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Monasteries & Temples of Tibet • History

by mythic44

Songtsan Gampo established the unified Tibetan Empire and married two princesses

In the mid 7th century, Songtsän Gampo became the leader of the Tibetan Empire that had risen to power in the Brahmaputra River Valley. After conquering the kingdom of Zhangzhung in the west, he moved the capital from the Chingwa Taktse castle in southwest of Yarlung, to Rasa (Lhasa) where in 637 he raised the first structures on the site of what is now the Potala Palace on Mount Marpori.

Tibet and Tang China fought repeatedly for control over the Silk Road during this time. Although the country was unified, it was seldom peaceful and between the 9th century and the mid-17th century it was often embroiled in turmoil. This period finally drew to a close when the Dalai Lama invited a tribe of Mongols to intervene. The Mongols under Altan Khan created a symbiotic patron-priest arrangement, whereby the Mongols provided military and governmental leadership and Tibetans would provide religious instruction.


In the early 18th century, Tibet was again in turmoil, and seeking to replicate the success of the earlier means of restoring peace, the Dalai Lama invited another tribe of Mongols to take control. However, the emperor of Qing China was unhappy with this arrangement, and ordered an invasion. The Mongols were expelled, and the Chinese and Tibetans began a special relationship which was maintained until the end of the Qing dynasty. The institution of the Dalai Lamas was first created at this time; Dalai is a Mongolian word meaning “ocean.” Sonam Gyatso was recognized as the Third Dalai Lama in 1578; his two previous incarnations are considered the first and second Dalai Lamas.

The British invaded Tibet in 1904

While the Qing emperor carved out states from de facto independent nation for over thirty years. Its borders were slightly larger than the current TAR and included what are now portions of Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan.

After the retreat of the Nationalists to Taiwan in 1949, the Communists turned their attention towards Tibet as they wished to consolidate control over all former Qing dynasty territories. In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invaded Tibet. In the UN Security Council, the Nationalists (who still had China’s seat) vetoed a motion that would have censured the liberation; they too considered Tibet part of China. In 1951 an agreement was signed to liberate Tibet, offering Tibet — on paper — full autonomous status for governance, religion and local affairs. The newly established Communist Chinese Government even installed the current Dalai Lama as the vice-secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in the early 1950’s.

Communist reforms and the heavy-handed approach of the People’s Liberation Army lead to tension with the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan followers. Following the Tibetan uprising in March 1959, the Dalai Lama and many of his followers went into exile in India, setting up a government in exile in Dharamsala. Tibet’s isolated location did not protect it from the terror of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Tibet’s rich cultural heritage as well as much of neighbouring Chinese ancient culture lay in ruins due to the Communist government inspired chaotic Cultural Revolution movement.

Since Deng Xiaoping and the “reforms” took control in Beijing, the situation in Tibet has calmed considerably, though it still remains tense. Instead of pure brute force, Chinese tactics have switched to assimilation. However, slowly, monasteries are being rebuilt and a semblance However the Dalai Lama has always strongly encouraged foreigners to go, so that they can see the situation for themselves and also because Tibetans welcome their presence. Tibet is also becoming more and more popular a travel destination among the Chinese themselves. While very few Chinese support the secession of Tibet, you will find many younger Chinese very open to the idea of fair and real autonomy for this special place in the world.

Recently, Tibetans have undertaken a series of self-immolations to protest Chinese rule and lack of religious freedom. In addition, the Chinese regime continues to draw human-rights criticism to itself with its policies, including brutal repression of protests and extra-legal detentions.

Humans inhabited the Tibetan Plateau 21,000 yrs ago

This population was largely replaced around 3,000 BP by Neolithic immigrants from northern China, but there is a partial genetic continuity between the Paleolithic inhabitants and contemporary Tibetan populations.

The earliest Tibetan historical 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. He was assassinated and Zhang Zhung continued its dominance of the region until it was annexed by Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. Prior to Songtsän Gampo, the kings of Tibet were more mythological than factual, and there is insufficient evidence of their existence.

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Monasteries & Temples of Tibet   •   Locations & Activities

• Lhasa

• Potala Palace

• History

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