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Ruins of the Tribal Nanzhao Culture Speak of Buddha

Ruins of the Tribal Nanzhao Culture Speak of Buddha

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Archaeologists have discovered an ancient temple complex dating back to a society once subjugated by the Tang Dynasty - the state of Nanzhao. Researchers found the words "Buddha sarira enshrined by the government” on a tile within the complex. According to the archaeologists, these words indicate that the site may be a royal religious site in which Buddhist relics of the Nanzhao royal court are enshrined and were worshiped inside the temple.

According to Xinhuanet, the lead researcher on the project, Zhu Zhonghua, discovered the ruins within the city of Dali in southwest China's Yunnan Province. Zhu and his team conducted excavation work from January to July 2020. They uncovered 14 foundations for structures, 63 stone walls , 23 ditches, over 40 tons of tiles, and over 17,300 other relics 600 meters to the south of Taihe. This finding will help archaeologists learn more about the temples built by the Nanzhao people, and their political and cultural center, Taihe.

Tile with the inscription ‘Buddha sarira enshrined by the government’. The inscription indicates that the temple might be a royal religious site of the State of Nanzhao. (Yunnan Provincial Research Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology / xinhuanet)

The word ‘sarira’ has several meanings, but in this context it is likely used to refer to the Buddhist’s cremated remains.

Who Were the Nanzhao

According to China Knowledge , the Nanzhao state initially consisted of the tribes of the Black Man and the White Man ( wuman and baiman) and existed from 649 to 902. By the end of the 6th century, the Black Man tribes became the largest, and their six chieftains were known as Liu Zhao, who ruled over six tribes known as the Mengshe.

In 649, a chieftain named Xinuluo became the Outstanding King and accepted the Tang Dynasty's supremacy and provided them tribute. The tribe's influence expanded under Xinuluo's descendent, Piluoge, and his son Geluofeng. They expanded Yunnan north and west, minimizing the power of the Cuan family. Xinuluo's expansion caused the Tang empire problems as they tried to establish influence in this southwestern region.

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Extract of Nanzhao Tujuan scroll - the Nanzhao Buddhists are depicted as light skinned whereas the non-Buddhists are depicted as rebellious short brown people.

Conflict Between the Tang and King Geluofeng

The Tang aimed to make progress in the region by establishing a prefecture of Yaozhou and the city of Anning and tried to minimize the expansion and autonomy of the Mengshe kings. In retaliation, Geluofeng attacked Yaozhou and killed its governor in 750, ending the Nanzhao tributary to the Tang, He then allied with the king of Tubo of Tibet. Within a couple of years of this triumph, Geluofeng was given the title Eastern Emperor and was given the Tibetan empire's official seal, becoming the "royal brother."

Tang Loses Dominance in the Southwest and Nanzhao Expands

To subjugate Nanzhao, Yang Guozhong dispatched the Tang army but was defeated. A rebellion known as ‘An Lushan’ took the Tang empire by surprise, leaving them with no military strength in the southwestern borders. This conflict allowed for Nanzhao to expand north and east into what is known today as Sichuan and Guizhou. Between 780 – 808 AD, King Yimouxun helped the Nanzhao reach its most significant expansion, but it remained a vassal state under Tibet.

In 794, King Yimouxun grew tired of the military tribute relationship with Tibet and resumed vassalship with the Tang empire. In 829, the army of Nanzhao conquered Chengdu. The royal court of Nanzhao lost its steam toward the end of the 9th century, first when King Longshu was assassinated in 897 by a rebel named Yang Deng and then as a variety of successors usurped the throne and changed the name of the state.

Kingdom of Nanzhao as of 879 AD. (SY / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Nanzhao has a long history of war and expansion, but it did manage to establish a strong society. It adopted many of the Chinese administrational systems, and many members of the aristocracy sought Chinese education. Their royal families also created works of poetry, which were included in a collection called the Quantangshi. Not only were they influenced by the Chinese culture, but the Nanzhao also influenced the Chinese. The Nanzhao court employed Chinese artisans and craftsmen. They taught skills such as the weaving of cotton and silk gauze. Buddhism was also very popular within the Nanzhao court, as evidenced by the Chongsheng Monastery and the three famous pagodas in Dali constructed during the Nanzhao period.

This incredible find by archaeologists provides insight into the cultural and religious nature of this society. Even though Nanzhao had humble beginnings, the findings show that it had reached a high level of culture and artistry. Not only this, it shows the extraordinary level of influence Chinese culture eventually had on the state even after it achieved its autonomy, especially in religion. Taihe, the region near where the remains were uncovered, was a robust political and cultural center for Nanzhao.


Mohenjo-daro ( / m oʊ ˌ h ɛ n dʒ oʊ ˈ d ɑː r oʊ / Sindhi: موئن جو دڙو ‎, meaning 'Mound of the Dead Men' [2] [3] Urdu: موئن جو دڑو ‎ [muˑənⁱ dʑoˑ d̪əɽoˑ] ) is an archaeological site in the province of Sindh, Pakistan. Built around 2500 BCE, it was one of the largest settlements of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation, and one of the world's earliest major cities, contemporaneous with the civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Minoan Crete, and Norte Chico. Mohenjo-daro was abandoned in the 19th century BCE as the Indus Valley Civilization declined, and the site was not rediscovered until the 1920s. Significant excavation has since been conducted at the site of the city, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. [4] The site is currently threatened by erosion and improper restoration. [5]


Of the more than 9 million Yi people, over 4.5 million live in Yunnan Province, 2.5 million live in southern Sichuan Province and 1 million live in the northwest corner of Guizhou Province. Nearly all the Yi live in mountainous areas, [ citation needed ] often carving out their existence on the sides of steep mountain slopes far from the cities of China.

The altitudinal differences of the Yi areas directly affect the climate and precipitation of these areas. These striking differences are the basis of the old saying that "The weather is different a few miles away" in the Yi area. Yi populations in different areas are very different from one another, making their living in completely different ways. [2]

Although different groups of Yi refer to themselves in different ways (including Nisu, Sani, Axi, Lolo, Acheh) and sometimes speak mutually unintelligible languages, they have been grouped into a single ethnicity by the Chinese and the various local appellations can be classified into three groups:

  • Ni ( ꆀ ). The appellations of Nuosu, [3]Nasu, Nesu, Nisu and other similar names are considered derivatives of the original autonym “ ꆀ ” (Nip) appended with the suffix -su, indicating "people". The name "Sani" is also a variety of this group. Further, it is widely believed that the Chinese names 夷 and 彝 (both pinyin: ) were derived from Ni.
  • Lolo. The appellations of Lolo, Lolopu, etc. are related to the Yi people's worship of the tiger, as “lo” in their dialects means "tiger". "Lo" is also the basis for the Chinese exonymLuóluó 猓猓, 倮倮 or 罗罗. The original character 猓, with the "dog radical" 犭and a guǒ 果 phonetic, was a graphic pejorative, [4] comparable to the Chinese name guǒran 猓然, "a long-tailed ape". Languages reforms in the PRC replaced the 猓 character in Luóluó twice. First by Luó 倮, with the "human radical" 亻and the same phonetic, but that was a graphic variant for luǒ 裸, "naked" and later by Luó 罗, "net for catching birds". Paul K. Benedict noted, "a leading Chinese linguist, has remarked that the name 'Lolo' is offensive only when written with the 'dog' radical. [5]
  • Other. This group includes various other appellations of different groups of Yi. Some of them may be of other ethnic groups but are recognised as Yi by the Chinese. The "Pu" may be relevant to an ancient ethnic group Pu ( 濮 ). In the legends of the Northern Yi, the Yi people conquered Pu and its territory in the northeastern part of the modern Liangshan.

(Groups listed below are sorted by their broad linguistic classification and the general geographic area where they live. Within each section, larger groups are listed first.)

Classification Approximate total population Groups
Southern 1,082,120 Nisu, Southern Nasu, Muji, A Che, Southern Gaisu, Pula,
Boka, Lesu, Chesu, Laowu, Alu, Azong, Xiuba
Southeastern 729,760 Poluo, Sani, Axi, Azhe, Southeastern Lolo, Jiasou, Puwa,
Aluo, Awu, Digao, Meng, Xiqi, Ati, Daizhan, Asahei, Laba,
Zuoke, Ani, Minglang, Long
Central 565,080 Lolopo, Dayao Lipo, Central Niesu, Enipu, Lopi, Popei
Eastern 1,456,270 Eastern Nasu, Panxian Nasu, Wusa Nasu, Shuixi Nosu,
Wuding Lipo, Mangbu Nosu, Eastern Gepo, Naisu, Wumeng,
Naluo, Samei, Sanie, Luowu, Guopu, Gese, Xiaohei Neisu,
Dahei Neisu, Depo, Laka, Lagou, Aling, Tushu, Gouzou,
Wopu, Eastern Samadu
Western 1,162,040 Mishaba Laluo, Western Lolo, Xiangtang, Xinping Lalu,
Yangliu Lalu, Tusu, Gaiji, Jiantou Laluo, Xijima, Limi, Mili,
Lawu, Qiangyi, Western Samadu, Western Gepo,
Xuzhang Lalu, Eka, Western Gaisu, Suan, Pengzi
Northern 2,534,120 Shengba Nosu, Yinuo Nosu, Xiaoliangshan Nosu, Butuo Nosu,
Suodi, Tianba Nosu, Bai Yi, Naruo, Naru, Talu, Mixisu, Liwu,
Northern Awu, Tagu, Liude, Naza, Ta'er
Unclassified 55,490 Michi (Miqie), Jinghong Nasu, Apu, Muzi, Tanglang, Micha,
Ayizi, Guaigun

According to Yi legend, all life originated in water and water was created by snowmelt, which as it dripped down, created a creature called the Ni. The Ni gave birth to all life. Ni is another name for the Yi people. It is sometimes translated as black because black is a revered color in Yi culture. [6] Yi tradition tells us that their common ancestor was named Apu Dumu ꀉꁌꅋꃅ or ꀉꁌꐧꃅ (Axpu Ddutmu or Axpu Jjutmu). Apu Dumu had three wives, each of whom had two sons. The six sons migrated to the area that is now Zhaotong and spread out in the four directions, creating the Wu, Zha, Nuo, Heng, Bu, and Mo clans. [7] The Yi practiced a lineage system where younger brothers were treated as slaves by their elders, which resulted in a culture of migration where younger brothers constantly left their villages to create their own domains. [6]

Guizhou kingdoms Edit

The Heng clan divided into two branches. One branch, known as the Wumeng settled along the western slope of the Wumeng Mountain range, extending their control as far west as modern day Zhaotong. The other branch, known as the Chele, moved along the eastern slope of the Wumeng Mountain range and settled to the north of the Chishui River. By the Tang dynasty (618-907), the Chele occupied the area from Xuyong in Sichuan to Bijie in Guizhou. The Bu clan fragmented into four branches. The Bole branch settled in Anshun, the Wusa branch settled in Weining, the Azouchi branch settled in Zhanyi, and the Gukuge branch settled in northeast Yunnan. The Mo clan, descended from Mujiji ( 慕齊齊 ), split into three branches. One branch known as the Awangren, led by Wualou, settled in southwest Guizhou and formed the Ziqi Kingdom. Wuake led the second branch, the Ayuxi, to settle near Ma'an Mountain south of Huize. Wuana led the third branch to settle in Hezhang. In the 3rd century AD, Wuana's branch split into the Mangbu branch in Zhenxiong, led by Tuomangbu, and Luodian ( 羅甸 ) in Luogen, led by Tuoazhe. By 300, Luodian covered over much of the Shuixi region. Its ruler, Mowang ( 莫翁 ), moved the capital to Mugebaizhage (modern Dafang), where he renamed his realm the Mu'ege kingdom, otherwise known as the Chiefdom of Shuixi. [7]

Nasu Yi kingdoms by the Tang dynasty
Kingdom Ruling clan Modern area
Badedian Mangbu Zhenxiong
Luodian/Luoshi Bole Anshun
Mu'ege Luo Dafang
Ziqi/Yushi Awangren Southwest Guizhou

After the Han dynasty, the Shu of the Three Kingdoms conducted several wars against the ancestors of Yi under the lead of Zhuge Liang. They defeated the king of Yi, ꂽꉼ (Mot Hop, 孟获 ) and expanded their conquered territory in Yi area. After that, the Jin Dynasty succeeded Shu as the suzerain of Yi area but with weak control.

Yunnan kingdoms Edit

Some historians believe that the majority of the kingdom of Nanzhao were of the Bai people, [8] but that the elite spoke a variant of Nuosu (also called Yi), a Tibeto-Burman language closely related to Burmese. [9] The Cuanman people came to power in Yunnan during Zhuge Liang's Southern Campaign in 225. By the fourth century they had gained control of the region, but they rebelled against the Sui dynasty in 593 and were destroyed by a retaliatory expedition in 602. The Cuan split into two groups known as the Black and White Mywa. [10] The White Mywa (Baiman) tribes, who are considered the predecessors of the Bai people, settled on the fertile land of western Yunnan around the alpine fault lake Erhai. The Black Mywa (Wuman), considered to be predecessors of the Yi people, settled in the mountainous regions of eastern Yunnan. These tribes were called Mengshe (蒙舍), Mengxi (蒙嶲), Langqiong (浪穹), Tengtan (邆賧), Shilang (施浪), and Yuexi (越析). Each tribe was known as a zhao. [11] In academia, the ethnic composition of the Nanzhao kingdom's population has been debated for a century. Chinese scholars tend to favour the theory that the rulers came from the aforementioned Bai or Yi groups, while some non-Chinese scholars subscribed to the theory that the Tai ethnic group was a major component, that later moved south into modern-day Thailand and Laos. [12]

In 649, the chieftain of the Mengshe tribe, Xinuluo (細奴邏), founded the Great Meng (大蒙) and took the title of Qijia Wang (奇嘉王 "Outstanding King"). He acknowledged Tang suzerainty. [13] In 652, Xinuluo absorbed the White Mywa realm of Zhang Lejinqiu, who ruled Erhai Lake and Cang Mountain. This event occurred peacefully as Zhang made way for Xinuluo of his own accord. The agreement was consecrated under an iron pillar in Dali. Thereafter the Black and White Mywa acted as warriors and ministers respectively. [11]

In 704 the Tibetan Empire made the White Mywa tribes into vassals or tributaries. [10]

In the year 737 AD, with the support of the Tang dynasty, the great grandson of Xinuluo, Piluoge (皮羅閣), united the six zhaos in succession, establishing a new kingdom called Nanzhao (Mandarin, "Southern Zhao"). The capital was established in 738 at Taihe, (the site of modern-day Taihe village, a few miles south of Dali). Located in the heart of the Erhai valley, the site was ideal: it could be easily defended against attack and it was in the midst of rich farmland. [14] Under the reign of Piluoge, the White Mywa were removed from eastern Yunnan and resettled in the west. The Black and White Mywa were separated to create a more solidified caste system of ministers and warriors. [11]

Nanzhao existed for 165 years until A.D. 902. After 35 years of tangled warfare, Duan Siping ( 段思平 ) of the Bai birth founded the Kingdom of Dali, succeeding the territory of Nanzhao. Most Yi of that time were under the ruling of Dali. Dali's sovereign reign lasted for 316 years until it was conquered by Kublai Khan. During the era of Dali, Yi people lived in the territory of Dali but had little communication with the royalty of Dali.

Kublai Khan included Dali in his domain, grouping it with Tibet. The Yuan emperors remained firmly in control of the Yi people and the area they inhabited as part of Kublai Khan's Yunnan Xingsheng ( 云南行省 ) at current Yunnan, Guizhou and part of Sichuan. In order to enhance its sovereign over the area, the Yuan dynasty set up a dominion for Yi, Luoluo Xuanweisi ( 罗罗宣慰司 ), the name of which means local appeasement government for Lolos. Although technically under the rule of the Yuan emperor, the Yi still had autonomy during the Yuan dynasty. The gulf between aristocrats and the common people increased during this time.

Ming and Qing dynasties Edit

Beginning with the Ming dynasty, the Chinese empire expedited its cultural assimilation policy in Southwestern China, spreading the policy of gaitu guiliu ( 改土歸流 'replacing tusi') [local chieftains] with ′normal′ officials"). [15] The governing power of many Yi feudal lords had previously been expropriated by the successors of officials assigned by the central government. With the progress of gaitu guiliu, the Yi area was dismembered into many communities both large and small, and it was difficult for the communities to communicate with each other as there were often Han-ruled areas between them.

The Kangxi Emperor of the Qing dynasty defeated Wu Sangui and took over the land of Yunnan and established a provincial government there. When Ortai became the Viceroy of Yunnan and Guizhou during the era of Yongzheng Emperor, the policy of gaitu guiliu and cultural assimilation against Yi were strengthened. Under these policies, Yi who lived near Kunming were forced to abandon their convention of traditional cremation and adopt burial, a policy which triggered rebellions among the Yi. The Qing dynasty suppressed these rebellions.

After the Second Opium War (1856–1860), many Christian missionaries from France and Great Britain visited the area in which the Yi lived. Although some missionaries believed that Yi of some areas such as Liangshan were not under the ruling of Qing dynasty and should be independent, most aristocrats insisted that Yi was a part of China despite their resentment against Qing rule.

Modern era Edit

Long Yun, a Yi, was the military governor of Yunnan, during the Republic of China rule on mainland China.

The Fourth Front Army of the CCP encountered the Yi people during the Long March and many Yi joined the communist forces. [16]

After the establishment of the PRC, several Yi autonomous administrative districts of prefecture or county level were set up in Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou. With the development of automotive traffic and telecommunications, the communications among different Yi areas have been increasing sharply.

Yi polities throughout history Edit

The Chinese government recognizes six mutually unintelligible Yi languages, from various branches of the Loloish family: [18]

Northern Yi is the largest with some two million speakers and is the basis of the literary language. It is an analytic language. [19] There are also ethnically Yi languages of Vietnam which use the Yi script, such as Mantsi.

Many Yi in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi know Standard Chinese and code-switching between Yi and Chinese is common.

Script Edit

The Yi script was originally logosyllabic like Chinese and dates to at least the 13th century. There were perhaps 10,000 characters, many of which were regional, since the script had never been standardized across the Yi peoples. A number of works of history, literature and medicine, as well as genealogies of the ruling families, written in the Old Yi script are still in use and there are Old Yi stone tablets and steles in the area.

Under the Communist government, the script was standardized as a syllabary. Syllabic Yi is widely used in books, newspapers and street signs.

Slavery Edit

Traditional Yi society was divided into four castes, the aristocratic nuohuo Black Yi, the commoner qunuo White Yi, the ajia, and the xiaxi. The Black Yi made up around 7 per cent of the population while the White Yi made up 50 per cent of the population. The two castes did not intermarry and the Black Yi were always considered of higher status than the White Yi, even if the White Yi was wealthier or owned more slaves. The White and Black Yi also lived in separate villages. The Black Yi did not farm, which was traditionally done by White Yi and slaves. Black Yi were responsible only for administration and military activities. The White Yi were not technically slaves but lived as indentured servants to the Black Yi. The Ajia made up 33 per cent of the population. They were owned by both the Black and White Yi and worked as indentured laborers lower than the White Yi. The Xiaxi were the lowest caste. They were slaves who lived with their owners' livestock and had no rights. They could be beaten, sold, and killed for sport. Membership of all four castes was through patrilineal descent. [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] The prevalence of the slave culture was so great that sometimes children were named after how many slaves they owned. For example: Lurbbu (many slaves), Lurda (strong slaves), Lurshy (commander of slaves), Lurnji (origin of slaves), Lurpo (slave lord), Lurha, (hundred slaves), Jjinu (lots of slaves). [26]

Folklore Edit

The most famous hero in Yi mythology is Zhyge Alu. He was the son of a dragon and an eagle who possessed supernatural strength, anti-magic, and anti-ghost powers. He rode a nine-winged flying horse called "long heavenly wings." He also had the help of a magical peacock and python. The magical peacock was called Shuotnie Voplie and could deafen the ears of those who heard its cry, but if invited into one's house, would consume evil and expel leprosy. The python, called Bbahxa Ayuosse, was defeated by Zhyge Alu, who wrestled with it in the ocean after transforming into a dragon. It was said to be able to detect leprosy, cure tuberculosis, and eradicate epidemics. Like the Chinese mythological archer, Hou Yi, Zhyge Alu shoots down the suns to save the people. In the Yi religion Bimoism, Zhyge Alu aids the bimo priests in curing leprosy and fighting ghosts. [27]

Jiegujienuo was a ghost that caused dizziness, slowness in action, dementia and anxiety. The ghost was blamed for ailments and exorcism rituals were conducted to combat the ghost. The bimo erected small sticks considered to be sacred, the kiemobbur, at the ritual site in preparation. [27]

Torch Festival Edit

The Torch Festival is one of the Yi people's main holidays. According to Yi legend, there were once two men of great strength, Sireabi and Atilaba. Sireabi lived in heaven while Atilaba on earth. When Sireabi heard of Atilaba's strength, he challenged Atilaba to a wrestling match. After suffering two defeats, Sireabi was killed in a bout, which greatly angered the bodhisattavas, who sent a plague of locusts to punish the earth. On the 24th day of the 6th month of the lunar calendar, Atilaba cut down many pine trees and used them as torches to kill the locusts, protecting the crops from destruction. The Torch Festival is thus held in his honor. [28]

Music Edit

The Yi play a number of traditional musical instruments, including large plucked and bowed string instruments, [29] as well as wind instruments called bawu (巴乌) and mabu (马布). The Yi also play the hulu sheng, though unlike other minority groups in Yunnan, the Yi do not play the hulu sheng for courtship or love songs (aiqing). The kouxian, a small four-pronged instrument similar to the Jew's harp, is another commonly found instrument among the Liangshan Yi. Kouxian songs are most often improvised and are supposed to reflect the mood of the player or the surrounding environment. Kouxian songs can also occasionally function in the aiqing form. Yi dance is perhaps the most commonly recognized form of musical performance, as it is often performed during publicly sponsored holidays and/or festival events.

Literature Edit

Artist Colette Fu, great granddaughter of Long Yun has spent time from 1996 till present photographing the Yi community in Yunnan Province. Her series of pop-up books, titled We are Tiger Dragon People, includes images of many Yi groups. [30] [31]

Yi woman in traditional dress

Yi woman in traditional dress with a child

Yi woman in traditional dress

Yi man in traditional dress

Yi man in traditional dress

Bimoism Edit

Bimoism is the ethnic religion of the Yi. Shaman-priests of this faith are known as bimo (ꀘꂾ), which means 'master of scriptures'. Bimo officiate at births, funerals, weddings and holidays. The Nuosu form of Bimoism distinguishes two sorts of shamans: the bimo and the suni, respectively hereditary and ordained priests. A bimo can only be inherited through patrilineal descent, similar to the broader Yi society, after a time of apprenticeship or formally acknowledging an old bimo as the teacher. A suni is elected. Bimo are the most revered, to the point that the Nuosu religion is called "bimo religion". Bimo can read Yi scripts while suni cannot. Both can perform rituals, but only bimo can perform rituals linked to death. For most cases, suni only perform some exorcism to cure diseases. Generally, suni can only be from humble civil birth while bimo can be of both aristocratic and humble families. [32]

The Yi worship deified ancestors, similar to Chinese folk religion, but also gods of nature: fire, hills, trees, rocks, water, earth, sky, wind and forests. [33]

Ritual performances play a major role in daily life through healing, exorcism, asking for rain, cursing enemies, blessing, divination and analysis of one's relationship with the gods. They believe dragons protect villages against bad spirits, and demons cause diseases. After someone dies they sacrifice a pig or sheep at the doorway to maintain relationship with the deceased spirit. The Yi believe that bad spirits cause illness, poor harvests and other misfortunes and inhabit all material things. The Yi also believe in multiple souls. At death, one soul remains to watch the grave while the other is eventually reincarnated into some living form.

In recent decades the Bimoist faith has undergone a revival, with large temples built in the early-2010s. [34] [35] [36]

Other religions Edit

In Yunnan, some of the Yi have adopted Buddhism as a result of exchanges with other predominantly Buddhist ethnic groups present in Yunnan, such as the Dai and the Tibetans. The most important god of Yi Buddhism is Mahākāla, a wrathful deity found in Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism. In the 20th century, some Yi people in China converted to Christianity, after the arrival of Gladstone Porteous in 1904 and, later, medical missionaries such as Alfred James Broomhall, Janet Broomhall, Ruth Dix and Joan Wales of the China Inland Mission. According to missionary organization OMF International, the exact number of Yi Christians is not known. In 1991 it was reported that there were as many as 1,500,000 Yi Christians in Yunnan Province, especially in Luquan County where there are more than 20 churches. [37]

The Yi are known for the extent of their inter-generational transmission of traditional medicine through oral tradition and written records. Their traditional medicine system has been academically inventoried. [38] Since the prefecture the Yi medicinal data was collected from also contains the cave containing human-infectable SARS clades and it is known that people living in the vicinity SARS caves show serological signs of past infection, [39] [40] it has been suggested that the Yi were repeatably exposed to coronavirus over their history, passively learned to medicinally fend off coronavirus infection centuries ago, and committed the results into their inter-generational record of medicinal indications. [41]

(Only includes counties or county-equivalents containing >1% of county population.)

What Does Buddhism Have to do with Black People?

I removed my sandals just outside near an open space where the door used to be. Sporting dredlocks and sweaty brown skin, I stepped inside the ruins of an ancient temple and planted my flat wide feet in the mix of dung and mud. It was 1995, Tamil Nadu, India. There in the temple that had only one wall and the sky as its ceiling, I wondered what it must have been like a thousand years ago to chant there, to sit in silence listening to cow bells and wooden wagons. I faced a crumbling limestone statue of Shakti, and despite the fact that she had no eyes, no nose, and chipped lips, I could feel the ripples of her presence throughout the centuries. Although I had been practicing Nichiren Buddhism seven years prior, I felt in that moment, in that temple, a sense that I had been introduced to Dharma or the teachings of Buddha a hundred thousand million kalpas ago.

Whether that is true or not, I do experience meeting the Dharma as something that you don’t do once. It occurs as often as one is awakened to the suffering and joy of life. So, sometimes I say that I first heard the Dharma from my mother, when she said something like this at a time when I was disappointed by our church members, “You can’t look at other peoples’ lives and decide if you are going to pray or not.” In other words, if I judge a spiritual or religious practice by its people, I would never practice because there are no perfect people. That human beings are human beings and that other people have very little to do with how far I go down a chosen path of compassion. On the other hand, I might say that Martin Luther King, Jr. was my first Dharma teacher. His message of non-violence and peace sank deep into my eleven-year old heart, especially at a time when four little girls my age had been bombed to death.

Given that, I would say I didn’t go out of the way of my own life to meet the Dharma, but that it met me at the door of my own suffering. And when it came knocking to take up full residence in my life, I actually ran the other way. I was afraid of something so new and different from the black church I was raised in. I told the teachers that I did not have any room for chanting, sitting down after work, or altars that were Japanese. Still the teachers didn’t go away, bringing me candles, incense, and books to read. I had met my match. They were more stubborn than I could ever imagine. But it wasn’t their persistence that kept me still long enough to invite the Dharma in. It was the fact that I never sent the teachers away, because I recognized the innate kindness and compassion of the Buddha’s words that they shared. I recognized the teachings as something I had been yearning to hear. I recognized the bodhisattvas sitting next to me…not their faces, but their sincere intentions for a world of peace.

Immediately upon accepting the path of Buddha I began to see the depth of suffering within and around me. It was almost unbearable, causing me to doubt the teachings, meaning I had taken on something that might get the best of me. But with the help of many teachers I began to see that the suffering and the joy would be the places in which I practiced the teachings. That my life would serve as the ground in which Buddhism would come alive.

Today, the Soto Zen that I practice is felt in my body. I can feel the healing that is taking place by how I see, both the world and my life, with the curiosity of a child. I can feel the chants grace my thick lips and my southern Louisiana ancestors knowing that all is well with their daughter chanting in Pali, Sanskit, ancient Chinese, and Japanese. It is all very natural to me. I welcome the Dharma as it has welcomed me long before I was born.

However no matter how much I welcome the teachings as a way of life, there are many complex questions about taking on a practice that has yet to become part of the everyday lives of black people in this country.

So, when I mentioned to my younger sister that I was exploring being a Zen priest she asked, “What’s Buddhism got to do with black people, anyway? Although Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings came from the earth of ancient India, I knew in the moment when she asked the question, that the teachings had everything to do with me and with every other suffering living being. Of course, she wanted to know how I came to explore being a Zen priest, when she knew me as a devout Christian, a courageous warrior of the black civil rights movement and a dedicated Pan-Africanist. She knew me in my Afro, African headwraps, African jewelry, reading aloud poetry to her by black poets such as Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Margaret Walker, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Instead of watching television on some evenings, we would actually perform the poetry for one another, sitting on our twin beds, speaking through the words of the poets about our experiences as young, black, and female. She needed to know how I was going to help her by being a Zen priest. In that moment, I couldn’t find a way to convey to her that much of what I experienced in being black was much like what the Buddha taught.

When I was thirteen, I remember one evening our family sitting at the dinner table at our home in southern California. My older and younger sisters were in their places and me somewhere in the middle, and my parents each at one end of the table. Something was especially strange with the taste and texture of the meat we were eating. Not being big on meat as a child, I remember frowning and asking what kind of meat was it. My father proudly said in his thick Creole accent, “Possum. I caught it in the backyard.” I didn’t know what a possum was, but I stopped eating the meat because it was caught and killed in the yard I played in daily. Yet, I could see my father’s pride at bringing something to our bare table. Life was hitting us hard at the time, as my parents were aging with three teens, my mother being fifty-five years old and my father seventy-three. It wouldn’t be long before we received our first bag of food for Thanksgiving from a welfare office. It would be our last bag because we could not stand the humiliation. We would never speak of those hard times again, because it was frightening to talk about being black without anything –not having.

Regardless of that period in my life as a child I never thought of myself as poor. Poor was being without food. Poor was being without a house, without shoes. If we had those things, then everything was fine. Poor or rich was measured by what we had not how much money we made. If we did not have material things, someone in the neighborhood, a church member, or a relative would see that we had what we needed. As long as someone else had them, we did. This was how generosity was expressed in the 1950’s and 1960’s among black people, most of whom were new arrivals from the southern region of the United States. When someone from the church shared with us, it was a generosity filled with compassion, giving because they understood or because they were in the same circumstance. Maybe they only had one dollar but they would give fifty cents to someone just because they had a dollar. It was not giving because of being guilty of having more than the other it was giving to be giving, without any praise. And most often there were no expectations of receiving because of what was given.

A communal sense of having and giving were essential to our survival, an insurance that no one would be left behind. This expression of generosity based on being interrelated was what the Buddha taught. It was generosity, or dana one of six paramitas, based in compassion that I experienced long ago in my community. Therefore, the teachings of Buddha being relevant to a black experience of life were not odd to me.

However, in my early years of practicing, the Buddhist rituals were different than what I had been accustomed to in church. Without communion, baptism, the singing, praising God out loud, and talking back to the minister, it was difficult to believe that there was any religion going on inside the Buddhist environment. I had been accustomed to religious services that included a goal of soul revival. As a child I enjoyed attending revival meetings held to bring souls to Christ. In these ceremonies, which could last for weeks, the weeping and wailing I heard around me was evidence of people being touched or rejoined to spirit. I remember sitting under a huge green circus tent in the heat of summer in Los Angeles. As my family and I walked into the revival meeting, I could smell the hay used as flooring. I loved that smell, because I knew it meant we were about to be rejuvenated. The revival meeting was the time to rededicate ourselves as black people it was a time to truly face what it meant to live a spiritual life. It was a time to become conscious of that life. Under the sway of night lights hanging in the tent, we were brought back from soul-sleeping, from despair, from our feeling stuck and not growing as black people. In this soul revival we recalled happiness as we celebrated the act of renewal in song and baptism. In essence, we lived again. We flourished.

Would a practice steeped in the Dharma do the same? Better yet, is a Buddhist practice meant to do the same? Both of these questions are important to the exploration of Buddhism in the lives of black people.

Having lived inside oppression, most of us have experiences of being dominated, alienated, and isolated through a systematic dehumanizing process. This way of living has created a longing to be rejoined with a larger humanity that has been denied or taken away. In these circumstances, there is recognition that we can resign ourselves to limitations and inferiority. Thereby, leading us on journeys of salvation and seeking enchantment, finding ways to survive.

As African Americans, we have been swimming to shore ever since the Middle Passage in which we came to be slaves in this country. The Middle Passage, for Africans who became slaves, was a journey of horrors from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean, to the so-called New World. The shore we searched for was metaphorically the ground on which we might stand as human beings. In seeking this ground, we came across Christianity.

Why Christianity? Perhaps the sermon by the character Baby Suggs in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, could explain some if it. In the story, the character Baby Suggs gave a sermon that was not about heaven, hell, and sinning, but one about the beauty of being God’s people. In the story, spirituality existed in gathering places among the trees. This spirituality was a commitment to each other’s well-being and joy. It was a sharing of freedom within community. Morrison named Baby Suggs an unchurched preacher, “uncalled, unrobed, unanointed, [letting her] great heart beat in the presence of the slave community. Baby Suggs’ message was, “In this here place, we flesh flesh that weeps, laughs flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard.” Sugg’s sermon of self-acceptance was a kind of spirituality that helped the people to embrace their spirits despite the dehumanizing social conditions. It was a spirituality that co-existed along with efforts toward liberation from suffering.

This type of spirituality in the novel Beloved was born of a lived experience of slavery. Although there was a disempowerment Christianity brought to slaves that couldn’t be seen until later years, Christianity also brought a spirit of dignity and a sense of being divine that the slave recognized from their African past. Despite the intent of slave masters to use the Bible to coerce slaves into compliant behavior, slaves were creative in bringing an African spirit to the teachings of the Bible. By bringing their African spirit, slaves used the Bible to resist the master and forged a path by which they survived. In essence, the conditions of slavery did not completely cut the slaves off from their ultimate source of the meaning of God, religion and moral understanding. Through great ingenuity, slaves brought together the Christian meaning of God with African buddha nature so to speak.

As in what does Buddhism have to do with black people one could ask what did Christianity have to do with black people? Why did African American slaves take on a religion foreign to African religious traditions? One response: When the slaves understood that God, as a creator of all people, was on the side of the oppressed, that Christ was a liberator, and that God was just, the slaves embraced the masters’ Bible. This notion of God and justice together made black people’s Christianity a socially conscious religion as well as a promise to be a transformative and liberating one.

To sustain a religious practice brought by slave masters, African slaves brought with them mythology, proverbs, folktales, an oral tradition that spoke of God or gods and a tribal or community sense of spirit. In essence, black people made Christianity their own, based on the oppression of the times. They used the teachings of Jesus to guide the communal quest for wholeness, to support the collective soul, and to maintain community.

It is said that what is experienced in life is influenced by the time, the country, and its people. My parents’ vision of enchantment reflected their lives and the world they inhabited. They relied heavily on God as did the slaves for well being, but their times did afford them the freedom to consider education (although limited) and work for paid wages. In my lifetime, I have experienced great social movements, access to higher education, many therapeutic processes of healing, various forms of spirituality, and most important to me the freedom to explore religions. Therefore, the times, the country, and the people have afforded me an opportunity to consider practicing Buddha’s teachings as a way of life.

I came to Buddhism with a sense of a community that strives together. I came from a background of being connected to human beings through our souls as sisters and brothers. I came with a sense of dedication and commitment to serving others, to be like Harriet Tubman, to be like Sojourner Truth. However, it was the truckload of life’s suffering that prevailed above heritage in my choosing the path of dharma.

In choosing the path of Buddha’s teachings, over the years, I have grieved the communal sense of African American influenced Christianity, which was based on a shared history of dehumanization, specifically slavery. Being a Christian, in my sensibility, was being black, and therefore entering the Buddhist path once felt to be leaving the African American community. Whereas the Soto Zen in which I practice, while offering sangha, a Pali word for community, it is a community that hardly pays attention to the impact of slavery or social hardship in relationship to the practice. So, I have asked myself what would make a Buddhist community feel like home to black people?

Even though there is no one answer I speculate that a religious practice embraced by African Americans would have deep rituals and teachings filled with compassion, love, and wisdom. The practice would be inclusive of all people, creating both an individual and collective experience. There would be lots of food, dharma music, children and grandparents. Most important, the practice would have a quest of ending suffering, especially dehumanization, by saving all beings. In this way, one can see how African Americans could easily embrace the Buddha’s teachings.

Yet, there is no Dharma gate marked for black people only. But we can acknowledge that there must be some history between the people of the African Diaspora and the teachings of Buddha. Although European literature and perspective on the history of Buddhism is extensive, little to none has been done on the link between Africans, African Americans, and the Buddha. In my bones I know something is missing. There is awareness on my part that the Buddha’s teachings impacted the lives of those who suffered oppression such as the black Tamil Indians, Dalits, and the Untouchables – held down by a caste system. Additionally, Nagarajuna, the great scholar of the Mahayana teachings, espoused the freedom of enlightenment to the black Indians of southern ancient India. And because Buddhism spoke of liberation I assume that it did not flourish in a country that through tradition held the caste system in place. At the same time, there is awareness that when the Buddha spoke of the great rivers, the Ganges, the Yamuna, the Aciravati, the Sarabhu and the Mahi, giving up their former names and identities when they reach the great ocean he was expounding the teaching of liberation. Imagine, for the lower caste what this might have meant to them. While ancient India is where Africans might have connected with the Buddha, it is speculative due to suppressed or lost history, considering Africans as part of the Buddhist movement from it’s beginning is a crucial and valid historical perspective to unearth.

However, for certain, as early as 1950 and in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a few African Americans and people of African descent crossed the illusionary boundary of religious practices populated by black people, such as southern Baptist churches, African Methodist churches, Pentecostal churches or churches similar to them, to explore a practice based on Shakyamuni’s Buddha’s teachings. Their courage and innocence pried opened the unfamiliar dharma gate for black people to consider what the Buddha taught. Imagine going to a foreign land, a temple in your own country, without knowing the language and the customs, then deciding to stay and make the place your home. And at the same time, imagine that there is something familiar about the land that reminds you of yourself. So, you stay and the first language you learn is chanting and/or meditation. The customs you learn is to light incense and a white candle, to bow and to sit down. And there you stay for years until some of the confusion becomes clear.

Many pioneer followers of Buddha of African descent have been practicing with great patience from fifteen to twenty, and some thirty years, yet the black community has heard little from them, despite the fact there are several publications authored by black practitioners. What has caused the gap between black people and Buddhism? First, there are historical and social factors that impeded the opportunities for black people to engage with Buddhism when it arrived to the United States.

First, immigrants from various parts of Asia brought the Buddhism they were raised with to the West long before North Americans came into contact with Buddha’s teachings. These immigrants had little, if any, contact with African Americans. At the same time, Sharon Smith, Professor at Goldsmith’s College, University of London, states that Buddhism was introduced in the West around 150 years ago as a result of upper and middle class Westerners who came into contact with Buddhism through the colonization of the East. Smith states that many of them became Buddhist sympathizers, despite the fact that Buddhism was criticized in Western societies, particularly by evangelical churches. Later, around the 1890s, black people were more likely to participate in an evangelical type church and thereby be subjected to the criticism of Buddhism making it a practice to avoid.

In addition, Smith states that Buddhism arrived at a time when black people were suffering the effects of the Jim Crow laws (systematic dehumanization based on skin color), including new theories of Darwinism that said blacks were scientifically inferior. It was a time when black people were seen as beastly animals. Obviously, these were not the conditions by which the seeds of Buddha’s teachings would be sown in the black community.

Buddhism’s next wave of attention in America, according to Smith was during the 1950’s Beat Era and the 1960’s counterculture movement. At the time, there were many movements toward changing mainstream traditions and social thought. As a consequence, many of the activists and artists of the 1950’s and 1960’s were attracted to Eastern spirituality including Buddhism as a way of transforming their lives. However, while sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations were taking place among those of the counterculture movement, few black people were looking to the East for enlightenment. What was important to many (but not all) black people at the time was the Civil Rights Movement. Instead of participating in the larger counterculture movement, black people had their own counterculture activities based in efforts toward being seen as human beings and not the beasts they were perceived to be a decade prior. Therefore, only a small number of us, including some renowned folks such as scholar and author bell hooks, artist Romare Bearden, and many others of the African American cultural arts community found their feet planted on Buddha’s path during that time.

Smith states that, “Eventually, in the 1970’s and 1980’s the numbers of Americans practicing Buddhism began to grow but still few black people were interested in the issues of the newly converted and social engaged Buddhists, who were interested in human rights, ecology, and peace, whereas black communities were more interested in issues that derived from having been dehumanized, such as the criminal justice system, community safety, education, employment, and healthcare.”

Who was going to address the suffering of dehumanization and speak of Buddha? The Sōkai Gakkai International (SGI) movement, a lay organization steeped in Nichiren Buddhism, led by the widows and widowers of World War II Japan, offered the kind of hope and determination of the early black churches. In addition, the practice offered a way to change one’s deep-rooted karma, which might include the horror of the oppression suffered by black people. Also, the leaders and teachers of the Sōka Gakkai had no problem with walking the streets of the black community, or any other community of color for that matter, to share the practice. It was their way of actualizing the nature of a Bodhisattava, or spiritual warrior, by helping communities in despair. As a result, many African Americans, including myself in 1988, came to chant Nam-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō. Still, today, the Sōka Gakkai has the largest numbers of black people practicing Buddhism, which is not to be misinterpreted that there is no racism occurring within that community to the contrary.

In the same vein as the SGI, individual black Dharma teachers and scholars have made efforts to examine Western Buddhist convert Sanghas while actively inviting African Americans and other people of color to enter the Dharma gate. In the last two decade in various Buddhist traditions the teachers include: Bhante Suhita Dharma (deceased), Marlene Jones (deceased), Spring Washam, Angel Kyodo Williams, Jan Willis, Charles Johnson, Merle Kodo Boyd, Ryumon Baldoquin, Bishop Myokei Caine-Barrett, Gaylon Ferguson, Ralph Steele, Gina Sharpe, Choyin Rangdrol, Jules Shuzen Harris, Venerable Pannavati, Venerable Pannadipa, Bhante Buddharakkhita, Sister Jewel, Sister Peace, Karima Kimberly, Crystal Muldrow Boepbo SunyaDharma, Shahara Godfrey, Noliwe Alexander, Konda Mason, and more.

In conclusion being black, African American and perhaps Buddhist can be places of practice and understanding or if we are unaware these relative places can be places of separation and suffering. An acknowledgment of the relative existence, the form (color, class, gender, and culture in particular) of life, is my way of having some ground on which to understand the teachings. However, I do recognize the absolute, the emptiness of form, as the nature within our lives. But if I attempt to be formless, to have no self, I am grasping, seeking to attain another existence. Therefore, I use the teachings to understand the suffering of life through understanding this form we live with. Eventually, I evolved into the teachings and the separation between life, the form, and the teachings seem to merge, one lesson at a time.

Note: Some of this essay appears in Tell Me Something About Buddhism by Zenju Eathlyn Manuel, Foreword by Thich Nhat Hanh (Hampton Road Publishing)

A small, beautiful temple in ruins, with novel architectural features and perhaps with many concealed inscriptions, has been found in a village called Kambarajapuram, about 20 km from Vellore town, in Tamil Nadu. Several of its architectural members have been dislodged and have fallen down. The basement of this Siva temple has sunk and is buried in sand. K. Sridaran, who retired as Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, located the temple. It is built of black granite and the villagers call it ‘black temple.’

A temple at a village called Tiruvallam, celebrated in Tamil hymns, is located in the Coromandel country, about 20 km from Vellore. There are more than 30 inscriptions in this temple. These lithic records belong to the Pallava rulers and their contemporaries such as the Ganga ruler Prithvipathi, the Banas, the Cholas and the Telugu Chodas. The inscriptions call the temple ‘Theekkalivallam.’

There is another village called Kambarajapuram, south of this Tiruvallam temple. One of the inscriptions in the Tiruvallam temple mentions the Ganga ruler, Vijayanandi Vikravarman. Sridaran surmised that the village could have been originally named ‘Gangarajapuram’ after the Ganga ruler but now people call it Kambarajapuram.

Broken sculptures of Dakshinamurthy and Nandi can be seen lying outside the temple. The sanctum is in ruins. The mantapam outside the sanctum has beautiful pillars topped with ‘taranga podhiga’ architecture (that is, resembling the sea waves).

The temple has small, beautiful carvings showing a sage offering worship, a dancing woman, a man playing a musical instrument and a devotee worshipping a linga. In the niches on the outer wall of the sanctum, there are sculptures of intricately designed ‘makara thoranas.’ Inside the makara thoranas are carvings, perhaps those of Indra or Agni, worshipping the linga. There are no sculptures in the niches. Nearby is a pilaster.

“A peculiar architectural feature here is that ‘makara thoranas’ are also found above the pilaster,” Sridaran said. There is an exquisite carving, inside the makara thorana, of a woman dancing and two men playing musical instruments.

Just outside the temple are found two fragmentary inscriptions of Vikrama Chola (regnal years 1118-1135 CE), mentioning the donations he made towards the temple maintenance. These inscriptions are documented in page 74 of the book titled ‘The Inscriptions of the Madras Presidency’ (volume I), authored by V. Rangacharya.

Sridaran said, “There are beautiful sculptures, carvings and inscriptions in this temple. But it is in complete ruins. Its architectural members are found scattered all around it. The temple basement is found buried in sand. If the sand is removed, more inscriptions may be exposed and may provide more information on the temple history. Either the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department or the Archaeological Survey of India can do this.”

Ancient Suraj Kund Temple Ruins in Multan, Pakistan

Before the Balaji temple at Tirupati and Anantha Padmanabha temple at Tiruvananthapuram became richest temples of India there was one temple at Multan, Punjab, now Pakistan, 2000 years ago which had 6000 staff and a very big income. Here are some interesting but sad facts from the following book written by a Muslim historian.

By Dr. MUMTAZ HUSSAIN PATHAN( History of Sind Series, Vol.2, Sindhi Adabi Board, Hyderabad, Sind, Pakistan, 1978)

“The term Multan is derived from Sanskrit Malisthana (Maali- Asthan) which means the seat of Maalee, a people who are reported to have been dominant in West Pakistan in the ancient times. The Mali might have been the Maloi of the Greek writers who along with the Shibi (Sibi) were the two great people or tribes which inhabited a greater portion of Indo- Pakistan subcontinent. Many names are still connected with these tribes both in India and Pakistan which show the importance in which these peoples were held in ancient times. Malwa in central India and Sibi in Baluchistan, Siwistan in Sind and Shivi Kot (Shorkot) in Punjab perpetuate the name of these tribes and the extent of their cultural influence on the sub continent.

The ancient name of Multan is reported to have been Kasyapa – pura, placed on it after Rishi Kashyapa, who was one of the sons of Manu, the direct descendent of God Brahma. Manu had seven sons and these are represented in the heavens by the seven stars of the Great bear. It also seems to have derived its name from “Mul”, the sun god, whose statue adored the temple of Multan. This is attested to from the accounts of Arabs who speak of Multan as the chief centre of Sun worship in the northern part of the Indus valley.

The term “Mul” in Sanskrit means the root or origin it also means heaven, ether, atmosphere, space or god. Any one of these names can be made applicable to sun, the lord of ethereal space. It is related that the temple of Multan was the first ever built in the sub continent for the worship of sun god, by Samba, the son of lord Krishna.

It was named Adiyasthana or the first shrine. Aditiya is the corruption of Aditiyah (or the sun) which is usually shortened to Adit and even Ayt as in the case of Aditwara (or Aytwar) for Sunday. The sun worship in Multan may be very ancient. According to one tradition it was instituted by the famous Prahlada, the son of Daitya (or Hiranyakasipu), the son of Manu. The famous Sanskrit scholar AL-Beruni relates that the deity of Multan which was named after sun, was built in the Karta-Jug (Krta Yuga), which according to his calculations was 216432 years old.

Multan and its temple claim remote antiquity. It has been mentioned in the accounts of the Greek admiral Sky lax, who is reported to have explored the regions of Punjab and Sind during the reign of Darius I (550—486 BC), the third Achaemenian ruler of Iran. The description of the city of Kasyapapura given by Herodotus and Ptolemy and the account of its situation bring it to the site of Multan.

Alexander the great who visited the temple of Multan was wonder struck at the excellence of the human art with which the deity was built and suspended in the air by the pull of magnet. Multan is also spoken by the Chinese pilgrim Huen –Tsang, as flourishing city with the temple of sun, which he falls U-fa-Tsun (Aditya) the sun god.

The name of Multan appears as Mulo—san –pu-la (i.e.Mulasthanapura) and he further adds that the image of sun god was carved out of pure gold and was adorned with every kind of precious stones. During the period of his visit, Multan was situated on the eastern bank of the river Ravi but the river had long ago abandoned its course and it now more than thirty miles distant.

Arabs who became masters of the Indus valley identified the deity with that of job (Ayub) the Hebrew prophet.

Multan was the capital of one of the provinces of the Hindu kingdom of Sind, before the invasion of the Arabs. It is reported to have been captured by chach, the Brahmin ruler Alor, who usurped the power after the death of Rai Sehasi 2, the last Buddhist ruler of Sind. At the time of Arab attack Multan was held by Raja Kanda who offered stiff resistance to the invading army and cut off the provisions from the south. The army, therefore, killed asses and used them as food.

(Sind= Sindhu)

According to the version of chachnamah the head of the animal cost five hundred dirhams, which may be an exaggeration. The priests of Multan who were tired of the prolonged misery entered into negotiations with the Arab army and surrendered the fort to them. Large quantities of gold were obtained by the Arabs from the temple of Multan and as such it became known as Farj bayt al-Dahab .

Rulers of Multan

The names of rulers of Multan who succeeded during a long period of nearly two centuries do not appear systematically in historical sources.

It has been reported the Quarmathian missionary work was in full swing during the later period of the Arab rule in Sind on account of the propaganda machinery handled by men like al-Haytham and Jalan ibn Shayban. The latter who was a great Ismaili fanatic broke the deity of Multan into pieces and ordered the closure of Umayyad mosque built earlier by Muhammad ibn al-Qasim, the Arab conqueror of Sind.

The deity of Multan

The deity of Multan identified with job, the Hebrew prophet by the Arab historians, was one of the few deities to which the people flocked in large numbers from various regions of the subcontinent. During the period of Arab rule, the temple was the main source of revenue to the state and the rulers defrayed most of their needs from the income of the temple.

The deity of Multan is reported to have resembled a man, seated on a chair. Its body was covered with red skin in such a manner that nothing of it could be seen, excepting the eyes which are reported to have been two gems of great value. The jewels were fixed in the sockets with such a great skill that they looked real. Ibn Nadim reports that these gems were bigger than eggs of the sparrow and shone with brilliance in the temple. A crown of gold also adored the head of the deity, whose hands were placed on knees and the fingers of one of his hands show as if he was counting four. (My comments: It must be Chin Mudra of Hindu Gods: swami).

There were two other deitys in Multan known as JUNBUKAT and ZUNBUKAT (My comments: Dwara palakas?). Both were carved out of stone and were placed at an elevation of eighty yards on both sides of the valley. Since these deitys were seen from a great distance, the pilgrim would alight at the first sight and proceeded to the temple bare footed as a sign of reverence.
(We see such things even today in Hindu pilgrimage centres).

Gifts and presents were brought to the deity of Multan from a greater distance in some cases from places more than one thousand miles away. Sacrifices are offered to the deity after shaving the heads and also circumambulation of the temple ( my comments: This is done by Hindu on a large scale even today at Tirupati Balaji temple and Palani Murugan temple: swami). The sacrifices at Multan had various modes, some of which were horrible to the extreme. Some pilgrims would take out their eyes with the knife and place it before the deity. Others would select a long stick of bamboo and after making one of its ends sharp, would place the navel of their stomach over it. The pilgrim would then press against it in such a manner that it passed through his belly and caused his death.

(The eye episode reminds us of Kannappa Nayanar, Vishnu and Sibi in Buddha Jataka. ) — with Srilan Srisukumaran.

Tibetan Architecture

Tibetan architecture with its unique content and formation has met material and spiritual needs of local people, which can be classified into three groups, namely, temples, palaces, and housing.

Tibetan Monastery

There used to be thousands of monasteries in Tibet. Every family was expected to send at least one boy to a monastery. Tibetan monastery architectures are the places where local people hold religious activities and play an important role in their daily life. Tibetan monasteries are works of architectural, pictorial, decorative and landscape art. The most famous Tibetan monasteries include but not limited to: Jokhang Monastery, Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery in Lhasa, Tashihunpo Monastery in Shigatse and Palcho Choke Monastery in Gyantse, etc. Most of the monasteries were built against the mountains, therefore all buildings rise and lower with the terrain of the hills but in good order, forming a magnificent building complex.

Tibetan Palace

Tibetan Palace buildings are the places where Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama handle affairs and divided into winter palace and summer palace. Those palaces and Buddha hall in temples belong to the highest level and have high similarity in eaves’ decoration. However, the walls of palaces are painted in yellow and white rather than red. Built in the times of King Songzan Gambo, Potala Palace in Lhasa has long been regarded as a symbol of Tibetan architectural art and cultural prosperity.

Tibetan Houses

1. Tent: Tents are indispensable to Tibetan herdsmen’s families. Tent material is usually cow hair, woven and stitched after spinning.

2. Flat-topped Blockhouse(平顶稠房): In rural areas, cities and towns, Flat-topped Blockhouse is commonly seen. The most authentic blockhouses are built with stones and some with civil engineering structures, characterized by warm in winter and cool in summer. Flat-topped Blockhouses are usually multi-storey buildings, the ground floor is generally used for livestock enclosure, the second floor for the bedroom and storage room, etc., the third floor can be used as a hall, of course, there are also one-storey houses.


The music dance styles of Bangladesh may be divided into three categories: classical, folk, modern.

Bangladesh was once part of Pakistan. It was called East Pakistan.

The classical style has been influenced by other prevalent classical forms of music dances of the Indian subcontinent, accordingly, show some influenced dance forms like Bharatnatyam Kathak.

Several dancing styles in vogue in the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent, like Manipuri Santhali dances, are practiced, but Bangladesh has developed its own distinct dancing styles. Bangladesh has a rich tradition of folk songs, with lyrics rooted in vibrant tradition spirituality, mysticism, devotion. Such folk songs revolve around other themes, including love. The most prevalent folk songs music traditions include Bhatiali, Baul, Marfati, Murshidi, Bhawaiya. Lyricists like Lalon Shah, Hason Raja, Kangal Harinath, Romesh Shill, Abbas Uddin, many unknown anonymous lyricists have enriched the tradition of folk songs of Bangladesh.

In a relatively modern context, works of Rabindranath Tagore and Nazrul Islam form a major part of the cultural heritage of Bangladesh. Several musical instruments, some of them indigenous, are used in Bangladesh. Major musical instruments used are the bamboo flute (Bashi), drums (tabla, dhol), a single-stringed instrument named ektara, a four-stringed instrument called dotara, a pair of metal bowls, used for rhythm effects, called mandira. Currently, musical instruments of western origin, like guitars, drums, and the saxophone are used, sometimes along with traditional instruments (Muajj). Recently, Western influences have given rise to quality rock bands, particularly in urban centers like Dhaka.

The Bangladeshi press is diverse, outspoken and privately owned. Over 200 newspapers are published in the country. Bangladesh Betar is the state-run radio service. [1] The British Broadcasting Corporation operates the popular BBC Bangla news and current affairs service. Bengali broadcasts from Voice of America are also very popular. Bangladesh Television (BTV) is the state-owned television network. There more than 20 privately owned television networks, including several news channels. Freedom of the media remains a major concern, due to government attempts at censorship and harassment of journalists.

The cinema of Bangladesh dates back to 1898 when films began screening at the Crown Theatre in Dhaka. The first bioscope in the subcontinent was established in Dhaka that year. The Dhaka Nawab Family patronized the production of several silent films in the 1920s and 30s. In 1931, the East Bengal Cinematograph Society released the first full-length feature film in Bangladesh, titled the Last Kiss. The first feature film in East Pakistan, Mukh O Mukhosh, was released in 1956. During the 1960s, 25–30 films were produced annually in Dhaka. By the 2000s, Bangladesh produced 80–100 films a year. While the Bangladeshi film industry has achieved limited commercial success the country has produced notable independent film makers. Zahir Raihan was a prominent documentary-maker who was assassinated in 1971. The late Tareque Masud is regarded as one of Bangladesh's outstanding directors due to his numerous productions on historical and social issues. Masud was honored by FIPRESCI at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002 for his film The Clay Bird. Tanvir Mokammel, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, Humayun Ahmed, Alamgir Kabir, Subhash Dutta and Chashi Nazrul Islam are other prominent directors of Bangladesh cinema.

Festivals and celebrations are an integral part of the culture of Bangladesh. Pohela Falgun, Pohela Boishakh for Bengali and Boishabi for hill tracks tribal Matribhasha dibosh, victory day, Nobanno, Pitha Utshob in winter, Poush Songkranti and chaitro sankranti in the last day of Bangla month chaitro, Shakhrain are celebrated by everyone despite their religion. Muslim festivals of Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Azha, Milad un Nabi, Muharram, Chand raat, Shab-e-Baraat, Bishwa Ijtema Hindu festivals of Durga Puja and Janmashtami Buddhist festival of Buddha Purnima Christian festival of Christmas and secular festivals like Pohela Boishakh, Nabanna, Language Movement Day, Independence Day, Rabindra Jayanti, Nazrul Jayanti witness widespread celebrations and usually are national holidays in Bangladesh.

Eid ul-Fitr Edit

As the most important religious festival for the majority of Muslims, the celebration of Eid ul-Fitr has become a part of the culture of Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh declares the holiday for three days on Eid-ul Fitr. But practically, all schools, colleges, and offices remain closed for a week. This is the happiest time of the year for most of the people in Bangladesh. All outgoing public transport from the major cities have become highly crowded and in many cases the fares tend to rise in spite of government restrictions. On Eid day, the Eid prayers are held all over the country, in open areas like fields, Eidgahs or inside mosques. [2] After the Eid prayers, people return home, visit each other's home and eat sweet dishes called Shirini, Sheer Khurma and other delicacies like biryani, korma, haleem, kebab etc. Throughout the day people embrace each other and exchange greetings. It is also customary for junior members of the society to touch the feet of the seniors, and seniors returning blessings (sometimes with a small sum of money as a gift). Money and food are donated to the poor. In rural areas, the Eid festival is observed with great fanfare. Quiet remote villages become crowded. In some areas, Eid fairs are arranged. Different types of games including boat racing, kabaddi, and other traditional Bangladeshi games, as well as modern games like cricket and football, are played on this occasion. In urban areas, people play music, visit each other's houses, arrange picnics and eat special food. The homes, streets, markets, and parks are illuminated with lighting decorations in the evening. Watching movies and television programs have also become an integral part of the Eid celebration in urban areas. All local TV channels air special program for several days for this occasion.

Eid ul-Azha Edit

Eid ul-Azha or Bakri Id is the second most important religious festival. The celebration of this festival similar to Eid ul-Fitr in many ways. The only big difference is the Kurbani or sacrifice of domestic animals. Numerous temporary marketplaces of different sizes called hat operate in the big cities for sale of Qurbani animals (usually cows, goats, and sheep). In the morning on the Eid day, immediately after the prayer, affluent people thank God for the animal and then sacrifice it. Less affluent people also take part in the festivity by visiting houses of the affluent who are taking part in kurbani. After the kurbani, a large portion of the meat is given to the poor people and to the relatives and neighbors. Although the religious doctrine allows the sacrifice anytime over a period of three days starting from the Eid day, most people prefer to perform the ritual on the first day of Eid. However, the public holiday spans over three to four days. Many people from the big cities go to their ancestral houses and homes in the villages to share the joy of the festival with friends and relatives.

Pohela Boishakh Edit

Pahela Baishakh, which is also pronounced as Pohela Boishakh, is the first day of the Bengali calendar. It is usually celebrated on 14 April. Pohela Boishakh marks the start day of the crop season. Usually, on Pohela Boishakh, the home is thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned people bathe early in the morning and dress in fine clothes. They spend much of the day visiting relatives, friends, and neighbors and going to the fair. Fairs are arranged in many parts of the country where various agricultural products, traditional handicrafts, toys, cosmetics, as well as various kinds of food and sweets are sold. The fairs also provide entertainment, with singers, dancers, and traditional plays and songs. Horse races, bull races, bull-fights, cock-fights, flying pigeons, and boat racing were once popular. All gatherings and fairs consist of a wide spread of Bengali food and sweets. The most colorful New Year's Day festival takes place in Dhaka. Large numbers of people gather early in the morning under the banyan tree at Ramna Park where Chhayanot artists open the day with Rabindranath Tagore's famous song, Esho, hey Boishakh, esho esho (Come, year, come, come). A similar ceremony welcoming the new year is also held at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. Students and teachers of the institute take out a colorful procession and parade to round the campus and the surroundings of the campus through Shahabag Avenue. Social and cultural organizations celebrate the day with cultural programs in various field in the University of Dhaka as well as across the country. In this special day girls used to wear white Sharee with red line in opposition boys wear fotua with pant. Newspapers bring out special supplements. There are also special programs on radio and television. Prior to this day, special discounts on clothes, furniture, electronics, and various deals and shopping discounts are available. A special line of shari, usually cotton, white sharis with red print and embroidery is sold before this day as everyone dresses up for this day. Jasmine and marigold flowers are also a huge sale for this event which adorns the women's hair.

Nobanno Edit

The harvest festival is called the Nobanno. It is usually celebrated on the first day of Awgrohayon (Bengali Month) the first day of harvesting. The main festival is organizing by Jatio Nobanno Utshob Udjapan Porishod at Charukola (Fine Arts) in University of Dhaka with songs, dance, cakes, sweets, colorful procession and many traditional presentations. Once upon a time (from the very beginning), the first day of Awgrohayon was the first day of Bengali calendar.

Language day Edit

In 1952, the emerging middle classes of East Bengal underwent an uprising known later as the Bangla Language Movement. Bangladeshis (then East Pakistanis) were initially agitated by a decision by the Central Pakistan Government to establish Urdu, a minority language spoken only by the supposed elite class of West Pakistan, as the sole national language for all of Pakistan. The situation was worsened by an open declaration that "Urdu and only Urdu will be the national language of Pakistan" by the governor, Khawaja Nazimuddin. Police declared Section 144 which banned any sort of meeting. Defying this, the students of the University of Dhaka and Dhaka Medical College and other political activists started a procession on 21 February 1952. Near the current Dhaka Medical College Hospital, police fired on the protesters and numerous people, including Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Sofiur Rahman, Abul Barkat, and Abdul Jabbar died. The movement spread to the whole of East Pakistan and the whole province came to a standstill. Afterward, the Government of Pakistan relented and gave Bengali equal status as a national language. This movement is thought to have sown the seeds for the independence movement which resulted in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. To commemorate this movement, Shaheed Minar, a solemn and symbolic sculpture, was erected in the place of the massacre. The day is revered in Bangladesh and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in West Bengal as the Martyrs' Day. This day is the public holiday in Bangladesh. UNESCO decided to observe 21 February as International Mother Language Day. The UNESCO General Conference took a decision that took effect on 17 November 1999 when it unanimously adopted a draft resolution submitted by Bangladesh and co-sponsored and supported by 28 other countries.

Durga Puja Edit

Durga Puja, the largest religious festival for Hindus, is celebrated widely across Bangladesh. Thousands of pandals (mandaps) are set up in various villages, towns, and cities. Durga Puja is a grand cultural celebration in the capital city of Dhaka. Major pujas of Dhaka are held in numerous pandals, but the biggest celebration takes place at Dhakeshwari Temple where several thousand devotees and onlookers stream through the premises for four days. Special boat race on Buriganga river is arranged and it attracts a large crowd. A five-day holiday is observed by all educational institutions, while Bijoya Dashami is a public holiday. On Bijoya Dashami, effigies are paraded through the streets of Shankhari Bazaar in Old Dhaka in loud, colorful processions before being immersed into the rivers. Thousands of Muslims take part in the secular part of festivities in celebration of Bengali solidarity and culture.

Weddings Edit

Bengali weddings are traditionally in five parts: first, it is the bride and groom's Mehendi Shondha (also called Pan Chini), the bride's Gaye Holud, the groom's Gaye Holud, the Biye, and the Bou Bhaat. These often take place on separate days. The first event in a wedding is an informal one: the groom presents the bride with a ring marking the "engagement" which is gaining popularity. For the mehendi shondha the bride's side apply henna to each other as well as the bride for the bride's Gaye Holud, the groom's family – except the groom himself – go in procession to the bride's home. Bride's friends and family apply turmeric paste to her body as a part of bride's Gaye Holud, and they are traditionally all in matching clothes, mostly orange. The bride is seated on a dais, and the henna is used to decorate the bride's hands and feet with elaborate abstract designs. The sweets are then fed to the bride by all involved, piece by piece. The actual wedding ceremony "Biye" follows the Gaye Holud ceremonies. The wedding ceremony is arranged by the bride's family. On the day, the younger members of the bride's family barricade the entrance to the venue and demand a sort of admission charge from the groom in return for allowing him to enter. The bride and groom are seated separately, and a Kazi (authorized person by the govt. to perform the wedding), accompanied by the parents and a Wakil (witness) from each side formally asks the bride for her consent to the union, and then the groom for his. The bride's side of the family tries to play some kind of practical joke on the groom such as stealing the groom's shoe. The reception, also known as Bou-Bhaat (reception), is a party given by the groom's family in return for the wedding party. It is typically a much more relaxed affair, with only the second-best wedding outfit being worn. This is more or less the Muslim wedding procession. The Hindu weddings also follow the same parts of the wedding but the wedding part is somewhat different. The wedding is done along with a feast and according to the Hindu religion's wedding steps, e.g. Shat-pake-badha Shidur Daan etc. the wedding most likely lasts the whole night starting at the evening. The Christian and Buddhist Wedding follow a totally different Process. They more or less follow Western Culture and Methods. Sometimes they too follow the Bengali wedding procession.

Bangladesh has appealing architecture from historic treasures to contemporary landmarks. It has evolved over centuries and assimilated influences from social, religious and exotic communities. Bangladesh has many architectural relics and monuments dating back thousands of years.

India's history and culture is dynamic, spanning back to the beginning of human civilization. It begins with a mysterious culture along the Indus River and in farming communities in the southern lands of India. The history of India is punctuated by constant integration of migrating people with the diverse cultures that surround India. Available evidence suggests that the use of iron, copper and other metals was widely prevalent in the Indian sub-continent at a fairly early period, which is indicative of the progress that this part of the world had made. By the end of the fourth millennium BC, India had emerged as a region of highly developed civilization.

The Indus Valley Civilization

The History of India begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization, more precisely known as Harappan Civilization. It flourished around 2,500 BC, in the western part of South Asia, what today is Pakistan and Western India. The Indus Valley was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. Nothing was known about this civilization till 1920s when the Archaeological Department of India carried out excavations in the Indus valley wherein the ruins of the two old cities, viz. Mohenjodaro and Harappa were unearthed. The ruins of buildings and other things like household articles, weapons of war, gold and silver ornaments, seals, toys, pottery wares, etc., show that some four to five thousand years ago a highly developed Civilization flourished in this region.

The Indus valley civilization was basically an urban civilization and the people lived in well-planned and well-built towns, which were also the centers for trade. The ruins of Mohenjodaro and Harappa show that these were magnificent merchant cities-well planned, scientifically laid, and well looked after. They had wide roads and a well-developed drainage system. The houses were made of baked bricks and had two or more storeys.

The highly civilized Harappans knew the art of growing cereals, and wheat and barley constituted their staple food. They consumed vegetables and fruits and ate mutton, pork and eggs as well. Evidences also show that they wore cotton as well as woollen garments. By 1500 BC, the Harappan culture came to an end. Among various causes ascribed to the decay of Indus Valley Civilization are the recurrent floods and other natural causes like earthquake, etc.

Vedic Civilization

The Vedic civilization is the earliest civilization in the history of ancient India. It is named after the Vedas, the early literature of the Hindu people. The Vedic Civilization flourished along the river Saraswati, in a region that now consists of the modern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab. Vedic is synonymous with Hinduism, which is another name for religious and spiritual thought that has evolved from the Vedas.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata were the two great epics of this period.

The Buddhist Era

During the life time of Lord Gautam Buddha, sixteen great powers (Mahajanpadas) existed in the 7th and early 6th centuries BC. Among the more important republics were the Sakyas of Kapilavastu and the Licchavis of Vaishali.

Alexander's Invasion

In 326 BC, Alexander invaded India, after crossing the river Indus he advanced towards Taxila. He then challenged king Porus , ruler of the kingdom between the rivers Jhelum and Chenab. The Indians were defeated in the fierce battle, even though they fought with elephants, which the Macedonians had never before seen. Alexander captured Porus and, like the other local rulers he had defeated, allowed him to continue to govern his territory.

Gupta Dynasty

After the Kushanas, the Guptas were the most important dynasty. The Gupta period has been described as the Golden Age of Indian history. The first famous king of the Gupta dynasty was Ghatotkacha's son Chandragupta I. He married Kumaradevi, the daughter of the chief of the Licchavis. This marriage was a turning point in the life of Chandragupta I. He got Pataliputra in dowry from the Lichhavis. From Pataliputra, he laid the foundation of his empire and started conquering many neighbouring states with the help of the Licchavis. He ruled over Magadha (Bihar), Prayaga and Saketa (east Uttar Pradesh). His kingdom extended from the river Ganges to Allahabad. Chandragupta I also got the title of Maharajadhiraja (King of Kings) and ruled for about fifteen years.

Can the Culture of Tibet Still Be Saved?

It's not easy to wipe out a culture. Huge forces must be brought to bear with such a powerful assault that survival is almost impossible. Sometimes a natural disaster is the culprit.

  • Approximately 65.5 million years ago, an asteroid collided with the earth in the area of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, creating the Chicxulub Crater and triggering a mass extinction. Although man was not yet present on earth, the impact had a huge effect on the course of evolution and has long been credited with contributing to the disappearance of the dinosaurs.
  • In 79 A.D., the eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under volcanic ash.
  • In 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake and its resulting tsunami had the opposite effect.

The water washed away centuries of sand from some of the ruins of a 1,200-year-old lost city at Mahabalipuram on the south coast of India. The site, containing such notable structures as a half-buried granite lion near a 7th century Mahablipuram temple and a relic depicting an elephant, is part of what archaeologists believe to be an ancient port city that was swallowed by the sea hundreds of years ago.

Sometimes a military assault by one nation upon another has a major effect in eliminating the weaker nation's culture.

  • During a visit to Alexandria, Egypt, in 48 BCE, Caesar's forces are reputed to have burned the city's famous library. In 391, on the order of Theodosius, all pagan buildings (including the library) were destroyed. The Serapeum was destroyed by either a crowd of Christians or Roman soldiers.
  • Spain's colonization of Mexico in 1521 marked the beginning of the downfall of the Toltec, Aztec, Olmec, Mayan, Zapotec, and Teotihuacan cultures.
  • When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the National Museum of Iraq (which contained precious relics from ancient Mesopotamian history) was looted and suffered terrible losses. On April 10 and 12, the Iraq National Library and Archive was burned and looted.

Diseases that attack the immune system can have a surprising effect in wiping out a culture:

  • The Spanish conquest of Peru by Francisco Pizarro during the 16th century introduced diseases from Europe (most notably smallpox) to the Incan Empire. Within 70 years, 93% of the Incan population had died.
  • Following the arrival of British explorer James Cook, native Hawaiians were exposed to smallpox, influenza, and measles (nearly 20% of Hawaii's population succumbed to measles in the 1850s).
  • The rapid spread of the HIV virus in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in the early deaths of many talented gay men, causing some to wonder if an entire generation of creativity had been lost. By 2007, more than 33 million people worldwide were suffering from the disease.

Sometimes genocide and religion are the culprits:

  • Many Native American tribes saw their indigenous cultures destroyed by "the Great White Father."
  • The religious missionaries who arrived in the Hawaiian Islands during the 19th century had a severely negative impact on native Hawaiian culture.
  • Starting in 1821, anti-Jewish pogroms took place during the Russian Empire (particularly during the period from 1881-1884). A second, more brutal wave of progroms occurred between 1903-1906.
  • Beginning in April of 1915, Turkey embarked on the Armenian genocide in an effort to destroy the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire.
  • In World War II, Hitler's forces did their best to exterminate the Jews. Book burnings and the mass slaughter of more than six million Jews led to the destruction of a great deal of Yiddish culture (Aaron Lansky's amazing book -- Outwitting History -- tells of his struggles to save more than a million Yiddish books, how he established the National Yiddish Book Center and, thanks to emerging digital technology, was able to restore the collections of Yiddish literature to many European libraries, synagogues, and Jewish communities).
  • Built in 507 and 554, the Buddhas of Bamyan in the Hazarajat region of Afghanistan were dynamited and destroyed by the Taliban in March of 2001.

Two new documentaries show the cultural impact of Communist China's efforts to suppress and destroy the culture of Tibet. Each is fascinating in its own right. Together, they make a powerful statement about the importance of one's cultural identity.

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Many people think of Tibet as a small country somewhere in Central Asia. But, in truth, it's about the size of Western Europe. Often referred to as the roof of the world (Tibet is home to Mt. Everest and the Himalayas), its average elevation is about 16,000 feet or three miles above sea level.

The Tibetan Empire was founded in the 7th century. As an independent nation, Tibet's laws were completely unrelated to any other country's. Over a period of 700 years, religion and literature migrated into Tibet as scholars who had been sent to India to master Sanskrit then translated Buddhist texts and works of Indian literature into the Tibetan language.

A British expedition invaded Tibet's borders in 1904 and, in 1910, China's Qing government deposed the Dalai Lama. Following the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the government of the 14th Dalai Lama fled to northern India, settling in Dharmsala. From then until the leaders of China's cultural revolution were ousted from power in 1980, Communist China tried to destroy as much of Tibet's culture as possible.

Tibet is one of the world's last ancient civilizations, with a highly developed classical religion, styles of dress, spoken language, written script, poetry, and specialized forms of painting and music. Unlike Chinese, the Tibetan language is alphabetical (rather than pictorial). Because the valleys of the great Tibetan plateau are where most of the country's population is concentrated (and where China's population has been migrating), much of Tibet's culture remains intact only in the high regions above the plateau or in Tibetan enclaves in India (like Dharmsala).

Ngawang Choephel (Photo by: Jayd Cardina)

Directed by former Tibetan political prisoner, Ngawang Choephel (who now lives in New York City), Tibet In Song demonstrates how Tibetan folk music and culture were suppressed by the Chinese government starting in the 1950s. Much of the documentary celebrates the culture's working songs, songs about family, and songs about the beauty of the land. In 1995 Choephel was arrested, sentenced to 18 years in prison, and branded as a spy simply for trying to record the songs heard in the film (his release from prison became an international cause).

While Choephel's work concentrated on preserving Tibet's musical heritage, much more was under attack by the Chinese government. Mao Tse-Tung's philosophy was that the way to change the loyalty of Tibetans was through song. As a result, public loudspeakers started airing Chinese music. Chinese performers were brought to Tibet to change the music heard by Tibetan children. Today, when asked to sing a song, many adults will sing Chinese music because they no longer know any Tibetan songs.

The contrast between Choephel's wholesome curiosity about his musical heritage and the brutality many Tibetans suffered for their refusal to sing Chinese songs is appalling. Those who have always been curious about the cultures of foreign civilizations will be shocked to see how seriously Tibetan culture was undermined and corrupted by the Chinese (in one scene, two elderly women are warned by a Chinese policeman to stop singing in the street before they get into trouble).

While there is much sorrow to be found in Choephel's documentary as Tibetans mourn the loss of their culture, the sheer beauty of the Tibetan landscape quietly asserts itself with a strange kind of geologic defiance throughout Tibet In Song. Here's the trailer:

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If you've already seen Rick Ray's excellent 2006 documentary, 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama, you probably won't want to miss Journey From Zanskar. Written and directed by Frederick Marx, and narrated by Richard Gere, the film stars Tibetan monk Geshe Lobsang Dhamchoe and includes a special appearance by the Dalai Lama.

While Tibet in Song deals with vanishing aspects of Tibetan culture, Journey From Zanskar is focused on on a very different mission. Zanskar is the last remaining original Tibetan Buddhist society with a continuous untainted lineage dating back thousands of years.

The Dalai Lama has spoken out about the importance of protecting the remaining Tibetan cultures. Whereas the public schools in Zanskar have taught children how to speak Urdu, Hindi, and English, they have not taught them the Tibetan language, history, or culture.

Geshe Labsong Dhamchoe

In Journey From Zanskar, two monks from the 1,000-year-old Stongde monastery have promised the Dalai Lama they will do whatever they can to provide an education for some of the poorest children in Zanskar. When the school they have built at the monastery is completed, its curriculum will be designed to combine the best of modern Western education with Tibetan Buddhism (the monks have also been building a museum to house relics dating back 8,000 years and a guesthouse to accommodate tourists).

To understand the challenges they face, it's important to look at Zanskar's geography. Located in northwest India, Zanskar was once considered a part of Tibet. The Indian government "closed" Zanskar to the world until 1974. When it was reopened, the Zanskaris found themselves living in the Muslim-dominated states of Jammu and Kashmir.

Located only miles from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the sealed Tibetan border, Zanskaris find themselves stuck between the region of Ladakh to the East and China to the West. The only road leading into the 2,000-foot high Zanskar valley is controlled by the embattled northern town of Kargil. The best traveled route out of Zanskar is a trail leading over the 17,500-foot high Shinku Pass.

Journey From Zanskar follows two Tibetan monks as they attempt to take poor children (ages 4-12) from their homes in one of the most isolated places in the world and enroll them in a Buddhist school in Manali, India. The monks carefully select the brightest, most capable children, who must then be separated from their fathers and mothers, grandparents and friends.

Leading the children on foot and horseback, the monks embark on a dangerous five-day trek. When they are less than 300 vertical feet from the Shinku pass, their yaks and horses refuse to go further, forcing them to turn back. One adult suffers from altitude sickness, another from snow blindness as they return to their starting point in Padum. Eventually, the children are transported by bus and jeep to Manali, where their heads are shaved and one of them enjoys the first hot shower he has ever had in his life. Later, they are brought to Dharamsala to meet the Dalai Lama, who joyously welcomes them.

Marx's documentary is a testament to the struggles of the Zanskari people to survive -- and their willingness to part with their children in the hope that the next generation can get an education that will lead to a better life. Americans who have taken their educational system for granted will find Journey from Zanskar a sobering reminder of how lucky they are and how much they have at their fingertips.

In Journey from Zanskar, the frigid beauty of the Tibetan landscape vies with the optimism of Geshe Lobsang Dhamchoe and his fellow monks as they struggle to improve the lives of a dozen Tibetan children. Here's the trailer.

Watch the video: World Heritage Sites in China: Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City (July 2022).


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