Tibetan Poetry Analysis

Historical Background

(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

Tibetans refer to their country as the “Land of Snows,” and this name accurately conveys the remoteness, mystery, and beauty of the land that contains the world’s highest mountain, Everest (or “Goddess Mother of the Snows” in Tibetan). Tibet continues to be, even in the twenty-first century, nearly geographically and politically isolated. Tibet, an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China, covers an area of approximately 500,000 square miles. By contrast, historical Tibet—the region over which the cultural, religious, and frequently political influence of Tibet extended—encompassed roughly double that area and included all the highland plateaus between the Himalayan mountain range in the south and the Altyn Tagh and Kunlun ranges in the north.

The Tibetan Empire was established prior to the seventh century c.e., and recorded Tibetan history begins with the reign of Srong-brtsan sgam-po, who ruled Tibet from 620 to 649. Through its military campaigns, Tibet came into contact with a number of civilizations which had an immediate and profound influence on Tibetan culture. The religions and cultures of Iran, Gilgit, Kashmir, Turfan, Khotan, China, and, perhaps most important, the Buddhist kingdoms of northern India, all had an impact on the development of Tibetan civilization.

Tibetans attribute the invention of their alphabet to Thonmi Sambhota, a minister of Srong-brtsan sgam-po. The king first sent a group of Tibetans to India to study Indian alphabets to develop an alphabet suited to the Tibetan language, but this group met with failure. Srong-brtsan sgam-po then sent Thonmi to India. Thonmi’s success is attested by the epithet “Sam-bho-ta” (“Excellent Tibetan”), given him by his Indian teachers, and by the attribution to his authorship of eight books, only two of which are extant, on the subject of Tibetan...

(The entire section is 778 words.)