samuel 1982, 1993) were on the margins of viability for states, and centralized government in pre-modern times was established only to a limited and fluctuating degree. The early Tibetan state, which I refer to following Beckwith (1977, 1987) as the Tibetan Empire, grew out of a lineage of local chieftains, the so-called Yar-lung dynasty, who seem to have functioned as more or less Frazerian sacred kings (Tucci 1955, Haarh 1969, Kirkland 1982). They claimed semi-divine status and descent from one of the major mountain-gods of Central Tibet, Yar-lha sham-po. I shall refer to this set of ideas below as the "Mountain God Scenario".

In the early 7th century, the Yar-lung state became an expansionist military entity which temporarily rivalled the Arab, Turkic and Chinese who were competing for control of the Central Asian trade routes. After barely two centuries, it collapsed into a multitude of local regimes and stateless areas, who were nevertheless now linked by a common written language and early forms of what was to become a common religious culture (Beckwith 1987, Samuel 1993).

Central Tibet was the one area where there was enough relatively accessible agricultural land to form the foundation of a stable state of any size. This regime was the nearest the Tibetans had in subsequent times to large-scale indigenous states. There were four of these between the collapse of Mongol rule in the mid-14th century and the imposition of direct Chinese rule in 1950-59. The first was established by Tai-si-tu Byang-chub rGyal-mtshan (Changchub Gyentsen), originally a subordinate ruler under the Mongol system, during the last years of Mongol overlordship. The last and most successful Tibetan state was that centred at Lhasa and headed by the Dalai Lamas, senior incarnate lamas of the dGe-lugs-pa order, and established in 1642 with the aid of the Mongol chieftain Gushri Khan. While subject to intermittent Manchu interventions, especially during the 18th and early 19th century, this Lhasa regime was for most of its history an independent state, if a weak one.

The Lhasa state, like its predecessors, had some influence in the pastoral areas to the north and north-east of Central Tibet, and in the agricultural and pastoral communities of Khams (K'am), to the east, but they established direct rule over these regions for only limited periods. By the end of the 19th century, Khams was divided into numerous small states and stateless regions. Some of these were loosely incorporated into the Lhasa state, in a weak version of what Stanley Tambiah has called a `galactic polity' (Tambiah 1985), others were even more loosely incorporated into the Chinese administrative system (Samuel 1993: 64-86). From the point of view of the Manchu rulers of China, all of Tibet was difficult and inaccessible territory along the margins of the civilized world. Small Chinese garrisons were stationed in a few places along the two main trading routes, Tibetan local rulers were awarded tusi titles which theoretically integrated them into the Manchu hierarchy, but in practice the Tibetans ran their own affairs (Hamashita 1988; Samuel 1993). This situation continued until 1950, when most of Khams was integrated into the Chinese province of Sichuan and a much more direct system of rule established.

The epic was, as I have mentioned, particularly associated with East Tibet (Khams). The social and political system of East Tibet in the pre-modern period, prior to 1950, was dominated in both the agricultural and pastoral regions (generally fairly close together in Khams) by a number of high-status lineages or families (rus pa). [3] Some of these were ruling families of petty states, or local aristocratic families within those states, generally enjoying considerable autonomy in their own regions. These families might supply officials at court on a similar model to that of the Lhasa government (as in the states of sDe-dge and Nang-chen). Other rus pa were in effect local aristocratic lineages within stateless areas (Go-'jo, rGya-sde); this pattern was particularly common in primarily pastoral regions.

The head lamas of the major East Tibetan monasteries also mostly came from these same high-status families, usually being chosen through the process of recognizing rebirths, though occasionally through direct inheritance. High-status religious families, descended from famous non-monastic lamas, generally intermarried with these high status secular lineages.

The same families played a key role in large-scale trade, since they had both the financial resources necessary to organize large trading caravans, and the connections in the big trading towns of Eastern and Central Tibet such as Lhasa itself, Khyer-dgun-mdo (Jyekundo), dKar-mdzes (Kandze) or Dar-rtse-mdo (Kangding) and outside Tibet in places such as Delhi, Kalimpong, Calcutta, Srinagar, Kathmandu or Xining. Khams-pa politics seems to have been based on these networks of linkages between relatively autonomous high-status lineages, with lower-status lineages attached through various kinds of patron-client relationships, including hereditary attachment to estates, particularly in the case of agricultural regions. The Khams-pa were, however, constantly threatened with encroachment by the more politically centralized regions surrounding them, including the Lhasa government itself, the Chinese state and the Mongols. Buddhism had come into Tibet as a state ideology, and though it survived in forms that were not directly linked to the state, it still had concepts that could sanction a much more centralized model of government such as obtained in Central Tibet.


3. Tibetan Discourse on the State

As might be expected given this background, Tibetan discourse on the state was and is complex and multivocal. The Tibetans imported, along with Buddhism, many of the Indian-derived conceptions that are familiar from the Hinduized states of South-East Asia, such as the cakravartin, or universal monarch, and the dharmaraja, or just king. The Lhasa state also developed a complex theory based on the so-called priest-patron (mchod yon) relationship between Dalai Lama and Manchu Emperor, which was itself held to be a renewal of the relationship between a previous series of lamas and the Mongol rulers.

In addition, the Lhasa regime followed the practice, introduced by the earlier regime of Byang-chub rGyal-mtshan (reigned 1354-73) of emphasizing their links with the early Tibetan Empire. Several of the early Tibetan emperors had been discovered retrospectively to be emanations of Tantric deities, most notably of the bodhisattva Spyan-ras-gzigs (Chenrezi, = Skt. Avalokitesvara), who became a kind of patron deity of the Tibetans and was also identified with the mythical ancestral monkey who fathered the ancestors of the six Tibetan tribes. The Dalai Lamas established their capital in Lhasa, rebuilding the palace of the old Tibetan emperors on the Potala, and they too came to be regarded as emanations of Spyan-ras-gzigs. We can call this the "Bodhisattva Emanation Scenario". We may note its similarities to the old "Mountain God Scenario," but also that it has close links with the cakravartin and dharmaraja concepts and with the galactic polity model. The Manchu Emperors were also regarded as Bodhisattva Emanations, in this case of the deity 'Jam-dpal-dbyangs (Jambeyang, Skt. Manjusri). However, while the identity of the Dalai Lama with sPyan-ras-gzigs is well-known and often repeated, the Manchu emperor's bodhisattva status seems to have been more a doctrine given formal recognition by the dGe-lugs-pa in Tibet for reasons of state than an active belief.

Other Tibetan states used a variety of lines of legitimation. Monastic regimes, such as that in Bhutan, usually had some version of the Bodhisattva Emanation approach. The chief reincarnate lama lineage of the Karma bKa'-brgyud-pa order, like the Dalai Lamas, were regarded as sPyan-ras-gzigs emanations, the hereditary chief lamas of Sa-skya were also held to be emanations of various bodhisattvas, and the most senior dGe-lugs-pa incarnation after the Dalai Lama, the Pan-chen Rin-po-che, were emanations of the Buddha 'Od-dpag-med (Skt. Amitabha). Lay regimes generally either claimed to derive from the old imperial lineage (as with the kings of Ladakh and of sPo-bo), or else produced their own version of the Mountain God scenario used by the early kings, and perhaps common to most or all Tibetan aristocratic lineages in earlier times.

Generally speaking, the Bodhisattva Emanation story, especially when combined with elements of the cakravartin ideology, constitutes the ruler as the centre of the galactic polity on a model rather similar to that of the Indianized states of SE Asia. The Mountain God scenario is much less Indianized and constitutes the ruler in essentially indigenous terms. In fact, since each region has its own major mountain-god, and many aristocratic lineages claim descent from the mountain-gods, the Mountain God scenario defines the ruling lineage as one of a number of local ruling lineages, as primus inter pares rather than universal monarch. Perhaps for this reason, the early Tibetan emperors eventually came to be regarded as descended not from a mountain-god but from an Indian prince who came to Tibet (Haarh 1969).

Elsewhere I have spoken of as a polarity between "wild" and "tame" in Tibetan society (Samuel 1993: 217-22), the "wild" polarity corresponding to the decentralized and pastoral areas, the "tame" to the centralized and agricultural regions. The Bodhisattva Emanation theory and the Indic approach in general is associated with the "tame" end of the continuum. The function of a Bodhisattva emanation is precisely to "tame" his or her followers, where the term 'tame' implies "civilize" and "convert to Buddhist practice" (Samuel 1993: 219-20).


4. Ge-sar and the State

Having explored Tibetan conceptions of kingship, we return to the figure of Ge-sar. Ge-sar is himself a king or rgyal po. Perhaps significantly, he is never called btsan po, the old term for the rulers of the Yar-lung dynasty, equated with the Chinese emperor. His legend includes both Bodhisattva Emanation and Mountain-God Descent elements, with some tension noticeable between them. Thus Ge-sar is often desribed as an emanation of a bodhisattva, most usually of three of them conjointly (the so-called Rigs-gsum mgon-po, corresponding to the Skt. Manjusri, Vajrapani and Avalokitesvara). He is also the earthly representative of Gu-ru rin-po-che or Padmasambhava, the deified Indian teacher who played a central role in the conversion of Tibet to Buddhism, and who is himself an emanation of Avalokiteßvara.

However, Ge-sar in the epic also has strong connections to the mountain-deities. Iconographically, he resembles them quite closely, being shown as they mostly are in the form of an armed and mounted warrior. Ge-sar in the epic is the rebirth of a heavenly deity, and as such has a heavenly father, usually Brahma in the Tibetan versions, but he is also the son or adopted son of the mountain-god Gedzo, and seems to have a special relationship to the principal mountain-god of Eastern Tibet, rMa-chen sPom-ra. He is protected by the female sky-goddess Ma-ne-ne. rMa-chen sPom-ra and Ma-ne-ne are both defenders of Buddhism but also powerful folk-religion deities with non-Buddhist associations.

The relationship between these two sets of elements, Indic and indigenous, is complex, and they reflect the complex history of the Ge-sar epic, which I have attempted to reconstruct elsewhere (Samuel 1992). It seems that Ge-sar at an earlier stage was a figure with strong folk-religion overtones. He is still evoked as a god of good fortune, including success in warfare, in both Tibet and Mongolia (Heissig 1980; Samuel 1991b). He plays a pivotal role in relation to East Tibetan origin myths, in that most of the high-status lineages of East Tibet claim descent from one or another of Ge-sar's ministers or warriors. Possibly this situation developed during the dominance of the East Tibetan state of gLing-tshang, whose rulers claimed descent from Ge-sar's half-brother. Ge-sar himself has no direct descendants in the epic; again the story seems to sanction a situation in which one local lineage is the most powerful of many local lineages, rather than a regime of centralized dominance by a ruling family endowed with some claim to absolute power.

In a recent paper, Samten Karmay has argued that the story of the epic, with its gradual incorporation of defeated neighbouring peoples into the gLing state, describes a transition between "a clan or tribal society" and "a kingdom with many vassals and with a chief now styled as a universal monarch" (1995: 313). There is undoubtedly truth in this, and the centralizing elements in the epic perhaps reflect its appropriation as state ideology by the gLing-tshang kingdom. The epic as a whole, however, does not really describe Ge-sar as the ruler of a centralized state. He is a leader in times of war and crisis, but at other times he characteristically goes into religious retreat rather than being concerned with day-to-day administration. His wars, too, are not wars of conquest as such. They are essentially defensive in nature, and are almost always set off by aggressive action on the part of the king or leader of a neighbouring people, the Hor (Turkic peoples in A-mdo?), 'Jang (Naxi), Lho Mon (?Bhutan), Kha-che (Kashmir), Gru-gu (Turks), Sog po (Mongols), Ladakh, etc. The king is often a demon, rather than a human being, and his removal by Ge-sar is an act of Buddhist compassion, since his own people are suffering under his oppressive and anti-Buddhist rule.

Significantly, the enemy king usually has a rdzong or fortress, suggesting that he is a representative of intrusive state power threatening the people of Ge-sar's country. Once he has been defeated, Ge-sar and his generals replace him by a more worthy successor, who becomes an ally of Ge-sar's. It does not seem that the conquered people are incorporated directly into Ge-sar's kingdom. They are allies, not vassals, and take part in future wars on that basis.

As a model for political relations, this picture bears a striking similarity to the realities of Eastern Tibetan politics in the pre-1950 period. The main difference is that in practice the intrusive state powers - primarily the Chinese governments and local warlords in Sichuan and Qinghai provinces, the various Mongol groups who intervened in Tibetan politics, especially from the 18th century onwards, and perhaps the Tibetan government at Lhasa itself - were not always dealt with as skilfully or as successfully as by the epic hero.

Later, however, primarily in the 19th and 20th century, the Ge-sar stories acquired a rather different colouring. They were reworked under the influence of the East Tibetan Ris med lamas, in particular the great rNying-ma-pa scholar 'Ju Mi-pham (1846-1914), who was responsible for carving woodblocks for the printing of three central episodes of the epic and for creating (or rather "revealing") a large and influential body of Ge-sar rituals (Samuel 1991b; Samuel 1993: 537, 540). It was at this time that the idea of Ge-sar as a full-blown Vajrayana deity presumably began to gain currency.

These various developments generated three ways of reading Ge-sar for contemporary Tibetans:

1. he can be seen positively as a folk-religion figure, associated with this worldly success and good fortune, with close relationship to the mountain-gods, and affinities to the old dominant lineages of Khams;
2. he can be seen positively as a Bodhisattva emanation, still associated with this-worldly success and good fortune, but also with the more transcendent aim of Enlightenment, and with connections to the galactic-polity model of the centralized state;
3. he can be seen negatively as a folk-religion figure, as associated with marginal and dubiously-Buddhist cults, and with the independent and "untamed" nature of the East Tibetans as contrasted with the more "civilized" people of Central Tibet.

To which we could add a fourth possibility. Ge-sar can be seen negatively as part of an alien and intrusive state system, that of China. A form of the Ge-sar cult was promoted in Tibet from the 18th century onwards by the Manchu dynasty. The Manchus were familiar with the Mongolian version of Ge-sar, whom they assimilated to the Chinese war-god Kuan-ti or Kuan-yü (Heissig 1980: 99-100). In Central Tibet, in particular, where the cult of the Tibetan Ge-sar was much less developed than in the East, the only temples of Ge-sar were actually temples of this syncretic Manchu-Mongolian cult. This is part of the background to the dGe-lugs-pa monk's comment that Ge-sar was all part of a Chinese plot.

More recently, Ge-sar has been heavily promoted (as folklore, certainly, rather than as religion) within the People's Republic of China. While the epic was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, it made a remarkable comeback from around 1980 onwards. It is now officially described as a great Chinese epic (it is found, as I mentioned earlier, among several other minority nationalities besides the Tibetans, in particular among the Mongolians), especially since it is, by Chinese calculations, supposed to be the longest epic in the world (Wang 1985). A large-scale campaign to collect and preserve the epic has been organized throughout Tibetan regions and in Inner Mongolia. Around 100 episodes from the epic have been published in Tibetan in recent years, along with numerous Chinese translations. An 18-episode TV version of the epic has been broadcast. Several local conferences and three international conferences have been held on the Ge-sar Epic.

I attended the first two of these international conferences, in Chengdu in 1989 and Lhasa in 1991, and I have been studying scholarly work on Ge-sar in the People's Republic of China with some attention in recent years. I will conclude this rather condensed survey of the significance of the Tibetan epic as discourse about the state with some speculations on the meaning of Ge-sar today. Has Ge-sar simply been appropriated by the Chinese rulers of Tibet for their own purposes?


5. Conclusion: Ge-sar in the People’s Republic of China

Superficially, the answer would seem to be yes, and the dGe-lugs-pa monk's diatribe against Ge-sar would seem to have some basis in reality. I have no doubt that the promotion of Ge-sar in the PRC is related to its being seen as a safe "folkloristic" topic, not directly involved with Buddhism, [4] and politically neutral or even positive, since Ge-sar can be seen as fighting for the welfare of the Tibetan masses as against the arbitrary and oppressive rule of the demon-kings. The epic as folklore is also quite consonant with the general Han Chinese stereotype of minority populations as simple, unsophisticated people, fond of singing, dancing, and other such cosy ethnic pursuits. I am sure all this has much to do why the Ge-sar epic received such conspicuous official sanction, though many of the Chinese and Tibetan scholars who were actually working on the epic were doubtless aware, as the reader will be by now, that matters are more complex than the stereotype might suggest.

The validation of Ge-sar as a relatively "safe" topic has however created an arena within which some interesting things can happen. Reading and listening to some of the recent contributions on Ge-sar by scholars from the PRC, one can sense that Ge-sar studies is a context within, for example, the question of the autonomy of Tibetan culture can be asserted, and a dialogue with foreign scholars, including refugee Tibetan scholars, entered into. To validate Ge-sar is also, in a sense, to validate the Tibetan way of life, and as Ge-sar studies develops to greater levels of sophistication, they are bringing about a confrontation with aspects of Tibetan culture which in other contexts might simply be dismissed as archaic superstition. The question of the shamanic or inspired bards ('babs sgrung), and the religious aspects of Ge-sar in general, are examples.

Consequently, I do not feel entirely negative about the Chinese appropriation of Ge-sar. Or, to put it in slightly different terms, Ge-sar, who always had a strong component of the trickster in his make-up, perhaps retains an ability to subvert the dominant Chinese modes of discourse about Tibet in a way not open to more straightforward political critiques. At least, I hope so.



Beckwith, Christopher I. (1977) `Tibet and the early medieval florissance in Eurasia.' Central Asiatic J. 21,2: 89-104

Beckwith, Christopher I. (1987) The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia. Princeton University Press.

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Haarh, Erik. (1969) The Yar-luº Dynasty. Copenhagen.

Hamashita, Takeshi (1988) "The Tribute Trade System and Modern Asia" Memoirs of the Toyo Bunko 46: 7-25

Heissig, Walther (1980) The Religions of Mongolia. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Jiacuo, Jiangbian (1989a) "Gesar andthe Tibetan Culture." Paper for the 5th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Narita, Japan.

Jiacuo, Jiangbian [= Vjam-dpal rgya-mtsho] (1989b) "Gesar and Religion." Tibet Studies: J of the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences No.1 (June 1989), pp.202-17.

Kapstein, Matthew. 1989. `The purificatory gem and its cleansing: a late Tibetan polemical discussion of apocryphal texts.' History of Religions 28,3: 217-44.

Karmay, Samten (1993) "The Theoretical Basis of the Tibetan epic, With Reference to a 'Chronological Order' of the Various Episodes in the Gesar Epic." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 56: 234-46.

Karmay, Samten (1995) "The Social Organization of Ling and the Term Phu-nu in the Gesar Epic." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 58: 303-13.

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Samuel, Geoffrey (1992) "Ge sar of Ling: The Origins and Meaning of the East Tibetan Epic." In S. Ihara and Z. Yamaguchi (eds.), Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 5th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Narita 1989. Narita: Naritasan Shinshoji. Pp.711-21.

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[1] For a survey of the epic and scholarly literature pertaining to it, see Samuel 1992. Karmay 1993 outlines the major episodes of the epic in its East Tibetan version, giving references to modern text-editions for the various episodes.Return

[2] I would like to acknowledge the assistance in this research of Mr Tashi Tsering of Amnye Machin Institute, Dharamsala, himself a noted Ge-sar scholar.Return

[3] For the term rus, rus pa elsewhere in the Tibetan cultural world, see Levine 1981; Samuel 1993: 128-30. As far as I know, no serious research has yet been done on Khams pa kinship (cf. Samuel 1993: 593n9).Return

[4] See two articles by the part-Tibetan Ge-sar scholar Jiangbian Jiacuo, of the Institute of Nationalities Literature of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, in both of which a somewhat unconvincing attempt is made to present the epic as intrinsically non-Buddhist (1989a, 1989b). Return

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