Conference by Quentin Devers, Wednesday 19 June 2019, 5.30- 7.00 PM, INALCO (room 3.11)
View of the Fortress of Anley, one of the main residences of Sengge Namgyal (1616-1623 / 1624-1642), on the border between Ladakh and Guge (photo by Quentin Devers, 2018)
Ladakh extends over a territory previously divided between the Tibetan and Central-Asian spheres. Because of this particular situation, a wide diversity of groups have inhabited the region: Dards, “Mons”, Turks, Tibetans, Mongols, etc. have left a rich array of archaeological remains for us to study all over the country. Its important mineral resources (gold, iron, copper, chrome) as well as international trade routes have attracted since times immemorial hordes of bandits and armies of all kinds, leading to the development of the densest defensive infrastructure of the Tibetan plateau. This seminar aims at covering the evolution of military architecture in the region, the differences between the fortresses of the numerous cultures represented , and how this diversity enabled the emergence of the famous fortified palaces of Ladakh – the architectural precursors of a number of the great palaces of the Ganden Phodrang such as the Potala.
Under the Dalai Lamas’ government of Tibet (1642-1959) the avowed aim of politics was to serve religion. But sometimes it was religion that served politics. Based on a voluminous Tibetan-language literature (much of it ritual texts), this talk will look at the manner in which Guandi, the Chinese god of war, was incorporated into the pantheon of Tibetan Buddhist protectors during the 18th and 19th century. It will show how this development in the religious/literary sphere, which was led by (mostly Mongolian) Geluk lamas with links to the imperial court, closely mirrored the various stages in the establishment and consolidation of a Qing Protectorate in Tibet and the presence of Chinese military garrisons there. The talk will also try to show that as Qing military power weakened during the second half of the 19th century, the identity of Guandi and the temples devoted to him in Inner Asia, became increasingly overgrown and obscured by his superscription as a completely different figure, namely Gesar Gyalpo/ Geser Khan, the eponymous hero of Tibetan and Mongolian epic traditions. By the time of Tibet’s independence (1913-1951), the identity of Guandi and the temples originally devoted to him in Tibet, had been all but forgotten.
The Bodyguard regiment (Tib. Ka dang sku srung dmag sgar) was created by the 13th Dalai lama around 1913-1914 and dissolved, with the rest of the remaining Tibetan troops, in 1959 after the 14th Dalai Lama’s flight into exile. When started, it was the first regiment (regiments were named in alphabetical order, hence “Ka”) in the newly organised and numerically increased army. It complemented the former Ganden Phodrang force of 3000 Tibetan soldiers, called “rgya sbyong” (lit. “trained by the Chinese”) at least since the end of the 18th century.
This paper will present a first attempt at a historical study of the Bodyguard regiment, based on an ensemble of Tibetan oral and written autobiographical accounts (notably some thirty-five interviews with Tibetan soldiers who served before 1959 in the Bodyguard regiment, and five book-length and article-length accounts of the Tibetan Bodyguard regiment’s officers published in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in India), as well as on British archival sources. Beyond the study of its organisation, its social composition and development over its period of existence, the presentation will particularly underline how this regiment was conceived as a showcase of the project of military modernisation launched by the 13th Dalai lama, functioning as a “model regiment” for the other permanent Tibetan troops, while retaining certain specificities related to its primary – and highly prestigious – role as the personal bodyguard to the Ganden Phodrang government’s ruler.
The state library of Berlin (Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz zu Berlin) is in possession of a collection of 320 legal documents from south-western Tibet, primary sources for the study of the region‘s cultural, religious, social and military history that cover the time range between the beginning of the 18th century and the early aftermath of the Ganden Phobrang era, i.e., the early sixties of the 20th century.
Given the longstanding strategic importance of Tibet‘s border with Nepal, it comes without surprise that a considerable part of these documents directly relate to issues of military purport, with a clear focus on the three aspects of military administration, maintenance and defence.
Above all, these documents deal with and respond to the changing tides of Tibet‘s history during and after the two Gorkha wars (1788-1792; 1855-1856) in the first place. Both events triggered far reaching consequences that e.g. led to the reinforcement of troops, the upgrading of the military prefecture of south-western Tibet with its headquarters at Ding-ri, and the systematic development of new settlements and arable lands in order to strenghten the human and agricultural resources in times of war and peace.
This collection grants valuable first hand insights into the various aspects of Tibetan military history of the time and place: the role of the key players – the Tibetan government with its central and provincial branches, e.g., the Khashag or council of ministers, the military prefecture of Dingri (Ding-ri sPyi-mda‘ khang) and the monastery and rDzong of Shel-dkar; the role and involvement of Ch‘ing authority within these levels of Tibetan bureaucracy and within the borderland defence, the administration and maintenance of the troops and their garrisons, the role of the local people within the military administration as well as within the service and tax system; documents such as a certified copy of the 10 points Nepal-Tibet treaty of 1856, sources covering the border security at the strategically important border crossing at Rong-shar, and documents dealing with reconnaissance-cum-security issues across the high ranges of the highest mountains of our planet, down to an undertaking for the restoration of and a receipt for the timely delivery of fire wood to the military headquarter at Ding-ri in the height of winter…
Wednesday 17 October 2018 (18.00 – 19.30 PM), INALCO (room 3.04): Hanna Schneider (Erwin Schneider Archive Lech a/A), “Tibetan Primary Sources for the Study of the Ganden Phodrang’s Military History. The State Library of Berlin (Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz zu Berlin)’s Collection of Legal Documents from South-Western Tibet”
Thursday 15 November 2018 (16.30 – 18.00 PM), Maison de l’Asie (room on the 4th floor): Alice Travers (CNRS, CRCAO), “The Bodyguard Regiment (Ka dang sku srung dmag sgar) of the Ganden Phodrang Army”
Wednesday 12 December 2018 (18.00 – 19.30 PM), INALCO (room 3.04): George FitzHerbert (CNRS, CRCAO), “The Rise and Fall of Guandi, the Chinese God of War, in Tibetan Buddhism”