Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

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

II. Archaic Ceremonial Monuments

II.4. Shrines and miscellaneous constructions

At a number of residential sites in Upper Tibet there are the ruins of shrines that can be assigned to the archaic assemblage of monuments. These structures are found both outdoors and in caves used for habitation. Most of them appear to belong to the tenkharrten mkhar, sekhargsas mkhar, lhatenlha rten, or lhatsuklha gtsug classes of monuments, cubic or stepped tabernacles used to enshrine and propitiate indigenous deities. While forms of these monuments are still constructed today, according to BönBon tradition, their origins can be traced to prehistoric times. Fairly well-preserved examples sheltered in caves are sometimes covered in a mud veneer and decorated with red and yellow ochre and lime pigments. The shrines have square or rectangular bases and were built of stone slabs and blocks. Some specimens may have had elaborate superstructures, as indicated by the depiction of archaic shrines in the rock art of Upper Tibet, but few traces remain. Archaic shrines can be distinguished from the ruined bases of chötenmchod rten by the absence of overhanging masonry tiers, coursed-rubble stonework, etc. Also, unlike chötenmchod rten, some archaic shrines were partly built underground. It is probable that a wide range of ritual functions and chronologies is indicated for this heterogeneous class of ceremonial monuments.

Only two sites surveyed to date are composed exclusively of shrines. Pangar Zhungkhang GokDpa’ ngar gzhung khang gog (F-1) consists of six large cubic structures, situated on the edge of an extensive pastureland.227 It is possible that the limestone structures of Pangar Zhungkhang GokDpa’ ngar gzhung khang gog represent an unknown type of above-ground tomb, as their construction is locally attributed to the ancient MönMon. The celebrated monument known as Guru BumpaGu ru ’bum pa (F-2), located in PurangSpu rang, is maintained to the present day (it was partly destroyed in the Chinese Cultural Revolution). It consists of two large unmortared stepped structures chiefly built of cobbles tinted red with ochre. According to the local myth, the 8th century CE Vajray─üna hero Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che magically built these twin shrines in the amount of time it took for his disciple to prepare a pot of rice. Stepped shrines of the same form are a significant motif in Upper Tibetan petroglyphs and pictographs, all of which appear to predate the 13th century CE.228


[227] Bellezza, Antiquities of Upper Tibet.
[228] Bellezza, Antiquities of Northern Tibet; Bellezza, Antiquities of Upper Tibet; Bellezza, Zhang zhung.

Note Citation for Page

John Vincent Bellezza, (Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010), .

Bibliographic Citation

John Vincent Bellezza. . Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010.