Zahor

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Zahor (Tib ཟ་ཧོར་, Wyl. za hor) - an ancient Buddhist kingdom, home to many great Buddhist scholars. It is considered to be the birthplace of some of the most influential teachers of Tibetan Buddhism, such as Shantarakshita (~ 725 – 788), Atisha (980 – 1054) and Tilopa (988 – 1069). Also known as a center for studying and practicing medicine, it played a minor role in the formation of the Tibetan medical tradition.[1] Further, it was an important place for the production and trade of silk. It was the location of one of the eight great charnel grounds, Lanka Mound (“Laṅka Tsek”). It is best known to Buddhists as the country in which the Vajrayana teachings first appeared. Thus Zahor played a vital role in the early development of Vajrayana Buddhism. Like Uddiyana, Zahor is a place in which historical facts and myths blend.

Name

Zahor (Tib. za hor) is the Tibetan rendering of a name of which the Sanskrit equivalent is not known. This may suggest that the originally name came from one of the many prakrit (Skt. prākṛt) dialects spoken in India. In agreement with the Tsik Dzö Chenmo (Tib. tshig mdzod chen mo, Eng. The Great Dictionary)[2] Gendün Chöpel (1903-1951) suggests that Zahor may have been a deviation of Sahora. Thus he suggests that the ancient city or kingdom in Sanskrit was known as Sahora.[3]

Location

Scholars have found it difficult to pinpoint the exact location of Zahor. This lack of precision has not, however, proved to be a problem for Tibetan pilgrims at any stage in the past. Even as regards the four most important sites such as Lumbini, Bodhygaya, Saranath and Kushinigar, it is nearly impossible to find evidence of their having been visited by Buddhists prior to the reign of the Buddhist emperor Ashoka (304–232 BCE).[4] It is crucial to understand the non-geographical perspective that underlies the process of locating pilgrimage sites in the Buddhist tradition, namely that the external world is, in a fundamental sense, “mind-created.”[5] In this way, the sites are not considered as having a fixed location. Instead, it is better to think of a “shifting terrain” of pilgrimage sites.[6]

Zahor in Himachal Pradesh

The Pema Kathang and other life-stories, give a more fluid picture of places and their location. Thus Zahor and Uddiyana are presented as either the same place or closely neighboring regions. It states: “On the northwest frontiers of the land of Uddiyana in the center of the capital of Zahor…”[7] At different times in history, Tibetan pilgrims have considered both the lake in front of the Golden Temple[8] in the city of Amritsar and the lake at Rewalsar[9] in Himachal Pradesh to be the lake that arose as a result of the king's attempt to burn Guru Rinpoche.[10] Since many Tibetan pilgrims in previous times have also identified the Swat valley in Pakistan as Uddiyana, the birthplace of Guru Rinpoche, it thus seems logical to identify the nearby area of Mandi and Rewalsar as Zahor.

Thus, nowadays, it is the area of Mandi and Rewalsar, known as Tso Pema (“the Lotus Lake”) that is generally recognized as the ancient kingdom of Zahor.

Zahor in Bihar

The Padma Kathang also places Zahor to the southeast,[11] which would roughly correspond to the state of Orrisa. There is sufficient evidence to believe that Zahor was in fact a country to the east of Bodhgaya, on the border with Bengal. In the The Sutra which Gathers All Intentions (“Gongpa Düpa Do”) and other scriptures Zahor is described as a region lying to the east of Bodhgaya.[12] Lotsāba Tsultrim Gyalwa,[13] one of Atisha's main disciples and the author of Atiśa's earliest bibliography, states that Atisha was born in a large city in the country of Zahor in Bengal,[14] which is believed to have been in Bikrampur.[15] The 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, in his biography of Tilopa, states that Tilopa was born to the east of Bodhgaya in Zahor. Similarly, as quoted in the introduction, the terma of Mandarava’s life-story revealed by Samten Lingpa (b.1655) states: “In the middle of these major and minor countries lies the great region of Bengal. It is within this region that the great land of Zahor is located...”[16]

In more recent times, Gendün Chöpel stated that the kings of the Pala dynasty made Zahor their capital. Gendün Chöpel offers two possible locations for this ancient city, suggesting that the ruins of Zahor may be found either “on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Bengal” or “on the southern banks of the Ganges near Bihar.”[17] Thus Gendün Chöpel connects Zahor directly with the Pāla dynasty (750-1199). Given the time frame that Zahor existed, based on the Buddhist scholars associated with Zahor this seems very plausible.

The Pala emperors, in addition to a shifting centre of authority, depending on the ruler, took several cities as their main seats, thus rather than one, several cities qualify as their capitals. The first king of the Pāla dynasty, king Gopala, ruling from 750s–770s CE, was elected by regional chieftains in a time of crisis in the country of Gauda (Skt. Gauḍa).[18] Thus Gauda, we could say, marks the place from where the Pala dynasty once began. From there, the Pala emperors extended their territory far and wide with over the East Indian subcontinent, while maintaining their centre of control and authority within the area of modern day Bihar and Bengal.[19] It likely, thought not confirmed, that king Gopala was a Buddhist patron.[20] Gopala was succeeded by his son Dharmapala who is seen amongst the Pala emperors as the strongest Buddhist patron. During his rule (c. 770–812) Dharmapala greatly supported various monasteries and built the famous monastery of Vikramashila. Dharmapala's son Devapala (r.c. 812-850) issued several grants from Mudgagiri.[21] A much later Pala king, Ramapala (r.c. 1072-1126) ruled from Ramavatī (Skt. Ramavatī) near Gauda. In addition, Pataliputra,[22] the seat of King Ashoka was considered as one of the Pala kings’ capitals. It is also said that Atisha comes from Bikrampur in Zahor.

Either as a city or a country, Zahor would have been in the close vicinity of the many Bengali hubs of Tantric activity. These included the important monasteries of Nalanda, Vikramashila, Uddandapura (“Pulahari”), Somapura, Triḳaṭuka (Skt. Triḳaṭuka) and Jagaddala.[23] Under the protection of the Pāla emperors, Zahor would have therefore played a significant role in the preservation and flourishing of Buddhism in India and Tibet.

Further Reading

  • Dalton, Jacob P. The uses of the dgongs pa ‘dus pa’i mdo in the development of the rnyinng-ma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Asian Language and Cultures: Buddhist Studies. The University of Michigan, 2002.
  • Davidson, Ronald M. Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002: 239 – 245.
  • Dudjom Rinpoche. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History. Translated and edited by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1991.
  • Gendun, Chopel. Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler. University of Chicago Press, 2014.
  • Huber, Toni. The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India. University of Chicago Press, 2008.
  • Jacoby Sarah. “Mandarava.” Published in Aug 2007 on Treasury of Lives. http://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Mandarava/9.
  • Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche. White Lotus: An Explanation of the Seven-line Prayer to Guru Padmasambhava. Boston: Shambhala, 2007.
  • Karmay, S. G. (1981). "King Tsa/Dza and Vajrayana." In Strickmann, M. (ed.), Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R. A. Stein, MCB 20, 1981: 192 – 211.
  • Padmasambhava. The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava. Translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1998.
  • Sanderson, Alexis. "The Śaiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period" in Genesis and Development of Tantrism, edited by Shingo Einoo, Institute of Oriental Culture Special Series, 23. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, 2009: 41-350.
  • Tucci, Guiseppe. Tibetan Painted Scrolls. Two Volumes. Bangkok: SDI Publications, 1999: 734.
  • Van der Kuijp, Leonard W.J.. “On the Edge of Myth and History: Za hor, its Place in the History of Early Indian Buddhist Tantra, and Dalai Lama V and the Genealogy of its Royal Family.” In Bangwei Wang, Jinhua Chen and Ming Chen, eds., Studies on Buddhist Myths: Texts, Pictures, Traditions and History. Shanghai: Zhongxi Book Company, 2013: 114 – 164.
  • Van der Kuijp, Leonard W.J.. “Za hor and its Contribution to Tibetan Medicine, Part One: Some Names, Places, and Texts,” in Bod Rig Pa'i Dus Deb, Journal of Tibetology 6, 2010: 21 – 50.
  • Yeshe, Tsogyal. The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, Vol. I & II. Padma bKa'i Thang. rediscovered by Terchen Urgyan Lingpa, translated into French by GC Toussaint, and into English by K. Douglas and G. Bays. Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978.
  • Yeshe, Tsogyal. The Lotus-born: the life story of Padmasambhava. Transl. Erik Padma Kunsang, ed. Marcia Binder Schmidt. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.

Notes

  1. See Van der Kuijp, Leonard, “Za hor and its Contribution to Tibetan Medicine, Part One: Some Names, Places, and Texts,” in Bod Rig Pa'i Dus Deb, Journal of Tibetology 6, 2010: 21 – 50.
  2. “rgya gar shar phyogs b+hangga la'i yul te za hor dang mtshungs shing/ deng sang gi meng ca la/”
  3. Gendun, Chopel, Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler (University of Chicago Press, 2014), 259.
  4. Huber, Toni, The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India, (University of Chicago Press, 2008), 19.
  5. Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche, White Lotus: An Explanation of the Seven-line Prayer to Guru Padmasambhava, (Boston: Shambhala, 2007), 38.
  6. Huber, Toni, The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India, (University of Chicago Press, 2008), 16.
  7. Yeshe, Tsogyal, The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, Vol. I & II, (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978): 235.
  8. GPS Coordinates: 31°37′12″N 74°52′37″E
  9. GPS Coordinates: 31° 38′ 2″ N, 76° 50′ 0″ E
  10. Huber, Toni, The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India, (University of Chicago Press, 2008), 242.
  11. Yeshe, Tsogyal, The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, Vol. I & II, (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978): 73.
  12. Dalton, Jacob P., The uses of the dgongs pa ‘dus pa’i mdo in the development of the rnyinng-ma school of Tibetan Buddhism, (Asian Language and Cultures: Buddhist Studies. The University of Michigan, 2002), 56.
  13. Tib. tshul khrims rgyal ba, 1011 – 1070
  14. Van der Kuijp, Leonard W.J., On the Edge of Myth and History: Za hor, its Place in the History of Early Indian Buddhist Tantra, and Dalai Lama V and the Genealogy of its Royal Family, (Shanghai: Zhongxi Book Company, 2013), 135.
  15. Tucci, Guiseppe. Tibetan Painted Scrolls. Two Volumes. Bangkok: SDI Publications, 1999: 736.
  16. Padmasambhava, The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava, translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1998): 76.
  17. Gendun, Chopel, Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler (University of Chicago Press, 2014): 259.
  18. Both a city and a country, 160 km east of Bhagalpur (24°52′0″N 88°8′0″E). However, the precise location and extend of Gauḍa remains unknown.
  19. Hence, they were often called Gauḍeśvara (Lord of Gauḍa) and Vangapati (Skt. ‘’Vaṅgapati’’; Eng. ‘’Lord of Vanga’’ - Bengal).
  20. Alexis Sanderson, "The Śaiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period," in Genesis and Development of Tantrism, (Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, 2009), 93-94.
  21.  Modern day Munger (25.381°N 86.465°E). This led some scholars to suggest that Mudgagiri was the Pāla kings’ main capital.
  22. Modern day Patna: 25°35'53.0"N 85°11'48.0"E
  23. Alexis Sanderson, "The Śaiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period," in Genesis and Development of Tantrism, (Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, 2009), 88.