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Home >> China City Guide >> Tibet >> Lhasa >> Tumuli of the Ancient Tibetan Kings

Tumuli of the Ancient Tibetan Kings

Tumuli of the Ancient Tibetan Kings, China Travel Tibet tour Lhasa tripAs early as prior to 1,300 years ago, when the tribes of the Yarlung Valley were rising to prosperity, the ancestors of Songtsan Gampo lived in the Six Palaces of Chingwar Taktse situated near Lhamo Hill, from where they ruled over thousands and thousands of tribal people and opened up the mild and fertile Yarlung Valley. There, Tubo tribes waxed and multiplied, swallowing up the nearby peoples. Then, Namri Songtsan crossed the northern mountain range and defeated the Sumba people who lived in the river valleys of the Kyichu (Lhasa River) and Nyangchu. Spreading his power over the whole of Tibet, he established the Tubo kingdom. Namri Songtsan's son, Songtsan Gampo, moved his capital from the Yarlung Valley to Lhasa, the then political, economic, military and cultural centre, but Chong-gye and its environs still remained the home of the royal line. Even the later Tsanpos who lived in Lhasa dared not forget that their ancestors had originated from the Yarlung Valley, and they frequently came back to reside so as never to forget their ancestors' heroic deeds and meritorious services. The Princesses Wencheng and Jincheng of the Tang court also often spent time there after their marriage with the Tubo Tsanpos. In memory of their origins, the Tubo Tsanpos were all buried at Chong-gye, which explains why so many tumuli are gathered there.

According to historical records there should be of altogether thirteen tumuli of Tibetan kings, but only nine can still be discerned. It is clear that over the passage of time some tumuli must have sunk and disappeared. The nine tumuli which still remain have been reliably identified as belonging to the following: Songtsan Gampo, Gungri Gungtsan (son of Songtsan Gampo), Dusong Mangtsan (grandson of Songtsan Gampo), Tridu Songtsan (son of Mangsong Mangtsan), Tride Tsugtan (son of Tridu Songtsan), Trisung Detsan (son of Tride Tsugtan), Tride Songtsan (younger brother of Trisung Detsan), Muni Tsanpo (son of Trisung Detsan), and lastly Princess Jincheng (wife of Tride Tsugtan).

On the summit of Songtsan Gampo's tumulus there used to be an ancient temple called Tongtsan Luakhang (Songtsan's Temple), which was where the Guardian of the Tombs resided. Within the temple, images of Songtsan Gampo, Princess Wencheng, Princess Bhrikuti Devi, and the Ministers Gar Tongtsan and Thonmi Sambhota were enshrined. Only the ruins now remain.

Tumuli of the Ancient Tibetan Kings, China tour Tibet Travel Lhasa tripBeneath the ancient temple was Songtsan Gampo's vault. It lay at the mouth of the Chongpo Stream about one and half kilometres from Piro Hill, in a group of tumuli located to the west of the present Chong-gye Dzong. Massive in size, the subterranean mausoleum was composed of five chambers, and in all was the length of an arrow-shot and the breadth of a call. Statues of Songtsan Gampo, Sakyamuni and Avaloki-tesvara were placed inside the mausoleum along with great quantities of gold, silver, pearls, and agates as funerary objects, and so it was named "the Mausoleum with lnner Decorations." The front gate of Songtsan Gampo's mausoleum faced the southwest, looking towards the birthplace of Sakyamuni. On the left of the tomb itself was buried a suit of golden armour worn by Songtsan Gampo on expeditions; at the foot of the tomb was a cache of pearls, weighing two and half "kals," wrapped in satin, which was Songtsan Gampo's share of wealth, and at the head of the tomb was buried a coral statue of Lord Loyak Gyalmo, eight "forearms" (a unit of length from elbow to fingertip) in height, which was supposed to give light to the dead king. Knights and battle-horses made of pure gold were laid out on the right, as the retinue of Songtsan Gampo after his death.

Judging from accounts, the grand burial given to Songtsan Gampo by the Tubo dynasty slave society, befitted his unparalled achievements and prestige. However, mausoleum containing only funerary objects and without a single sacrificial human victim does not quite conform with the general custom of Tibet at that time, and this probably shows the influence of the Tang Dynasty which then was at its height. Generally speaking, in feudal society human sacrifice was not practised in royal burials, but Songtsan Gampo reigned during the latter part of a slave society which must have been well advanced judging from the fact that no slaves were reportedly sacrificed as funerary objects. As yet the tomb has not been excavated, and the details given here come solely from records or oral traditions. This ancient tomb, undisturbed for over a millenium, still holds its secret for future discovery.

The tumulus of Princess Jincheng's husband, Tride Tsugtan is another huge one, which is a six-metre high mound. Forty metres away a stone tablet erected more than a thousand years ago stands in a deep shaft covered by a small shelter. At that time the Tubo dynasty was still in its golden age. When the Tsanpo died, a stone tablet was enacted to his memory, as was done to his maternal uncles (the Tang emperors). which shows the influence of Princess Jincheng.

The tomb of Gungri Gungtsan, Songtsan Gampo's son, was built while his father was on the throne. It is the biggest in size and best in location. The site chosen for Songtsan Gampo's own tumulus was not as good as his son's.

On the Molari Hill, there are two tumuli joined together, which at first appeared to be one single tumulus. About 40 metres high and 170 metres across, the burial mounds look like a pair of square hills. Two successive generations were buried here: Mangsong Mangtsan (Gungri Gungtsan's son) and Dusong Mangtsan, his son. These two tumuli are notable because a pair of carved marble lions stood guard before them about two hundred metres apart. The two lions were seated facing the tumuli, tails curled to the left, and were carved out of solid stone in clear, untrammelled lines. Unmarked by the passage of time, their carved designs were still distinct.

At present apart from these tumuli no other cemeteries and burial places have been found in Tibet. Owing to the widespread practice of celestial and water burial, the existence of these tumuli seems very strange. One possible explanation is that during the Tubo epoch, interment was considered the noblest form of funeral, and the idea of "sacrificing one's body" was not yet upmost in the minds of the Tubo people.

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Tumuli of Ancient Tibetan Kings
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