Tibetan History
                  Old Potala palace picture

Geographical formation of Tibet;
The true history of any region cannot be fully understood without knowing the basic characteristics of a region and of its inhabitants. The Tibetan plateau is neighbouring the mighty Himalayan ranges with average altitudes range between 4000m and 5000m. It has a larger number of world’s highest peaks including Mt. Everest which is located on the Tibetan border. This is why Tibet is often called “the roof of the world” or “the third pole”. Tibet represents about a quarter of its motherland Chinese territory with only 1/500th of its population. It is a land of extreme living conditions and a low population density. The low population is due in part to its high altitude and cold weather. Snow-capped mountains can be seen throughout the plateau and most of the rivers in the Asian Subcontinent originate from this snowmelt.
Tibet occupies the site of the ancient sea of Thetis (Tethys), which separated the old Asiatic and Australian continents millions of years ago. The displacement of the tectonic plates broke up the Australian plate into three parts, the northern which formed India was detached and in a rapid displacement towards the north raised sediments of the sea of Thetis (Tethys) and now currently forms the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas. The central plate formed the Australian continent and the southern one formed the Antarctic continent. In the shock of displacement, basalt and hard stones formed the solid mass of the Himalayas. The sediments which formed the Tibetan plateau are not solid which means it is in a constant state of erosion. The majority of Tibet does not have an outlet with the sea water, thus the creation of large salt lakes and stock piles of salt remained and became basis of foreign trade in Tibet. The largest rivers of India and China, begin from the plateau and these rivers all carry considerable amounts of alluvia which is why the water runs with reddish colour. The silt within these waters also contributed to the richness and fertility of the surrounding countries. It should be noted that all ancient civilizations were born in the same way. Indeed, the banks of rivers became the first sprouts of human civilization. The flowing rivers from Tibet brought with them each year vast quantities of silt. For the Tibetan civilization, it first took began on the bank of the Brahmaputra or Yarlung Tsangpo river in Yarlung Valley.

                  Lhasa in 1940s    

Myth about Tibetan evolution;
Classical local mythology describes Tibetans as being decedents of a monkey and a rock-ogress. It was in a cave on the Gonpo Ri hill in Yarlong valley Tsedang(Southern Tibet), where the sublime Avalokiteshvara, having conferred layperson's vows upon a magical monkey, dispatched him to meditate in the snowy realm of Tibet. There, beside a black rock, in devoted contemplation, the profound Dharma of emptiness, a rock-ogress, suffering on account of her karma, approached him. Before she departed, she developed a carnal desire for the monkey. Later, disguised as a woman, the ogress returned and said to the monkey, 'Let us be married!' But the monkey replied, 'As I am a disciple of the sublime Buddha, it would break my vows to become your husband'. ‘If you reject me monkey, I will have to commit suicide because I am destined in my previous incarnation to be turned into a demon. Soon I will become the wife of a devil and give birth to countless devil sons and grandsons. At that time, the plateau will be plunged into a world filled with devils and thousands of people will be killed”. Exclaimed the rock-ogress as she threw herself at the monkey's feet.
The monkey was struck by the dilemma and he returned to Mt. Pota to seek guidance from Mother Buddha. She said: “This is destiny and this is an auspicious sign. It is a deed of great kindness to marry her and reproduce offspring for the plateau. As a Buddha, you should not hesitate to conduct kind deeds. Go back to marry the ogress.”
Then they got married and brought six baby monkeys into the world at first. They each had different hobbies and different dispositions. In some stories it said these six babies lead to the origin of six main tribes in Tibet. Others have said that each one was reborn from of the six classes of beings. The monkey-children were reborn from among the denizens of the hell realms had a stern countenance and could withstand great hardships. The child from the realm of the hungry ghosts had loathsome features and an insatiable appetite. The one reborn from the animal realm was stupid and vulgar. The monkey-child from the human realm was endowed with increasing wisdom and sensitivity. The one from the realm of the demigods was aggressive and jealous, and the monkey-child from the realm of the gods was patient and virtuous.
Later when the number of off-springs multiplied exponentially by reproduction, and had eaten up all the natural fruits and created a food shortage, then again with the kind help from the mother Buddha they came to know cultivation of crops.
After some time, physical changes appeared as shortened the tails and gradually they could speak a common language. Finally, they evolved into human beings, the ancestors of the Tibetan people.
This story of human evolution in Tibetan culture is very popular and it was retold in many ancient scripture as well as on the murals of some old temples like Jokhang temple in Lhasa. As Charles Darwin said - we've evolved from monkeys.

Tibet history;

Humans inhabited the Tibetan Plateau for at least twenty one thousand years. This population was largely replaced around 3,000 BCE by Neolithic immigrants from northern China. However, there is a "partial genetic continuity between the Paleolithic inhabitants and the contemporary Tibetan populations". Some archaeological data suggests humans may have passed through Tibet at the time India was first inhabited, half a million years ago.
The earliest Tibetan historical texts identify the Zhang Zhung culture as a people who migrated from the Amdo region into what is now the region of Guge in western Tibet. Zhang Zhung is considered to be the original home of the Bön religion. By the 1st century BCE, a neighboring kingdom arose in the Yarlung Valley, and the Yarlung king, Drigum Tsenpo, attempted to remove the influence of the Zhang Zhung by expelling the Zhang's Bön priests from Yarlung. They was assassinated and Zhang Zhung continued its dominance of the region until it was annexed by Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century.


King Songtse Gampo

33rd King Songtsan Gampo

The first great Tibetan king and successor to Nam-ri Songtsen. He became king at the age of 13 when his father Nam ri Songtsen was assassinated. The tradition says that he was threatened by poison and had to escape from several assassination plots. To maintain the unity of Tibet, he spent his life crisscrossing the country with his army.
Songtsen Gampo has three wives. The Tibetan wife called Mongsa Tricham gave birth to his only son Gungri Gongtsen. Later he married Princess Brikuti, daughter of the king of Nepal Amçuvarman. The new king sent an embassy to the Chinese Emperor Taitsong, the second emperor of the Tang dynasty, to claim a Chinese princess, but he was met with outright refusal. Tibetans attributed this refusal to the Tou-yu-houen. The Emperor of China had to send three armies to control them. After 7 years of war and not being able to revoke the Tibetan armies, the Emperor offered the Princess Wencheng. According to Chinese annals', the Tibetan king went to meet his bride and practiced the Chinese rites in Hong-yuan (Kansu). He was overwhelmed by the splendour and customs of the Chinese Empire. To express his thanks, he sent his prime minister to present a 7-foot high gold statue weighing 1100 ounces.
Later a catastrophic flood destroyed all the villages in the Yarlung valley and covered the fertile soils with sand, the valley lost its importance. The king decided to settle in Lhasa and to build a new palace known by the name of Potala, or red palace for his Chinese wife Princess Wencheng. Until the arrival of the 5th Dalai-lama, all the kings resided here. By coincidence, this name of Potala was the name of the place, in the south of India, where a saint lived whose name was Avalokitesvara, and is a God of compassion or the Dalaï Lama, 10 centuries later, becomes the terrestrial representative of Buddha.
The Nepalese and the Chinese Princesses were devoted Buddhists, zealously competing to build temples and monasteries. They were to be deified later as incarnations of the goddess Tara, green Tara for Nepalese and white Tara for Chinese. Each one had brought a statue of Buddha as part of their dowry. In the new town of Lhasa, a large temple was built, called Jokhang, to shelter the statues of the 12 year old Buddha made of solid gold which had arrived with a Chinese Princess. On its arrival in Lhasa, within 200m of the objective, the carriage sank on marshy ground. Ramoche, another temple, was built on this site. After numerous adventures, the Chinese statue arrived Jokhang and later, the statue of the Nepalese Princess found its place in the temple of Ramoche. These temples still exist as do the statues.
With these marriages to foreign Princesses, cultural exchanges naturally occurred. Ink, paper, tea came from China, as did precious jewels from India. A Chinese Embassy on its way to Maghada was wiped out while traveling through Bihar, in India. The king Songtsen Gampo then dispatched an army, destroyed the army of the king of Bihar, captured him and sent him in a cage to his friend the Emperor of China. His successors took over the territory of the Tou-yu-houen bordering China and the Tibetan armies in the year 670 seized all Turkestan from the Chinese, before penetrating into Sichuan and Yunnan where they occupied 18 prefectures. Nepal was also conquered. A new period of peace occurred when Trisong Delsen married a Chinese princess Kin-tch' eng.
Apart from the countless contributions to the development of Tibet kingdom and its culture, the two most important ones that opened broader changes in the history are the introduction of Buddhism from India and invention of Tibetan writing adapted from Bali and Sanskrit.
The king Songtsen Gampo sent a number of ministers to India and neighbouring countries in order to develope the Tibetan written language by studying other languages. Many of them died. Then finally a minister, Thon-mi Sambhota, in about AD 640 went to study Sanskrit in Kashmir. On his return, he devised a new syllabic of 30 consonants and 4 vowels to suit his own entirely different Tibetan language. Thon-mi Sambhota even created eight treatises on Tibetan grammar, two of which survive today.


Langdarma assassination and end of King’s dynasty;

In 836, King Ralpachen was strangled by his brother Langdarma under the pressure of Bön's traditionalists. Langdarma took his place and sent away the foreign monks. A few years later he was assassinated by a monk disguised as a dancer during a festival in 842. He was struck by a poisoned arrow which went through his neck and nailed him to his seat. This put an end to the so-called king’s dynasty in Tibet, which is called Tsenpo Dhurab in Tibetan.

Tibet divided or second diffusion of Buddhism (842-1247)

After the assassination of the Langdarma, the central state collapsed and the whole society was in chaos, Yomten and Namde Osung were struggling for the legacy of their father Langdarma. Yomden and his mother with their group attempted to assassinate Namde Osung who had to flee to far-western Tibet. Buddhism was in a very critical situation after years of demolition and hostility from Bon religion, during that period of time, numbers of small states rose into regional powers.
In 912, Namde Osung (one of the sons of Langdarma) annexed Purang and Guge, and established a kingdom with the capital in Guge. At that time the Guge kingdom was the prominent kingdom all over the Tibet plateau, gradually the power of the kingdom reached further to Ladakh and became powerful in that region. Later at the end of 10th century, the religious king of the Guge kingdom-Yeshe O sponsored the great translator Rinchen Sangpo to construct Buddhist temples at Tsaparang and Toling. It was known as a phase for Buddhism renaissance in Tibet, and mid of 11th Century, the king had invited the Bengali scholar Atisha(982-1054) to Guge and revitalized Buddhism in Tibet, then Atisha visited central Tibet and with his chief disciple Dromtenpa Gyalwa Jomney and established the Kadampa order with new monasteries such as Reting near Lhasa.
As a result of civil wars among its rulers, Guge, Purang and Ladakh had deteriorated until they were finally dominated by Sakye monastic regime in 1277.


Mongol invasion and Sakyapa order ruled Tibet (1235-1349)

During Genghis Khan’s reign, Mongol military power became very strong and conquered almost the whole of Asia and eventually extended their rule into Europe as far as Hungary. They raided the Tibet several times and destroyed lots of monasteries in the beginning.
Later the ruler of the Kokonor region (present-day Qinghai province), Godan Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan) met Sakya scholar Pandita Gunga Gyaltsen and priest-patron relationship between the militarily powerful Mongol and spiritually rich Buddhist Tibet. After a short time, Tibetan Buddhism became the state religion of Mongolians. To pay gratitude to his spiritual leader Sakya Pandita, Godan Khan sent troops in Tibet and defeated all local powers. Sakaypa ruled Tibet for less than 100 years.
The rise of the Phagmodrupa (1350-1434)
Between 1346 and 1350, Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen toppled the Sakyapa order and founded the Phagmodrupa dynasty centred at Nedong in Yarlung, during his time he had introduced lots of new systems of administration and enacted rules based on those founded by King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. In the following 80 years, various changes in Tibetan Buddhism was also undertaken by the appearance of Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). He founded the Gelugpa sect (also known as Yellow Hats) and built important Buddhist teaching centres like the Ganden monastery close to Lhasa. Later his disciples deeply followed his teachings and founded prominent monastic colleges like Drepung monastery and Sera monastery in the outskirts of Lhasa.
Ringpung rule (1478-1565);
The rule of Phagmodrupa was succeeded by the Ringpung prince, the Ringpung prince was well known from the reign of the 5th king of the Phagmodrupa administration Drakpa Gyeltsen (1409-1434), later the Phagmodrupa king was defeated by Ringpung king and became the most powerful ruler in Tibet. At that time the king of the Ringpung had a very close connection with Zhamarpa which is a branch of the Karma Kargy School.

Tsanpa ruler (1565-1642);
In 1565, the power of the Ringpung were taken over by the prince of Samdrutse, which is the modern Shigatse, and ruled Tibet for less than two decades.
Beginnings of the Dalai Lama lineage

Great Fifth Dalai Lama

In 1578, Altan Khan of the Tümed Mongols gave Sonam Gyatso, a high lama of the Gelugpa school, the name Dalai Lama; Dalai being the Mongolian translation of the Tibetan name Gyatso, or "Ocean" and that meant to “ Ocean of Wisdom”.


The third head lama of the Gelug school, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) converted the Mongol leader Altan Khan to Buddhism. It is commonly believed that Altan Khan originated the title Dalai Lama, meaning "Ocean of Wisdom," in 1578 to give to Sonam Gyatso. Others point out that since gyatso is Tibetan for "ocean," the title "Dalai Lama" simply might have been a Mongol translation of Sonam Gyatso's name -- Lama Gyatso.


In any event, "Dalai Lama" became the title of the highest-ranking lama of the Gelug school. Since Sonam Gyatso was the third lama in that lineage, he became the 3rd Dalai Lama. The first two Dalai Lamas received the title posthumously.


It was the 5th Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682), who first became ruler of all Tibet. The "Great Fifth" formed a military alliance with the Mongol leader Gushri Khan. When two other Mongol chiefs and the ruler of Kang, an ancient kingdom of central Asia, invaded Tibet, Gushri Khan routed them and declared himself king of Tibet. In 1642, Gushri Khan recognized the 5th Dalai Lama as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet.


The succeeding Dalai Lamas and their regents remained the chief administrators of Tibet until the invasion of Tibet by China in 1950 and the exile of the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959.


The traditional list of the ancient Tibetan rulers consists of 42 names. The first 26 rulers may belong to the realm of legend, as there is insufficient evidence of their existence, but modern scholars believe that the kings from no. 27 to no. 32 were historical.The rulers from no. 33 to no. 42 are well documented in many reliable Tibetan, Chinese and foreign sources.

A unified Tibetan state did not exist before the times of the kings number 31, 32, and 33. The earlier rulers, known as the Yarlung dynasty, were probably just local chiefs in the Yarlung Valley area, certainly not emperors of Tibet.

Traditional Tibetan titles for the emperor include tsenpo ("Emperor") and lhase ("Divine Son").

In the list the common transliteration is given first, the academic one in brackets.


Name of the kings



Nyatri Tsenpo



Mutri Tsenpo



Dingtri Tsenpo



Sotri Tsenpo



Mertri Tsenpo



Dakrri Tsenpo



Siptri Tsenpo



Drigum Tsenpo



Chatri Tsenpo



Esho Lek



Desho Lek



Tisho Lek



Guru Lek



Trongzhi Lek



Isho Lek



Zanam Zindé



Detrul Namshungtsen



Senöl Namdé



Senöl Podé



Senöl Nam



Senöl Po



Degyel Po



Detrin Tsen



Tori Longtsen



Tritsen Nam



Tridra Pungtsen



Tritog Jetsen



Lha Thothori Nyantsen



Trinyen Zungtsen



Drongnyen Deu



Tagbu Nyasig



Namri Songtsen



Songtsen Gampo



Gungsrong Gungtsen



Mangsong Mangtsen



Tridu Songtsen



Me Agtsom



Trisong Detsen



Muné Tsenpo




c. 800 or 804-815?










ADD:4-5 House Namsel NO.3, Doudi Road, Lhasa, Tibet | Explore Tibet is the leading Tibetan Owned Tibet Travel company
Mobile: 0086-13398000993 or Tel: 0086-891-6305152 (Lhasa), +124 0778 0765(USA)
Office Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00am - 7:00pm (GMT +8)

Copyright © 2015 Explore Tibet. Privacy Policy Tibet Group Tour DMCA.com Protection Status