Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Antiquities of Zhang Zhung
by John Vincent Bellezza
Edited by Geoffrey Barstow, Mickey Stockwell and Michael White
Tibetan & Himalayan Library
Published under the THL Digital Text License.

I.2. Residential Structures in Other Locations: Religious and Elite Residences

Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug

Basic site data

  • Site name: Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug
  • English equivalent: Miracle Cave
  • Site number: B-26
  • Site typology: I.2a
  • Elevation: 5050 m to 5180 m.
  • Administrative location (township): TagoRta sgo
  • Administrative location (county): NyimaNyi ma
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: June 21, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: The main temple complex is used as a religious shrine.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS VIII
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug is located on the east flanks of the sacred mountain Tago Ngömar LhatsenRta rgo ngo dmar lha btsan, some 500 m above the BönBon monastery of SezhikSe zhig. Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug consists of a complex, Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug proper, and 24 other residential units of the dokhangrdo khang type. The Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug subterranean chamber is situated in a walled compound, planted on top of a ridgeline that bounds the right or south side of the NyilungNyi lung valley (5100 m). There are no permanent contemporary habitations in the proximity of Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug, in part, because of its high elevation. All walls at the site have a random-rubble texture and are of the dry-stone type or were minimally mud mortared. These walls are composed of uncut, variable-sized igneous rocks, which average 30 cm to 60 cm in length. Even the corbels and bridging stones were unhewn. The walls of the various dokhangrdo khang are 60 cm to 80 cm in thickness.

There are three major sectors at Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug: upper south, lower south and north. The upper south sector (Residential structures RS1, RS2 and RS3) is situated on slopes elevated high above the right side of the NyilungNyi lung valley head. The north sector (Residential structures RS4 to RS17) is spread across a shelf perched above the left side of the upper NyilungNyi lung valley in a locale known as TomoMtho mo (sp.?), at somewhat lower elevation than the upper south sector. The lower south sector includes Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug proper and the residential structures in its immediate vicinity (Residential structures RS18 to RS24). These are found on the ridge bounding the right side of the upper NyilungNyi lung valley. In total, this large religious center could have housed well over 150 residents. In contrast, SezhikSe zhig monastery probably never held more than several dozen practitioners.

Oral tradition

Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug is probably so named because in a popular folktale it is believed to have been magically constructed. According to the senior-most BönBon scholar Loppön Tendzin NamdakSlob dpon bstan ’dzin rnam dag, who spent two and a half years based at SezhikSe zhig monastery, most ruins in the vicinity of Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug were probably founded in the Tibetan imperial period (617-841 CE) by an individual named Dzibön Wangdrup’Dzi bon dbang grub. According to a popular legend, when the circa 13th century CE BönBon adept Namkha LodenNam mkha’ blo ldan came to the locale, he was met by the mountain deity Ngomar LhatsenNgo dmar lha btsan, who offered to help him build a retreat center. The mountain god told him, “If you build the walls, I will build the roof. If you build the roof, I will build the walls.” Namkha LodenNam mkha’ blo ldan decided it would be easier for him to build the walls. After the saint was done with his task, Ngomar LhatsenNgo dmar lha btsan simply took a large boulder and flung it upon the walls, completing the construction of Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug. The roof of the structure was too low, however, and Namkha LodenNam mkha’ blo ldan kept banging his head. One day, in order to make the ceiling higher, he took his shanggshang and sliced off a piece of the boulder comprising the roof.

Site elements

Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug

Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug stands on the broad crest of the ridge enclosing the right side of the upper NyilungNyi lung valley. It is comprised of a walled compound (16.5 m by 13 m) whose entrance is in the southeast. Three steps lead up to the entrance, which opens onto a courtyard. In the rear of the compound there are four interconnected rooms that ostensibly were used as chapels and/or as meditation residences. The entrance (1.5 m by 70 cm) to the freestanding northeast room (3 m by 2.5 m by 2 m) is in the west. The design of the walls (long, straight and uniform) indicates that the northeast room supported a wooden roof, the only structure at the site that appears to have done so. There is a niche and a well-built hearth against the west wall. The timber roof, relatively large entranceway and the presence of a large window (30 cm by 60 cm) in the east wall of the northeast room seem to indicate that its establishment or reconstruction postdates other Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug structures. This modification of the northeast room must be related to its close proximity to the subterranean chamber of Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug, the geomantic heart of the site.

Next to the northeast room, at the very rear of the compound, is the northwest chamber. This appears to have been the main sanctum at Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug. Five steps lead down to this subterranean chamber. Its roof is a naturally occurring boulder whose rear side is level with the surface of the ridge-top. In order to build this chamber the soil underneath this boulder had to be removed. The overlying boulder is supported by the masonry walls lining the chamber (4 m by 3.3 m by standing room). There is an altar with a large bay constructed of stone and mud against the rear or west wall. There are three niches in the west wall and one niche in the south wall. Pilgrims have affixed tufts of white wool, paper lungtarlung rta and old protection cords (sungdüsrung mdud) to the ceiling, as well as dabbing butter on it. There is a prayer flag mast on the roof of the rear of the chamber, supported by a 1 m high parapet wall. There are also a couple of large cairns in the vicinity.

The central room of the Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug compound is in very poor condition. Its forward wall is up to 1.3 m in height and its rear wall 2.3 m high. The rear wall of the central room forms part of the rear wall of the compound. The south room (2.2 m by 1.6 m) supported a stone roof, as evidenced by three in situ corbels supporting a single piece of stone sheathing. The lintel over the entranceway (1.2 m by 70 cm) is still place. There is a small niche in the west wall of the south room. Inside the compound as well as behind it there are old stone plaques mainly inscribed with the BönBon matrima tri and a akara a dkar mantras. Outside the compound, north of the subterranean main shrine room, there is the foundation of an independent building (2.5 m by 4 m).

Upper south sector
Residential Structure RS1

Residential structure RS1 is located on a steep flank of the ridge (an outlier of Tago Ngömar LhatsenRta rgo ngo dmar lha btsan) that encloses the west side of the site. At 5180 m it is the highest elevation structure at Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug. RS1 has been reduced to fragmentary 80 cm thick foundation walls that stretch for 5.5 m. It is primarily built of stones 40 cm to 60 cm in length. This isolated structure was raised against a large igneous boulder.

Residential Structure RS2

Residential structure RS2 is situated on the slope below RS1 (5150 m). This large ceremonial building or multifaceted shrine complex can be divided into south, central and north sections. The extant physical evidence is not sufficient to determine if RS2 had a residential component or was solely a group of tenkharrten mkhar-like shrines. This uniquely designed installation was constructed of stones mainly 40 cm to 80 cm in length.

The south section of RS2 consists of two square rooms or cubic shrine structures that measure 3 m (north-south) by 7.2 m (east-west). The south section structures have completely collapsed, making positive identification of their function difficult. The west room or structure is less disintegrated and has standing walls (1.5 m to 1.7 m in height) surrounding a cavity.

The central section of RS2 was comprised of a row of quadrate rooms or shrines, which measure 4 m (north-south) by 16 m (east-west). Standing wall fragments are between 1 m and 1.7 m. The westerly or upslope structure is the most intact part of the central section, and has a cavity in the middle.

The north section of RS2 is dominated by a tiered shrine structure that is probably of the tenkharrten mkhar class (or alternatively, it was a receptacle for votive clay figurines known as Tsatsatshwa tshwa). This shrine measures 2.8 m by 3 m, and is 1.5 m high on its west or upslope flank and 2.5 m high on its down-slope side. The west side of the base consists of five graduated tiers, each made up of a single course of worked stones. In the upper part of the shrine there are openings on the south, west and north sides. Inside this tiered shrine are highly deteriorated small conical Tsatsatshwa tshwa. One older Tsatsatshwa tshwa with the image of a BönBon (?) deity was also found. These Tsatsatshwa tshwa, like the recent plaque inscribed with the BönBon matrima tri mantra found at RS2, may be later additions to the monument. The heavily built roof of the tiered shrine consists of bridging stones and slab sheathing. Adjacent to this shrine there is another specimen in poorer condition, which measures 3.5 m (north-west) by 2 m (east-west) by a maximum of 1.4 m. On the north side of the RS2 complex there are the square bases of two smaller shrines. Likewise, 2 m south of RS2 there are the bases of two other shrines (each: 2 m by 2 m by 1 m).

Residential Structure RS3

Residential structure RS3 is situated 4.5 m north of RS2. This dokhangrdo khang measures 12 m (north-south) by 9 m (east-west), and hosted at least six rooms. The rear or upslope wall is built as much as 1.8 m into the ground, while the forward revetment is 1.5 m to 2.5 m in height. Originally this revetment must have supported standing walls around 2 m in height. In the northwest portion of the structure there are two rear rooms with several corbels and pieces of sheathing in place. The placement of these roofing elements near the current middle reaches of the rear wall is an indication of how much infilling has occurred.

North sector

The numerical ordering of the north sector structures reflects their relative east-west positions. RS4 is on the western geographic extremity of the TomoMtho mo shelf and RS17 is on the opposite east end of the shelf.

Residential Structure RS4

Residential structure RS4 (8.5 m by 7.5 m) is a dokhangrdo khang, which has been reduced to its foundations and low-lying wall segments (5100 m).

Residential Structure RS5

Residential structure RS5 (10.5 m by 7 m) is situated 19 m southeast of RS4. Four large corbels are in situ on the rear or north wall. At the northwest corner one corbel is elevated 1.6 m above the floor level, providing an indication of the original ceiling height. There is a niche near the northwest and northeast corners of RS5. The northwest room approximately measures 1.6 by 3 m. There are also five or six corbels and several roof slabs along the west wall of the structure.

Residential Structure RS6

Residential structure RS6 (17 m by 7.5 m) is found 12 m north of RS5. This building was built in three tiers, the lowest of which was probably a courtyard. The middle tier has been reduced to wall-footings and piles of rubble. The better preserved upper or rear tier consisted of at least two rooms. The remains of a partition wall still stand between them. Several corbels are still in place on the west wall. Maximum wall height of the upper tier is 1.5 m.

Residential Structure RS7

Residential structure RS7 (8 m across) is located 20 m east of RS6. It has been leveled to its foundations. RS7 appears to have contained two rooms.

Residential Structure RS8

Residential structure RS8 is found 30 m northeast of RS7. This small dokhangrdo khang was severely degraded by the removal of stones to build two nearby corrals. The recent construction of these corrals has had a deleterious impact on other north sector edifices as well.

Residential Structure RS9

Residential structure RS9 (6.5 m by 5.5 m) is located 40 m east of RS8. Only crumbling foundations and small wall fragments are left. The best-preserved wall segment is in the northwest portion of the structure.

Residential Structure RS10

Residential structure RS10 (9.5 m by 13.5 m) is situated 38 m east of RS9. This highly deteriorated structure must have contained several rooms and a forward courtyard.

Residential Structure RS11

Residential structure RS11 (6 m by 8.8 m) was built 8 m east of RS10. Integral walls up to 1.2 m in height still persist.

Residential Structure RS12

Residential structure RS12 (4.5 m by 7 m) is located 37 m east of RS11. The east half of the building has been reduced to its foundations while the west half has standing wall sections to 1 m in height.

Residential Structure RS13

Residential structure RS13 is situated 22 m east of RS12. It has two east rooms (8 m by 6.5 m) and a 3.4 m long west room. The northwest corner of the structure stands 1.7 m in height and has two large corbels in place. The lintel over the 60 cm wide entranceway to the west room is intact. The walls of the east rooms have been cut down to 1 m or less in height.

Residential Structure RS14

Residential structure RS14 (6 m by 9.5 m) is situated 24 m northeast of RS13. The rear or upslope wall is built 90 cm into the ground and has one corbel in place. All other walls are highly dissolved and are less than 1 m in height.

Residential Structure RS15

Residential structure RS15 (5 m by 6.5 m) is located 38 m east of RS14. The walls of the single west room are between 1 m and 1.2 m in height. The walls of what probably constituted two east rooms are severely degraded.

Residential Structure RS16

Residential structure RS16 (7 m by 4 m) was founded 17 m south or downhill of RS15. Very little of it has survived.

Residential Structure RS17

Residential structure RS17 (6 m by 4.5 m) is situated 55 m south or downhill of RS16. It consists of one rear and one forward room (5050 m). The lintel over the entranceway (1m by 50 cm) between the two rooms is still intact. The wall between the rear and forward rooms is 1.5 m to 2 m in height; other walls are more disintegrated.

Lower south sector
Residential Structure RS18

Residential structure RS18 (3.5 m by 1.5 m) is found on a steep hillside on the right side of the NyilungNyi lung valley below Dzuntrül PukRdzu ’phrul phug proper. This semi-subterranean rock shelter, established against a boulder, is called RowesaRo bas sa (Tomb). This name seems to indicate a mortuary function for this structure, but this could not be confirmed. The upslope masonry wall of RS18 was set 1.5 m into the ground and has one in situ corbel remaining.

Residential Structure RS19

Residential structure RS19 (9 m by 6 m) is located 16 m south of the DzuntrülRdzu ’phrul compound. The rear wall is set 1.2 m to 1.8 m below the surface. Two small rooms in the rear of the structure have maintained their stone roofs. The rear west room (2 m by 2.2 m) has a naturally occurring boulder as its roof. There is a large niche in its north wall, and the floor-to-ceiling height of this room is 1.4 m to 1.6 m. The rear west room entrance measures 85 cm by 50 cm. The rear east room has a corbelled roof integument. A third rear room is bereft of its roof. Several forward rooms in RS19 have been degraded to footings and wall segments less than 1.2 m in height.

Residential Structure RS20

Residential structure RS20 (9 m by 8. 3 m) is situated in a hollow at a slightly lower elevation than RS19. On the rear wall about one dozen corbels and a lone roof slab are in situ, rising above what appears to have been two rooms. The rear wall was built 1.5 m into the slope. The forward rooms have been reduced to footings and wall segments under 1.4 m in height.

Residential Structure RS21

Residential structure RS21 was built in another hollow several tens of meters south of RS20. This small shelter was constructed underneath a boulder. Its masonry façade is fairly well preserved. In the proximity there are two modern livestock pens.

Residential Structure RS22

Residential structure RS22 is found in the vicinity of RS21. This small dokhangrdo khang was built against a boulder, and has several in situ corbels on the rear or north wall.

Residential Structures RS23 and RS24

Lower on the ridge-top, or to the east of RS22, there are two more dokhangrdo khang (5060 m). Residential structure RS23, the south dokhangrdo khang, has two small rear rooms, one with a natural boulder roof and one with a corbelled roof. Residential structure RS24, the north dokhangrdo khang, has an intact rear or west room with its corbelled roof in place. Below these two buildings there are two low elevation structures built around large boulders. Their function is not clear.

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Note Citation for Page

John Vincent Bellezza, Antiquities of Zhang Zhung: A Comprehensive Inventory of Pre-Buddhist Archaeological Monuments on the Tibetan Upland (Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010), .

Bibliographic Citation

John Vincent Bellezza. Antiquities of Zhang Zhung: A Comprehensive Inventory of Pre-Buddhist Archaeological Monuments on the Tibetan Upland. Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010.