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

Domuk TsamkhangDo smug mtshams khang

Basic site data

  • Site name: Domuk TsamkhangDo smug mtshams khang
  • English equivalent: Purplish Island Meditation House
  • Site number: B-133
  • Site typology: I.2a
  • Elevation: 4600 m to 4620 m
  • Administrative location (township): BargaBar ga
  • Administrative location (county): PurangSpu rang
  • Survey expedition: TILE
  • Survey date: March 1 and 2, 2006.
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS X, HAS C4
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

The east side of DomukDo smug, an island of the same size and aspect as DoserDo ser (B-132), also gave rise to an ancient settlement. Called Domuk TsamkhangDo smug mtshams khang, the ruins of a rebuilt all-stone corbelled edifice is located in a small east-west running vale that overlooks Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho. In a nearby vale there is the carcass of an unmodified dokhangrdo khang. Walls of these structures are of typical random-rubble construction, and are composed of metamorphic rocks and unhewn blocks of a white concretion of variable length (up to 60 cm long).

The dereliction of the DomukDo smug and DoserDo ser sites underscores their highly marginal place in Buddhist sacred geographical conceptions. Their importance to archaic cultural settlement, however, is reinforced by the fact that they are the only early residential centers detected in the Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho basin. Like the other islands of Upper Tibet, DomukDo smug and DoserDo ser were nuclei of ritual dispensation and religious authority. They are also likely to have been important social and political hubs inhabited by a privileged class of people. This is borne out by the highly developed nature of the architecture and patterns of habitation, which demanded considerable mainland economic resources to establish and maintain. These sheltered communities sprang up on every island of noteworthy size in the region (see fn. 167). The 15 island settlements of Upper Tibet formed a sacred east-west axis stretching from NamtsoGnam mtsho in the east to Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho and Tsomo Ngangla RingtsoMtsho mo ngang la ring mtsho in the west. Straddling the central portion of the entire upland region, these islands constituted the geographic core of archaic settlement in Upper Tibet. It is not known if these centers were exclusively the domain of religious practitioners or whether they accommodated a wider cross-section of ancient society. The larger sites in particular are likely to have catered to integrated family units and not just to individuals. Smaller insular sites such as Podo GongmaSpos do gong ma (B-11) may have had a more isolated sphere of usage.

Oral tradition

According to local accounts, one or more Buddhist masters meditated in Domuk TsamkhangDo smug mtshams khang. Elders of the draktsabrag rtsa clan (who have grazing rights on the islands of Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho) recount that a lama named BaléBa le (sp.?) once resided in the Domuk TsamkhangDo smug mtshams khang. During a SingpaSing pa invasion originating from Central Asia (the historical setting and ethnic group involved is ambiguous), lama BaléBa le collected the valuables of people living in PurangSpu rang and buried them on DomukDo smug, in order to save them from the invaders. Three or four years later with the death of lama BaléBa le, the people of PurangSpu rang came to collect their possessions. The people quarreled among themselves about who owned what. Lama BaléBa le, who was sitting in meditation in the intermediate state (bardobar do) at the time, was adversely affected by the disturbances around him and, as a result, took rebirth as a demon (dré’dre). This dré’dre caused many deaths in PurangSpu rang until it was tied to a Buddhist oath by a lama of PurangSpu rang named Chimé’Chi med. This tale seems to indicate that Buddhist tenure at DomukDo smug was tenuous and highly limited. In any case, there are no Buddhist architectural emblems at DomukDo smug.

Site elements

Shrine complex

There is a shrine complex built on level ground in the mouth of the vale hosting Domuk TsamkhangDo smug mtshams khang (30° 38. 07΄ N. lat. / 81° 10.56΄ E. long. / 4600 m). It consists of four small square structures of typical archaic construction, which appear to have been oriented in the cardinal directions. They were constructed from bluish metamorphic rocks of variable length (up to 70 cm long) laid in random-rubble courses. Like many archaic shrines on the islands of Tibet, this complex has a lakeside orientation, suggesting that it may have been used in the propitiation of Dralé GyelmoSgra bla’i rgyal mo, the goddess of Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho. It is also in direct view of Takri TrawoStag ri khra bo (while the dokhangrdo khang are not), the massif associated with Dralé GyelmoSgra bla’i rgyal mo.

All four ceremonial structures exhibit a high level of disintegration. The southeast specimen (1.7 m 1.6 m by 1.1 m) appears to have been reconstructed at some point in time. The top 50 cm of the structure is composed of a heap of white concretion blocks. The northeast specimen (1.4 m by 1.6 m by 80 cm) is situated 1 m north of the southeast specimen. A few white concretion blocks were placed on top of this heavily damaged structure. Resting against its east side there is a rounded piece of sandstone (60 cm long) with a depression on one side. It has the classic appearance of a zhapjézhabs rje (footprint of saint), but nothing appears to be known about its identity and it bears no signs of recent veneration. The central shrine (1.7 m by 1.6 m by 40 cm) is situated 80 cm west of the northeast specimen. Only its base still stands. The west shrine (1.7 m by 1.3 m by 40 cm) is located 3.7 m west of the southeast specimen. This structure is also highly dissolute, revealing little about its original design and function.

Domuk TsamkhangDo smug mtshams khang

Domuk TsamkhangDo smug mtshams khang (residential structure RS1) is situated on the edge of a tiny valley facing Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho (38.21΄ / 10.32΄ / 4610 m). It has a southern aspect and measures 6.6 m (east-west) by 5.6 m (north-south). RS1 exhibits signs of reconstruction and more recent occupation. For instance, the two rear rooms of the structure are partly intact, probably because they were maintained by Buddhist meditators. The rear outer wall currently has an exterior height of 1.3 m and an interior height of 1 m. The roof of the rear west room (2 m by 2.1 m) is partly in place. The roof sheathing is composed of a bluish calcareous rock that forms neat slabs (up to 1.2 m long). There are several small niches in the rear wall and the vestiges of mud plaster. The forward wall and the wall separating the rear west room from its eastern counterpart are also partly intact. These walls are of typical random-rubble construction and are primarily composed of DomukDo smug’s bluish metamorphic rock. The rear east room (2.1 m by 1.8 m) has niches in its rear and west walls. The forward tier of RS1 has been mostly destroyed. Measuring 6.4 m (east-west) by 2.9 m (north-south), it appears to have been comprised of a combination of rooms and open areas. Although there are small coherent wall fragments (up to 1 m high), the forward outer wall of RS1 has been largely reduced to rubble. In what is left of the east wall there are a few well-worn adobe blocks, signaling that the structure was rehabilitated for a more recent occupation.

The traces of a more recently constructed building are situated in the valley bottom 4.5 m east of RS1. It almost certainly belonged to the Buddhists. This carcass has an L-shaped plan and maximum dimensions of 4.5 m (east-west) by 5.5 m (north-south). Except for north and east wall segments, the structure has been leveled to its foundations. The walls are lightly built and only around 35 cm thick. The north wall segment has courses of adobe blocks above the stonework. These crude and insubstantial random-rubble walls are typical of later historic Lamaist architecture in southwestern Tibet.

Immediately south of RS1 there are fragmentary wall footings that cover an area measuring 5.8 m by 4.6 m. These footings are probably the remains of a courtyard or some other type of enclosure.

Residential Structure RS2

Residential structure RS2 is found in a small vale sheltering it from the brunt of the elements (38.08΄ / 10.52΄ / 4620 m). It was built near the base of a south-facing slope just below a rock outcrop. It measures 9.5 m (east-west) by 10.3 m (north-south). The amount of rubble at the site indicates that this was a heavily-built structure. Just southeast of this edifice there is a shepherd’s enclosure (droklhé’brog lhas) (4 m by 4.5 m) built with stones commandeered from the archaeological asset. RS2 was built in three distinct elevations: south/forward, central and north/rear. In each of these three tiers there appears to have been two or three rooms. The east side of the structure is not so clearly demarcated and may have contained a courtyard or landing as well as rooms. The forward wall of RS2, now nothing more than a heap of stones, is elevated about 1 m above the slope. Most of the rest of the structure has also been reduced to piles of stones.

The rear of the RS2 edifice is the only place that the ground plan can be distinguished. There is a rear west room and a rear central room. The configuration of the east side of the rear tier is no longer discernable. The rear west room (2.6 m by 2 m) is divided by a partition wall (1.2 m long, 80 cm high, 45 cm thick) into north and south sections. The north section of this room is elevated about 50 cm above the south section. The north section had a low ceiling and may have had a ritual rather than habitational function. The rear/north wall of rear central room (2.3 m by 1.8 m) was built at least 1.1 m into the uphill slope. This wall originally was more deeply inset but some infilling of the rear central room has occurred. In the rear wall there are two large niches separated from one another by a single slab of stone. Mud plaster sticks to the back wall of the rear central room. One piece of the roof sheathing (80 cm by 90 cm) is still attached to the back wall of the rear central room. Parts of the west wall (up to 1.2 m high) and east wall (up to 50 cm high) of the rear central room are intact. Above the top of the rear wall, which is now flush with the slope, there are the remnants of a parapet wall, 50 cm in height. Roof appurtenances (up to 1.3 m long) are scattered around the RS2 carcass.

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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.