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.
Her paper aims to investigate the war between Tibet and Ladakh which took place on the westernmost edge of the Himalayan plateau between 1679 and 1683. While Tibet and its spiritual and political head, the Dalai Lama, represent today utmost symbols of peace and nonviolence, in the past the Dalai Lamas and their Buddhist governments did not refrain from using belligerent methods in order to achieve their political goals. A prime example is that of the V Dalai Lama (1617-1682), who first accepted the extension of his rule on territories which had been conquered and presented to him by western Mongol troops, and then continued, during his forty years of reign, to consolidate his regime by engaging in wars with various neighboring polities. One of these was the kingdom of Ladakh, ruled by a dynasty that patronized a Buddhist school rival to that of the Dalai Lama. The competition for the largesse of a limited number of donors to the different religious establishments led to tensions that eventually resulted in a four-year war, and in the intervention of the neighboring Mughal empire on the Ladakhi side.
This little studied war ultimately determined the border between Tibet and Ladakh, which remains unchanged to this day. By consulting Tibetan sources contemporary with this conflict, this paper will outline the causes and main events of this war as well as provide information on the tactics employed by the combined Tibetan and Mongol armies utilized by the Dalai Lama’s government. It will show that war was considered an appropriate response and legitimate method to solve political and economic disputes also in Tibet, a country theoretically governed according to nonviolent Buddhist principles.
The Tibet Ladakh war, which resulted in victory for the Central Tibetan army under the leadership of the Mongol general Ganden Tshewang and the annexation of the Ngari region, has been well documented by several authors, notably Luciano Petech. Less well known are the measures that were taken to bring the newly-won territory in the administrative orbit of Lhasa’s Ganden Phodrang government. Based on published Tibetan studies and a hitherto unknown edict of the Fifth Dalai Lama issued in 1683, this presentation will examine the post-war policies that were implemented to reassure the local chiefs and the ordinary population of Western Tibet of the good intentions of their new ruler.
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 https://tibarmy.hypotheses.org.
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).
Federica Venturi (CNRS, CRCAO) participated in the inaugural conference of the Italian Association for Tibetan, Himalyan and Mongolian Studies – Associazione Italiana di Studi Tibetani, Himalayani e Mongoli (AISTHiM)- which took place in Procida, Italy (September 12-15th, 2017).
She presented the paper : How to Reconcile Budhism and Violence? Examples from the Tibetan Army of the dGa’ Idan pho brang.
The paper examined the question of how the Buddhist government of the dGa’ ldan pho brang justified the use of war on the occasions in which it deemed necessary to employ the Tibetan army. In particular, presented the ways in which certain important religious figures among the dGe lugs pa, such as the V Dalai Lama, rationalized the necessity to employ violent means. This paper also considered the figure of dGa’ ldan tshe dbang dpal bzang po (second half of the 17th century), an ex-lama from Tashilhumpo to whom the V Dalai Lama entrusted the general command of the Tibetan army during the war between Tibet and Ladakh (1679-1683).
The Association was created with the aim of promoting the study and knowledge of Tibetan and Himalayan civilizations in Italy, supporting research, publishing scientific studies, translations and works for the general public on Tibetan, Himalayan and Mongolian civilizations, and organizing conferences and collaborating with academic institutions.
In 1857 a British official engaged a Tibetan lama to produce what later ended up as “Wise Collection” in the British Library: the most comprehensive set of visual depictions of mid-19th century Tibet, but also the largest panoramic map of Tibet of its time. The map covers the areas of Lhasa, Central Tibet, Southern and Western Tibet, Ladakh and Zangskar. Topographical characteristics are depicted as well as detailed information on infrastructure. Furthermore, illustrations of monasteries, forts, and garrisons – the “three seats of power” – are shown. We can find more than 30 illustrations of garrisons on the map covering Central and Southern Tibet. But even more is included in this collection of drawings: visual narratives of several Tibetan ceremonies and rituals, detailed illustrations of selected monasteries and temples, such as a very detailed drawing of the so-called Chinese Temple – the Gesar Lhakhang in Lhasa. This talk will discuss the presence and significance of the Qing officials and garrisons in mid-19th century Tibet from a visual perspective and based on the illustrations in the Wise Collection.
Alice Travers is invited by the Société Européenne pour l’Etude des Civilisations de l’Himalaya et de l’Asie Centrale (SEECHAC) to present her work on the visual history of the Tibetan army. Find out more on the website of the SEECHAC.
The talk will take place at the Musée Cernuschi, 7 rue Velasquez, 75008 Paris, at 18.00.
This paper is about two Generals Mtsho sgo and Rnam sras gling. In 1923, when the Ninth Panchen Lama secretly escaped from his Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Shigatse, General Mtsho sgo was sent by the Tibetan government in order to pursue and arrest him. Then, in 1937 when the Ninth Panchen Lama came back to Tibet from China, the Tibetan government sent General Rnam sras gling in order to arrest his Chinese escort. It will examine how, in these former and latter occasions, the Ninth Panchen Lama was pursued and stopped and how he created a new bodyguard corps while he was staying abroad.
June 22nd, 17.00-18.30, INALCO, Tsewang Topla (Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Tibetan History at the College for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarah, India) will present his research.
A number of prosopographic works on the military world have shown how beneficial such an approach might be in advancing our historical knowledge of various cultural areas at different periods. This conference aims to present and discuss an ongoing research project on the social history of the Tibetan army under the Ganden Phodrang government, based on the use of the prosopographic method. After outlining the corpus of available sources (autobiographies, public and private archives, oral sources) for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we will present the construction of the metasource as well as the broad lines of enquiry w propose to follow. A preliminary inquiry into the evolution of the Tibetan army officer corps was extended to the troops as a whole, from the base to the top of the hierarchy, with a comparative treatment of the various regiments that comprised the Tibetan army. The presentation will then examine a few specific examples of aspects of military history that the prosopographic approach can document and analyse: the contours of a military career, its variations according to different criteria the training of soldiers and officers, their origin and social mobility, the diversity of practices in regiments and, more generally, the evolution of the Tibetan military institution in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
During the eighth century, the Tibetan Empire (618-842) conquered a region encompassing sections of modern-day Afghanistan, India, Xinjiang, and parts of China proper, and its army made Tibet one of the major powers in Eurasia. Though the Tibetan military declined drastically after the collapse of the empire, military culture continued to influence Tibetan civil and religious society. The modern Tibetan militia was first instituted by the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) in the seventeenth century, and reformed in the eighteenth century under Tibetan aristocrat Pho lha nas (1689-1747) and Manchu general Fuk’anggan (1753-1796). Marshaling a sizable state fighting force generally requires galvanizing domestic political and economic support. This talk aims to investigate the logistics of war-making under the dGa’ ldan pho brang since its outset. Studying Tibetan military logistics necessarily entails writing a socio-economic history of the early dGa’ ldan pho brang. Specifically, how did the dGa’ ldan pho brang regulate its conscription, supplies, transportation and training? This talk will discuss the basic military units: lding dpon and gzim chung pa, and their roles during both peace and war time under the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682), Pho lha nas (1689-1747), and Fuk’anggan (1753-1796).