Megalith to Chorten Speak up for the Khas

The paths taken by Roerich and writer Bellezza

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The paths taken by Roerich and writer Bellezza.

Megaliths and Chortens

Chorten Gyapa, "One Hundred Chortens", consists of a hundred cairns (called in Tibetan) in ten rows of ten. Each cairn is built of flat rocks heaped together with a small slab of rock sticking out of the top. The u pper sections of the cairns are whitewashed. Thereis a cent ralcaim which is built likethe others but is bigger,almost three meters tall. It is surmounted by a vertical stone projecting half a meter beyond. Prayer flags are strung from it to adjoining cairns, and yak homs and yarn are placed on its side as votive offerings.

Lama Gochung explained the signifi­cance of Chorten Gyapa to me. Each of the 100 cairns represents a bead of Guru Rinpo-che's mala. The central caim represents the bindu, or largest bead, of the mala. Oneday, a srinmo or ogress living in Burkar Tsho threatened to flood the entire region and displace the encamped drokpa. The locals, whowereatthe mercy of the srinmo, sought help from Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, the tantric adept and exorci st. Guru Rinpoche agreed to help the besieged people and travelled to Burkar Tsho. He neutralised the power of the Srinmo by determining where the heart or life-force of the ogress was loca-ted. It happened to be where Chorten Gyapa now stands. The small hills on either side of Chorten Gyapa are the srinmo's breasts, hence called Numari ("Breast Mountain").

Guru Rinpoche, with the assistance of his tutelary deities, bound the ogress to the earth by pinning her heart down. This he accomplished by striking his mala on the ground which magically was transformed into the hundred cairns of Chorten Gyapa, From that time on, the srinmo, representing one of the many malevolent forces subdued by Guru Rinpoche in Tibet, could cause no more harm to the drokpa. One of the most important Guru Rinpoche sites of Namru, C horten Gyapa was ne vertheles s overlooked by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution because they regarded it as worthless and remote.

The story of theogress and local beliefs notwithstanding, geographic evidence suggests that Chorten Gyapa is the site of Doring. The location of key landmarks, valleys, passes, rivers and lakes leaves no doubt that this was the location identified by Roerich in 1928. The field data I have compiled on the geography of Chorten Gyapa correlates with the physical and cultural data derived from the U.S. Defence Agency 1:50,000 Tactical Pilotage charts, as well as the Tibetan language maps published by the Chinese. The evidence is irresistible; Doring is Chorten Gyapa. However, by no stretch of imagination does Chorten Gyapa resemble a megalithic site. Here there were no cromlechs, menhirs or circles of stone as per Roerich's description. Furthermore, the chortencomplexisconceivedasaunitoflOO

H1MAL May/June 1995


caims. It is not round with rows of upright stones radiatingout Also, ChortenGyapais built ofsmallstones,each of which could be handled by a single man, and there is no evidence of the monolithic stones which Roerich describes. Though Doring and Chorten Gyapa occupy the same geographic coordinates, they share little resemblance. What happened to Roerich's megalithic site?

Mic-hos, Lha-chos

There is only one explanation. Sometime in the last 70 years, Doring was purposely altered to create Chorten Gyapa. Using the old megaliths as the root stones at their base, the drokpas of the region built the hundred cairns of Chorten Gyapa. The original character of what might have been a stone age site has been altered to the point of being unrecognisable. In order to invest new meaning and significance into Doring, the site was transformed into a testament of Guru Rinpoche's magical powers and prowess. The haunts of a local aboriginal deity was elaborated upon to better conform with the tenets of Vajrayana

Buddhism. The architecture and mytho­logy was altered.

The p roces s of legend-build ing arou nd Padmasambhava and his exploits is something that has gone on for 1300 years. In the complex set of factors that come into play, at some juncture, the Guru Rinpoche connotation of the Doring site, related to a more 'modern religion', eclipsed the more primitive layer of beliefs. This is a process evident elsewhere in Tibet as well, where themi-c/ios,thereligionofthepeople,orfolk religion with its aboriginal as pert s, is eclipsed by the more organised modern lha-chos. It was Guru Rinpoche who was instrumental in taming the chaotic terrestrial forces which inhabited the landscape and who tamed these elemental forces and brought order to the world, which led to the spread of Vajrayana Buddhism. This victory of one force over the other also seems to have occurred in Doring as well, in the way cairns have overwhelmed the megaliths.

There is no question of fraud or m is representation onthepartof Roerich, for the site was photographed by his team.

This is a case of planned and purposeful modification of the architectural character of an ancient monument by those who set about building the hundred cairns.

How many other such prehistoric monuments may have been effaced, not by the ravages of time nor the violence of the Cultural Revolution, but by the overweening efforts of the Tibetans themselves, to rewrite their history in order to bring it more in line with Vajrayana orthodoxy? This is an important question if we are to better understand how cultures remould themselves, reflecting changing conditions and values. At some time, someone made a decision that Doring should be more than the dwelling place of an aboriginal deity. Through this effort, the hold of Buddhism on Tibet has increased by a small measure, but at the same time a vital link of the people to their ancient history was obliterated.

J.V. Bellezzaisa traveller of the Western Himalaya and Tibet.

s- Tableware * Floormats * Bedcovers * Cushion Covers # Pillows * Kitciien textiles * Cloth by the meier * Cloihing * Bags * Toys

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