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A Tibetan brass alloy statue of the bodhisattva Avalokite vara, Guge Kingdom, c. 1050 CE.
A Tibetan brass alloy statue of the bodhisattva Avalokite vara, Guge Kingdom, c. 1050 CE.

Guge was an ancient kingdom in Western Tibet. The kingdom was centered in present-day Zanda County, within Ngari Prefecture of Tibet. At various points in history after 10th century AD, the kingdom held sway over a vast area including south-eastern Zanskar, Upper Kinnaur, and Spiti valley either by conquest or as tributaries. The ruins of the former capital of Guge kingdom are located at Tsaparang in the Sutlej valley, not far from Mount Kailash and westwards from Lhasa.



Guge was founded in the 10th century. Its capitals were located at Tholing and Tsaparang.[1] Nyi ma mgon, a great-grandson of Glang Darma, the last monarch of the Tibetan Empire (Tubo), left insecure conditions in Central Tibet in 910. He established a kingdom in Ngari (West Tibet) in or after 912 and annexed Purang (Pu-hrang) and Guge. He established his capital in Guge.

Nyi ma mgon later divided his lands into three parts. The king's eldest son dPal gyi mgon became ruler of Mar-yul (Ladakh), his second son bKra shis mgon received Guge-Purang, and the third son lDe gtsug mgon received Zanskar. bKra shis mgon was succeeded by his son Srong nge or Ye shes 'Od (947-1024), who was a renowned Buddhist figure. In his time a Tibetan from Guge called Rin chen Bzang po (958-1055), after having studied in India, returned to his homeland as a monk to promote Buddhism. Together with the zeal of Ye shes 'Od, this marked the beginning of a new diffusion of Buddhist teachings in western Tibet. In 988 Ye shes 'Od took religious vows and left kingship to his younger brother Khor re.

In 1037, Khor re's eldest grandson 'Od lde was killed in a conflict with the Qarakhanids, who subsequently ravaged Ngari. His brother Byang chub 'Od (984-1078), a Buddhist monk, took power as secular ruler. He was responsible for inviting Atisha to Tibet in 1040 and thus ushering in the so-called Phyi-dar phase of Buddhism in Tibet. Byang chub 'Od's son rTse lde was murdered by his nephew in 1088. This event marked the break-up of the Guge-Purang kingdom, since one of his brothers was established as separate king of Purang. The usurping nephew dBang lde continued the royal dynasty in Guge.[2]

A new Qarakhanid invasion of Guge took place before 1137 and cost the life of the ruler, bKra shis rtse. Later in the same century the kingdom was temporarily divided. In 1240 the Mongol khagan, at least nominally, gave authority over the Ngari area to the Drigung monastery in Central Tibet.

Grags pa lde was an important ruler who united the Guge area around 1265 and subjugated the related Ya rtse kingdom. After his death in 1277 Guge was dominated by the Sakya monastic regime. After 1363, with the decline of the Mongol Yuan dynasty and their Sakya proteg s, Guge was again strengthened and took over Purang in 1378. Purang was henceforth contested between Guge and the kingdom of Mustang, but was finally integrated in the former. Guge also briefly ruled over Ladakh in the late 14th century. From 1499 the Guge king had to acknowledge the Rinpungpa rulers of Tsang (West Central Tibet). The 15th and 16th centuries were marked by a considerable Buddhist building activity by the kings, who frequently showed their devotion to the Gelugpa leaders later known as Dalai Lama.[3]

The first Westerners to reach Guge were a Jesuit missionary, Ant nio de Andrade, and his companion, brother Manuel Marques, in 1624. De Andrade reported seeing irrigation canals and rich crops in what is now a dry and desolate land. Perhaps as evidence of the kingdom's openness, de Andrade's party was allowed to construct a chapel in Tsaparang and instruct the people about Christianity.[4] This decision might have brought Guge to its end. A letter by De Andrade relates that some military commanders revolted and called the Ladakhis to overthrow the ruler. There had been friction between Guge and Ladakh for many years, and the invitation was heeded in 1630. The Ladakhi forces laid siege to the almost impenetrable Tsaparang. The king's brother, who was chief lama and thus a staunch Buddhist, advised the pro-Christian ruler to surrender against keeping the state as tributary ruler. This treacherous advice was eventually accepted. Tibetan sources suggest that the Guge population was maintained in their old status.[5] A legend has it that the Ladakhi army slaughtered most of the people of Guge, about 200 of whom managed to survive and fled to Qulong.[6] The last king Khri bKra shis Grags pa lde was brought to Ladakh as prisoner with his kin, and died there. The last male descendant of the dynasty moved to Lhasa where he died in 1743.[7]

Tsaparang and the Guge kingdom were later conquered in 1679-80 by the Lhasa-based Central Tibetan government under the leadership of the 5th Dalai Lama, driving out the Ladakhis.

Western archeologists heard about Guge again in the 1930s through the work of Italian Giuseppe Tucci. Tucci's work was mainly about the frescoes of Guge.


A list of rulers of Guge and the related Ya rtse kingdom has been established by the Tibetologists Luciano Petech and Roberto Vitali[8]

A. Royal ancestors of the Tubo dynasty.

  • 'Od srungs (in Central Tibet 842-905) son of Glang Darma
  • dPal 'Khor btsan (in Central Tibet 905-910) son
  • sKyid lde Nyi ma mgon (in Ngari Korsum c. 912-?) son
  • dPal gyi mgon (received Ladakh, 10th century) son
  • lDe gtsug mgon (received Zanskar, 10th century) brother

B. Kings of Guge and Purang.

  • bKra shis mgon (received Guge and Purang, fl. 947) brother
  • Srong nge Ye shes 'Od (?-988) son
  • Nagaraja (religious leader, d. 1023) son
  • Devaraja (religious leader, d. 1026) brother
  • Khor re (988-996) uncle
  • Lha lde (996-1024) son
  • 'Od lde btsan (1024 37) son
  • Byang chub 'Od (1037 57) brother
  • Zhi ba 'Od (religious leader, d. 1111) brother
  • Che chen tsha rTse lde (1057 88) son of Byang chub 'od

C. Kings of Ya rtse.

  • Naga lde (early 12th century)
  • bTsan phyug lde (mid 12th century)
  • bKra shis lde (12th century)
  • Grags btsan lde (12th century) brother of bTsan phyug lde)
  • Grags pa lde (Kradhicalla) (fl. 1225)
  • A sog lde (Ashokacalla) (fl. 1255-78) son
  • 'Ji dar sMal (Jitarimalla) (fl. 1287-93) son
  • A nan sMal (Anandamalla) (late 13th century) brother
  • Ri'u sMal (Ripumalla) (fl. 1312-14) son
  • San gha sMal (Sangramamalla) (early 14th century) son
  • Ajitamalla (1321 28) son of Jitarimalla
  • Kalyanamalla (14th century)
  • Pratapamalla (14th century)
  • Pu ni sMal (Punyamalla) (fl. 1336-39) of Purang royalty
  • sPri ti sMal (Prthivimalla) (fl. 1354-58) son

D. Kings of Guge.

  • Bar lde (dBang lde) (1088-c. 1095) nephew of Che chen tsha rTse lde
  • bSod nams rtse (c. 1095-early 12th century) son
  • bKra shis rtse (before 1137) son
  • Jo bo rGyal po (regent, mid 12th century) brother
  • rTse 'bar btsan (12th century) son of bKra shis rtse
  • sPyi lde btsan (12th century) son
  • rNam lde btsan (12th/13th century) son
  • Nyi ma lde (12th/13th century) son
  • dGe 'bum (13th century) probably an outsider
  • La ga (?-c. 1260) of foreign origin
  • Chos rgyal Grags pa (c. 1260-65)
  • Grags pa lde (c. 1265-77) prince from Lho stod
  • unknown rulers
  • rNam rgyal lde (1396?-1424) son of a Guge ruler
  • Nam mkha'i dBang po Phun tshogs lde (1424 49) son
  • rNam ri Sang rgyas lde (1449-?) son
  • bLo bzang Rab brtan (?-c. 1485) son
  • sTod tsha 'Phags pa lha (c. 1485-after 1499) son
  • Shakya 'od (early 16th century) son
  • Jig rten dBang phyug Pad kar lde (fl. 1537-55) son?
  • Ngag gi dBang phyug (16th century) son
  • Nam mkha dBang phyug (16th century) son
  • Khri Nyi ma dBang phyug (late 16th century) son
  • Khri Grags pa'i dBang phyug (c. 1600) son
  • Khri Nam rgyal Grags pa lde (fl. 1618) son
  • Khri bKra shis Grags pa lde (before 1622-1630) son
  • Kingdom conquered by Ladakh (1630)
  • Kingdom later conquered by Tibet under the Fifth Dalai Lama (1679-80)

See also

  • Xangxung
  • Tsaparang


Specific references: General references:

  • Allen, Charles. (1999) The Search for Shangri-La: A Journey into Tibetan History. Little, Brown and Company. Reprint: 2000 Abacus Books, London. ISBN 0-349-111421.

Further reading

  • Bellezza, John Vincent: Zhang Zhung. Foundations of Civilization in Tibet. A Historical and Ethnoarchaeological Study of the Monuments, Rock Art, Texts, and Oral Tradition of the Ancient Tibetan Upland. Denkschriften der phil.-hist. Klasse 368. Beitraege zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens 61, Verlag der Oesterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien 2008.
  • Zeisler, Bettina. (2010). "East of the Moon and West of the Sun? Approaches to a Land with Many Names, North of Ancient India and South of Khotan." In: The Tibet Journal, Special issue. Autumn 2009 vol XXXIV n. 3-Summer 2010 vol XXXV n. 2. "The Earth Ox Papers", edited by Roberto Vitali, pp. 371 463.

External links

ca:Guge de:Guge es:Guge fr:Royaume de Gug ko: nl:Guge ja: no:Guge ru: zh:

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