Category Archives: Conference

The TibArmy Project participates to “The Many Faces of War”

by Jean-Christophe Benoist
CC BY 3.0

On November 17th and 18th, 2017, the TibArmy project participated in the 8th New Researchers’ conference organised by the British Commission for Military History, entitled “The Many Faces of War – Changing Perspectives on Armed Conflict”. The conference took place at the University of Cambridge, in St. John’s College, and saw the participation of over eighty panelists and 140 attendees. The panels explored a wide variety of subjects both thematically and chronologically, and comprised topics as varied as classical warfare, medieval and early modern military organization, training and performance-monitoring during the world wars, and insurgency, counterinsurgency and intelligence in modern and contemporary scenarios. The conference especially illustrated the vibrancy of the field of military studies, which is not merely restricted to analyses of battle formations, probes of strategic plans, and reviews of tactical decisions. On the contrary, it expands towards wider horizons that consider elements as varied as the reverberations of war and the military toward societies at large; the personal and professional experiences of soldiers as gathered through letters, diaries, muster rolls and the records of military colleges; the reciprocal reverberations of war and the military on the economy; propaganda and the media; and the role of women.

While the great majority of the papers presented focused on western history, several of the topics discussed were relatable to the military situation of Tibet during the period of the Ganden Phodrang. In particular, a paper by Ryan Crimmins (University of Oxford) illustrated sources on religious activities performed among the troops during the Thirty Years War. These comprise accounts written by the clergy accompanying troops, including personal diaries and correspondance; as well as pocket-size devotional tracts relating passages about biblical warfare and refutations of pacifism. The clergy accompanying the armies also performed liturgical and ministerial functions, which included the care of the sick and wounded, the performance of rites for the dead, and the giving of sermons before  the battle. These duties are not only comparable to the tasks that seem to have been performed by Tibetan lamas following the troops (see Federica Venturi in “To Protect and to Serve: The Military in Tibet During the Reign of the V Dalai Lama”, presented at the TibArmy Symposium in July 2017), but also open new lines of enquiry for the study of the Tibetan army. Other possible research fields exemplified by the conference are those that investigate the administrative documents produced by armies, such as muster rolls, performance tables, technical manuals, and inventories of arms and supplies. We know, for example, that some documents of this kind were created in the first half of the 20th c., during the time of the XIII Dalai Lama (see Venturi, 2014, “The Thirteenth Dalai Lama on Warfare, Weapons and the Right to Self-Defense”), but the existence of any such records for the preceding centuries is yet to be verified.

At the conference, Federica Venturi presented a paper entitled “The Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal War (1679-1683) as a Political Solution to the Question of Buddhist Spheres of Influence in the Himalayas”, which offered a general discussion of the main aspects of the war between Ladakh and the Ganden Phodrang, including its causes and evolvement, on the basis of the biography of the commanding general of the Ganden Phodrang, dGa’ ldan tshe dbang (found in the Mi dbang rtogs brjod), and of the notations mentioning this war in the V Dalai Lama’s  Du ku la’i gos bzang.

View the  full programme of the conference.

Seminar cycle: “Armed forces of the Ancient Kingdom of Dergé in the 18th Century: a preliminary study”

December 14th,  17.00-18.30, conference by Rémi Chaix, Maison de l’Asie – 4th floor – (22 avenue du Président Wilson)

© Jampa Phuntsok (?-1667), considered as the founder of the Kingdom of Dergé, in the Dergé Gyelrab

The making and the expansion of the territory of the Dergé (sDe dge) Kingdom, between the mid-17th and late 18th centuries, were partly achieved by military action. Yet, no archives related to the forces that were mobilised (their size, their organisation, their equipment, etc.) and their modalities of action are, to my knowledge, available to document this crucial aspect of the influence and the prestige of this kingdom across Kham and, more widely, the Tibetan world.

This paper will show how the biographies of the chaplains of the house of Dergé, particularly those of Situ Panchen and Palden Chokyong, allow us to glimpse some aspects of the engagement of the armed forces in the context of internal conflicts in the kingdom, against certain neighbours and also during large-scale conflicts, such as the Jinchuan wars, alongside the Manchu armies.

Buddhism, both the Means and the End of the Ganden Phodrang Army. A State-of-the Field Review on Buddhism vis-à-vis the Military in Tibet

To quote this article:

Travers, Alice and Venturi, Federica, 2017. “Buddhism, both the Means and the End of the Ganden Phodrang Army. A State-of-the Field Review on Buddhism vis-à-vis the Military in Tibet” in

Detail, tangkha on the life of Gesar (Zhang Changhong (ed.), Sichuan Museum 2012. From the Treasury of Tibetan Pictorial Art: Painted Scrolls of the Life of Gesar/ Gesaer tang ka yan jiu/ Ge sar rgyal po’i sgrung thang skor gyi zhib ’jug. Sichuan Museum, Sichuan University Museum and Musée Guimet, Paris: Ke yan gui hua yu yan fa chuang xin zhong xin bian zhu.  Beijing: Zhonghua shu ju.)

The history of Tibet is full of warfare, and the period of the Ganden Phodrang (dga’ ldan pho brang)  is no exception. The aim of the TibArmy project’s first conference in Paris, held on 11 July 2017, was to explore the multi-faceted relationship between Buddhism and military affairs during this period. As an explicitly Buddhist state,  the protection of Buddhism was the avowed and ultimate aim of all military action undertaken on behalf  of the Ganden Phodrang– whether by its own army, by ad hoc militias or imperial forces. Buddhist monks often played prominent roles in Tibetan military affairs during this period. Also Buddhist doctrine and especially ritual liturgies of protection and destruction were used to support military action, and in Tibetan sources such methods were often portrayed as determining factors in the outcomes of armed conflict.

This blog-post offers some background to the subject by presenting an overview of prior scholarship on the relationship between Buddhism and the military in Tibet, which is adapted from the introduction presented at the conference by Alice Travers and Federica Venturi, and will appear in due course, in an extended version, as part of the introduction of our forthcoming volume, along with the collected papers of the conference (see the list of papers).

Continue reading Buddhism, both the Means and the End of the Ganden Phodrang Army. A State-of-the Field Review on Buddhism vis-à-vis the Military in Tibet

TibArmy Symposium – Call for Papers open until March 30th

The Call for Papers for the first TibArmy international symposium – The Ganden Phrodang Army and Buddhist – is open. The conference will take place in Paris, on July 11th. The Call is open until March 30th, all information – themes and submission process – is available on the website created for the conference:

Kusung (bodyguard) unit in Norbu Lingka courtyard with Kathags (Photo by Tse Ten Tashi 2000.36.3.50, Newark Museum Collection