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The Epic of King Gesar

The story of the legendary warrior Gesar is often described as the Tibetan national epic and as the longest poem in the world. The evidence provided by the fourteenthcentury genealogical record of the Lang clan (Lang poti seru) demonstrates that the epic was taking form by that time, but it had not then, and still has not now, received a definitive redaction. Instead, it has continued to be elaborated as an oral tradition by bards down to the present day, while simultaneously, various versions of the epic have been set down, whether as direct transcriptions of bardic recitations or as literary recastings. In recent centuries some of these versions have been notably influenced by the teachings of Tantric Buddhism. The location of Gesars homeland, Ling, has been the subject of much debate. Current Tibetan and Chinese scholarship locates Ling in the eastern Tibetan region of Derg County in Sichuan. However, in some versions of the epic, Gesar is said to hail from Trom, Rome, so that the name Trom Gesar has been explained as derived from the title Caesar of Rome. If this is its true source, it is most likely because this title is known to have been used by Turkic kings ruling in the area of what is now Afghanistan, who were allies of the Tibetan empire during the eighth century. Regardless of the origins of the epic, however, it has pervaded the entire Tibetan cultural region. One of the recensions that is relatively exempt from the strong Buddhist influence seen elsewhere is the so-called Lower Ladakhi Version, originally set down by a village scribe in Ladakh for the missionary A.H. Francke, who edited the resulting text and published it in 1905. This is a true oral version of the Gesar, an example of

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the epics living oral tradition, and thus distinguishable from both non-narrative fragments existing in Gesar song cycles and memorized versions of written texts. Its shamanic roots are visible everywhere, and unlike the literary versions, it lacks distinctly Buddhist elements, such as frame narratives and patron deities borrowed from Buddhist sources, and it is also free of learned idioms derived from literary language. MTK/ETG

C h apt e r 7 : A R e q ue s t Birth
In the epics Prologue, a magical child named Green-One, Three-Faced-Man [Dongsum Mila Ngnmo] is born to a childless old couple. He in turn fathers the eighteen heroes of the land of Ling. The heroes decide to raid Pachi-Peldong Castle, seize its treasures, and divide the riches among themselves. One of them, Pal, Prudent Nobleman, outwits his brothers and takes for himself all the castles treasures, with the help of an old woman who foretells the lineage and birth of Gesar. Pal returns home with his loot. Now Pal, Prudent Nobleman, stayed in Ling as the principal goatherd. One day, when he went with some goats up into the mountains, a white bird emerged from the inside of a white mountain and a black bird emerged from the inside of a black mountain. As he sat watching them, the two birds began to fight. In the morning, as he watched them intently, the black bird was winning. At midday they were equal, and in the evening the white bird appeared to be victorious. Satisfied that the white bird seemed to have won the fight, he went home happy, driving his goats before him. The next day he took the goats back to the same place, to have a look. This time a white yak emerged from the white mountain and a black yak emerged from the black mountain and, as before, the two animals fought. In the morning, the white yak was winning. At midday they were equal, and in the evening it appeared that the black yak was about to be victorious. Pal thought, This black yak appears to be an evil spirit. I think I shall slay the black yak. Thinking thus, he climbed to the top of a high mountain and sang this song: From a white mountain came forth a white yak! From a black mountain came forth a black yak! In our eyes the white yak appears to be a protective deity! In our eyes the black yak appears to be a devouring fiend! I think I will kill the black yak. The wool for my sling was sheared in the time of my grandfather. It was braided in the time of my father. It was used during my time, the time of the son!

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I have all three types of sling: The larger stones that I fling will be the size of horse bellies. The middle-sized stones that I fling will be the size of yak bellies. The smaller stones that I fling will be the size of goat bellies. As for the even smaller stones that I fling, they shall be ones that sting. I shall cast a stone at the right horn of the black yak. I shall render the right horn into eighteen pieces. I shall offer one piece to Gyapzhin, the Lord of the Gods. I shall offer a piece to the Mother of the King of the Middle World. I shall offer a piece to the Serpent King of the Netherworld. I shall offer a piece to the Father Deity. I shall offer a piece to the Mother Goddess. I shall offer a piece to all of us, the eighteen heroes of Ling. I shall offer a piece to the Chief of Ling Castle. I shall offer a piece to the Yellow Mountains of the Yellow Ones. I shall offer a piece to the Turquoise Mountain of the Blue Ones. I shall offer a piece to the spring Tsangya. I shall place a piece before the Plain of Wild Yams. I shall offer a piece to Pelm Atak. I shall offer a piece to the Ford of Fords. I shall place a piece in the hunting grounds of Soaring Inner Delight. I shall offer a piece to father Tnpa and mother Ngnmo. I shall offer a piece to crystal consort Driguma. I shall offer a piece to the Dem Castle of Dem-Dem. And I shall keep a piece for myself, Pal, Prudent Nobleman! Thus he spoke, and cast his slingshot, and the black yak died. Now the black yak happened to be the demon Churu-lugu, and the white yak happened to be Gyapzhin, the Lord of the Gods. If Pal had not killed the black yak on that day, the demon Churu-lugu would have successfully killed Gyapzhin, the Lord of the Gods. Then a child about two feet tall emerged from the white mountain, came up to Pal, and said, Prudent Nobleman, you have become my benefactor. Had you not been here today, I would have been killed by the demon. I shall give you a great reward. I shall give you half of my palace, half of my kingdom, whatever riches you desire! Pal said, I do not want a reward. I did not kill the black yak for a reward. I did not know that you were Gyapzhin. Nevertheless, good has come of it. They say that you have three sons, Dny, Dnden, and Dndrup. If you will grant us, the leaderless people of Ling, one of your sons to be our Chief of Ling, then I shall be happy. Thus he spoke.

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Then the Lord of the Gods, Gyapzhin, said: Alas, one son is my right eye to me. The other is my left eye. The last is my very heart. Nevertheless, you, Prudent Nobleman, have saved me, and I cannot say no. I shall go and speak to my children in the heavens, in the Land of the Gods. In seven days I shall give you good news. Thus spoke the Lord of the Gods, and then fell silent. Then the Lord of the Gods, Gyapzhin, went off into the heavens, and Pal returned home, driving his goats.

C hapt e r 1 5: Ge sar I s B o r n i n t h e L a n d o f M e n
Gyapzhin is reluctant to send his youngest son, Dndrup, to the land of Men. Pal finally must go to heaven to demand that Gyapzhin honor his promise. Dndrup, disguised as a bird, conducts a brief reconnaissance mission to the land of Ling, then prepares himself for his incarnation. In heaven, Gyapzhin then instructs his daughter to overturn the small bowl of milk that holds Dndrups spirit. When she does so, Dndrup dies in heaven and storm clouds gather and move toward earth. Shortly thereafter a large hailstone falls into the bowl of Gokzang-lhamo, wife of Fridays Gift, Born of the Ram, firstborn of the eighteen heroes of Ling. She breaks and eats the hailstone and becomes pregnant with Gesar. Now when the day of the childs birth arrived, he spoke from inside his mothers womb, and said: O, a son is to be born to this mother! O, a son is to be born to Gokzang-lhamo! I should be born on a three-peaked mountain. Erect a three-stoned, three-beamed room upon a three-peaked mountain. String coral to make beams for the ceiling. Caulk the spaces in between them with pearls. Then, press buttered barley flour over them for a roof! At this, his mother climbed a mountain and there gathered three large stones. Then, crouched over them, she waited to give birth. Once again the child in her womb sang to her: I am not a stag to be born on a three-peaked mountain! Born I shall be, but I should be born at the junction of three valleys. Erect a three-stoned, three-beamed room at the junction of three valleys! String coral to make beams for the ceiling. Caulk the spaces in between them with pearls. Then, press buttered barley flour over them for a roof! At this, the mother went to the junction of three valleys and there gathered three large stones. Then she crouched over them. Again the child sang to her:

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I am not a fox to be born where three valleys meet! Born I shall be, but I should be born on the banks of a great river! Erect a three-stoned, three-beamed room on the banks of a river! String coral to make beams for the ceiling. Caulk the spaces in between them with pearls. Then, press buttered barley flour over them for a roof! Then the mother rose and went to the bank of a great river. There she settled, and again her unborn child sang to her: I am not a she-fish to be born on a riverbank! Born I shall be, but I should be born in the middle of a wood! Erect a three-stone, three-beamed room in the middle of a wood! String coral to make beams for the ceiling. Caulk the spaces in between them with pearls. Then, press buttered barley flour over them for a roof! The mother rose again, went to the middle of a wood, and settled down. The child sang to her again: I am not some lesser goddess, to be born in a wood! Born I shall be, but I should be born behind the door of a small room. As the mother went and crouched behind the door, the child sang once again: I am not a hatchling, that I should be born behind a door! Born I shall be, but I should be born on a divan painted with lotus flowers! When the mother went to the divan, the child sang again: Born I shall be, but I shall be born from the middle of your head! I shall be born by splitting open your skull! Born I shall be, but I shall be born from between your ribs! I shall be born by cutting open your ribs! Born I shall be, but I shall be born from the soles of your feet! I shall be born by cutting open your feet! Thus he spoke, and delayed his birth. His mother grew alarmed. Finally the unborn child instructed her properly: Now you may truly prepare the appropriate festivities, because many things will be born with me. You must treasure all of them. At this the sun and moon were born and flew up into the heavens. The great wild goat was born and went up into the rocks. The turquoise-maned lion was

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born and went up into the glaciers. The great brown wild yak was born and went up into the high pastures. The king of the birds was born and flew up into the mountains. The she-fish was born and went up into the lakes. The little bird was born and flew up into the trees. And everything else destined to be born to Gokzang-lhamo was also born that day. When all of these things had been born, Gokzang-lhamo gave birth to a lizardlike creature that had a large head and a thin neck. She put some fine barley flour in its mouth to keep it from making any sound, and pressed it under her wrist. Then An-kurman, having heard rumors of these births, said, O Gokzang-lhamo, to what kind of offspring did you give birth? Gokzang-lhamo replied, I did not give birth to anything useful! Many animals were born, but they all fled. After that, a lizard was born. I have pressed it here under my wrist. At this An-kurman, scolding her, picked up her wrist. The lizard under it had been transformed into Victoriously Booted Gesar of Ling!

F rom C h apt e r 23 : G e sar T ri ck s t h e M a i d e n D r i g um a


By agreement among the eighteen heroes of Ling, the beautiful and highborn maiden Driguma is to be married to one of them, Sotung, Short-Tempered, Chief of the Hawks [ Trego Trutung ]. Gesar is jealous and wants the maiden for himself. Gesar lies in wait, catches Sotung in midriver, and gives him a thrashing. Gesar claims that he did not recognize the great hero and is forgiven. Thereafter Gesar finds Driguma and her handmaidens searching for tubers. He agrees to let her have a bite of his tuber cake, but does so in a way that causes her great embarrassment. She implores him not to publicize the incident, and in exchange promises to invite him to a small celebration [Isn]. The next day young Gesar found the site of the Isn and went to the house where Driguma and all her maidservants were gathered. He hid above the door. Driguma said, Ladies! If we are all here, shut the door tightly, otherwise the lowborn beggar boy will come in and pollute us. Gesar heard this and said, Greetings, ladies! Here I am! Driguma was embarrassed and said, O, you have arrived! We were just saying that we must be sure to invite the beggar boy! So you said, he replied, as the daughter of noble parents you are very adroit, my lady! And then they began to play at Isn. Later, the maidservants asked Driguma for permission to sleep. One after another they fell asleep, and young Gesar left. Now a neighbor had an ass that was very pregnant. Young Gesar gave the ass a swift kick, which made it instantly drop a colt. He immediately cut off the head of the colt and took it to the room in which the maidens were sleeping. He placed the head of the colt in the bed of the girl at the very end of the row and left the room. Once outside, he covered the windows and any cracks in the

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doors and holes in the walls of the room, so that it was completely dark. Because of this, the maiden and her girls thought it was not yet light and continued to sleep. When the sun rose young Gesar, the beggar boy, uncovered all the windows and cracks. He burst into the room and said, O you lazy women! Are you still asleep? It is almost noon! Have you no chores to do? Even though Im just a beggar boy, I have already been all over the village, bought flour, and had my breakfast! At this they were embarrassed, and one by one, starting at the end of the row, they began to get up. Now the head of the ass colt lay in the bed of the last girl, and as she got up she noticed it. She was ashamed, and placed it in the bed of the girl next to her. Each girl did the same until the colt head reached the maidens bed. The girl next to her placed the head near the lower part of Drigumas body. Gesar the beggar boy watched until they were all awake. When the maiden Driguma awoke, the colts head fell out from between her legs. At this the beggar boy shouted, Ah ha! Today Driguma has given birth to the head of an ass! If I meet men, I will tell them all about this! If I meet dogs, I will tell them all about this! Driguma was embarrassed, and said, O lowborn beggar boy! Dont shout like this! Soon, on an auspicious day, I will give an engagement chang [strong barley ale] to choose a husband. On that day, I will serve you chang as well! So they agreed that she would serve him chang on that day, and left it at that. However, just before he left, he cut off one of the colts ears and kept it. When the auspicious day arrived, a crier went through the land calling out: The maiden Driguma is serving an engagement chang today! O heroes of Ling, come and join the celebrations! When they all gathered together they gave Sotung a golden throne to sit on. All the other heroes sat on thrones of shell and turquoise. Young Gesar, the lowborn beggar boy, sat at the head of all the beggars, on a throne made of wooden planks. Inside, Driguma filled the pitcher Chief of the Serpents with chang. She kneaded a nine-level torma [dough sculpture] and carried it out to the gathered guests. She wore a white silk gown with a red silk sash. She came before hero Sotung and sang: Today, this auspicious day, I myself, This girl will pour the engagement chang! Today the stars are auspicious! The maiden Driguma will pour the chang! I have kneaded a nine-level torma and I carry it On top of the pitcher Chief of the Serpents. The pitcher Chief of the Serpents is filled With this chang of white barley.

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And this chang of white barley I pour for you, O Nobleman! Lift up this pitcher Without using your fingers. Empty it Without it touching your lotus-flower lips. Drink it Without it touching your silken tonsils. Swallow it Without it touching the insides of your golden throat. Seize this pitcher with mind And then lower it back to the ground. Empty this pitcher brimming with chang And set it down by the pot brimming with tea. So she sang, and poured the chang for hero Sotung. Just as Sotung took the pitcher in his hand, he saw the lowborn beggar boy who had thrashed him in the river. This unnerved him, and the pitcherfellto the ground. This completely ruined the offering, so the maiden Driguma hurried indoors, kneaded another torma, and refilled the pitcher with chang. This time she did not offer chang to Sotung, but poured the chang for Pal on his turquoise throne. Pal and all the other heroes said to Driguma, Honorable maiden! No man here can possibly do what you ask. We cannot drink your engagement chang in this way. And none of them would touch the chang. Then Driguma passed by the lowborn beggar boy, pretending not to see him. Honorable maiden! he whispered. Look here! And he showed her the colts ear. At this, the maiden returned to where he sat and poured the engagement chang for him, singing: A wooden seat Is a beggars throne. On this throne of sticks sits Lowborn beggar boy! Drink without holding the pitcher In your coarse hands. Drink without touching it As if it is a chamber pot. Drink without tasting it With your rough tongue. Drink without letting it

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Touch your scrawny throat. Seize it with your poisonous mind And set it down again on the ground. Drink the brimming chang And then set it down by the brimming tea. Thus Driguma placed the pitcher Chief of the Serpents in the hands of young Gesar, the lowborn beggar boy. Seeking the gods favor, he sang: Hail to the nine gods all born at once! Grant me your help today. Hail to the nine serpent gods all born at once! Grant me your help today. Hail to Gyapzhin, Lord of the Gods and the heavens! Grant me your help today. Hail to Ama-kyapdn, Protective Mother, Guardian of the Middle World! Grant me your help today. Hail to the Serpent King of the Underworld! Grant me your help today. Hail to the Divine Father! Grant me your help today. Hail to the Divine Mother, An-kurman! Grant me your help today. Thus he sought the gods favor. Young Gesar offered a prayer and then chanted, Empty the brimming chang and set it down by the brimming tea! He struck the pitcher with his dogtoothed stick and sent it skyward. He drank the chang from the hovering pitcher, and then it dropped down next to the pitcher of brimming tea. At this all the beggars jeered, The maiden Drigumas hand has been won by our lowborn beggar boy! And they burst out laughing. Now the maidens father, Tnpa, and her mother, Ngnmo, had been waiting upon golden thrones draped with white silk. When they learned that the lowborn beggar boy had won their daughters hand, they put away the white silk and draped black cloth over their golden thrones. Then on the floor they spread out a ragged carpet, turned it upside down, and sat down on it. Now all the beggars brought young Gesar, on a wooden palanquin, into the house of Drigumas parents. As he entered, he saw the parents sitting on the upside-down carpet, and so he sat with his back turned toward them. At this the parents said, You beggar! You lowborn boy! How dare you insult us by turning your back to us! Young Gesar replied, If your carpet has turned its back, so should your guest!

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The parents put a meal of coarse barley flour before him. The father looked away. The mother stared at the floor. The maiden Driguma poked at the embers in the hearth.
[The base text is A.H. Francke, Lower Ladakhi Version of the Kesar Saga (Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1905). Siddiq Wahid, A Lower Ladakhi Version of the Gling-rgyal-lham-kesar: An Annotated Translation and Introduction (Ph.D. diss., Harvard, 1981) was the basis for the present selections. Trans. Siddiq Wahid and Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.]