Tibet Archaeology

and all things Tibetan

Flight of the Kyung

December 2017

John Vincent Bellezza

Welcome to Flight of the Khyung on its path across the skies of ancient Tibet! This month’s issue contains the second portion of a monograph on the stepped shrines of Upper Tibetan rock art, the first in-depth study of its kind. Read on and see the sacred artwork of a formative era in religious development of highest Tibet.

Wherever you may be in the world and whatever your creed or tradition, I would like to wish all and sundry happy holidays! No matter what our differences may be, we share this lovely blue orb poised in the vastness of space.

A Comprehensive Survey of Stepped Shrines in the Rock Art of Upper Tibet: With Archaeological, Cultural and Historical Comments

This monograph is organized as follows:

Introduction to the stepped shrine rock art of Upper Tibet (November 2017)

Overview
Chronology
List of rock art sites with stepped shrines

Part I – The origins of stepped shrines in Upper Tibet (November 2017)

Elementary stepped shrines
Chortens

Part II – Typological illustrations and data on stepped shrines in Upper Tibetan rock art (December 2017)

Categorization
Key to typological inventory
Group I: elementary two-tiered shrines
Group II: elementary three-tiered shrines
Group III: elementary four-tiered shrines
Group IV: elementary multi-tiered shrines
Group V: elementary segmented shrines
Group VI: elementary shrines with spatulate or crescent-shaped finials
Group VII: elementary shrines with multi-foliate finial
Group VIII: elementary shrines with tricuspidate finial
Group IX: idiosyncratic elementary shrines
Group X: shrines with small bulbous upper section
Group XI: twin shrines sharing common base
Group XII: simple style chortens
Group XIII: chortens with forked finial
Group XIV: chortens with cross-piece spire
Group XVI: flat-topped chortens
Group XVII: chortens with simple spires
Group XVIII: intricate non-Buddhist chortens
Group XIX: intricate chortens of Brag gyam
Group XX: Buddhist chortens

Part III – Cross-cultural influences acting upon stepped shrines in Upper Tibetan rock art (January 2018)

Orientation
Spiti
Ladakh
Northern Pakistan

Conclusion (January 2018)

Bibliography (January 2018)

Catalogue of photographs of stepped shrines in Upper Tibetan rock art (January 2018)

Part II – Typological illustrations and data on stepped shrines in Upper Tibetan rock art

Categorization

This part of the monograph presents black and white drawings of 232 chortens documented by the author in Upper Tibetan rock art. There are several uncategorized chortens among my photographs not included in this typological study. There are also 23 specimens (of 68) found at a site called Brag gyam not depicted. These unillustrated examples add no additional scope to a study of stepped shrine forms in Upper Tibet.*

There are also seven rock art chortens, including six highly elaborate ones, dating to the Vestigial period, from the Rgyal la lding site (Gu ge) not included in this study. For these chortens, see Bellezza 2014e. In 2015, a Chinese research team working under the direction of Zhang Jian Lin (Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology) discovered a small rock art site on the south bank of the Glang chen gtsang po (Sutlej river), a little southwest of Khyung lung, including a boulder with three elementary stepped shrines carved on it. Two of these specimens can be placed in Group II and the other one in Group IV of the Upper Tibet stepped shrine typology I have devised.

The stepped shrines illustrated below are organized into 20 typological groupings based on form. They begin with the simplest types and progress to more complex examples, culminating in non-Buddhist and Buddhist chortens of considerable intricacy. Both petroglyphs and pictographs are included, which appear in a large variety of designs and styles, several basic outlines notwithstanding. Specimens in each category are not necessarily affiliated with one another chronologically or functionally. Save for one exception, pictographic stepped shrines are only situated at sites in the eastern Byang thang. Conversely, carved specimens are not found in the eastern Byang-thang.

No attempt has been made to order the rock art stepped shrines of this study into chronological categories, because there is a lack of compelling criteria to do so. Clearly, some stepped shrines are older than others, as gauged through their style, position and physical characteristics. However, their precise age has not been determined.

There are several factors that work against the establishment of a fine-grained chronology of stepped shrines in Upper Tibetan rock art. Firstly, there are many stylistic discrepancies among them. Some simple stepped shrines seem to postdate more complex chortens, while other simple forms are chortens rendered in a rudimentary manner. On the other hand, certain elaborate stepped shrines appear to be rten mkhar or other kinds of non-chorten depictions. Also, the degree of re-patination and erosion of petroglyphs varies according to a host of localized factors (position, exposure, type of rock, geochemical forces, etc.). The same can be said of pictographs; pigments age in various ways according to local environmental conditions. Thus, judging the age of rock art by a visual inspection of its physical state is far from foolproof.

Despite the chronological uncertainties, on a site by site basis, an assessment of the style, physical status and relative position of stepped shrines among other rock art, along with additional criteria (outlined in the Introduction) yield important information for dating in broad terms. It is along such lines that I make various chronological observations concerning individual stepped shrines.

The earliest stepped shrines in Upper Tibetan rock art can be assigned to the Protohistoric period. They exhibit considerable levels of re-patination of carvings and pigment browning and ablation. The most ancient stepped shrines are never accompanied by inscriptions, nor do they reveal any signs of Buddhist influence. Elementary shrines dating to the Early Historic period often exhibit lesser levels of re-patination, wear and the browning of pigments. The chortens of Upper Tibetan rock art are best dated to the Early Historic period and some to the Vestigial period, coinciding with the spread of Buddhism in the region. There is no evidence that any of the chortens of Upper Tibet predate the Early Historic period.

Pl. 15. This quintessential Bon chorten possess a pyramidal spire (’khor lo), bya ru bya gri (horns of the bird, sword of the bird) finial (tog) and lotus petal base (sa gdan). These traits, as well as and flowing banners (dar thag), are vestigial in nature, and can be traced back to chorten rock art in Upper Tibet and other regions of the Western Tibetan Plateau.*

For an actual artistic rendering of a Bon chorten based on a similar schematic drawing, see Watt. 2007, p. 35 (fig. 20). This chorten forms the central subject of a thang ka from Dol po, dated to the 17th or 18th century CE (ibid.). For drawings of some of the 360 types of Bon chortens of the ‘Three Bodies of the Buddha’ (Sku gsum), intended for iconometric study and usage, see Menyag Geshe Namdak Tsukphu 1998. The preface of Tsukphu’s work (pp. x–xii) presents a heavily Buddhacized conception of these chortens. For a review of the form and function of Bon chortens, see Denwood 1978.

The expanded standard terminology for various parts of chortens in Bon and Buddhist traditions (used here somewhat interchangeably) is as follows:

Base or plinth (sa ’dzin)
Graduated tiers or platforms (bang rim)
Square central section (pho brang)
Base of vase (bum gdan)
Vase (bum pa)
Base of spire (bre)
Spire (’khor lo)
Horizontal extension above spire (char khebs)
Finial (tog)
Banners (dar thag)

Key to typological inventory

Each typological illustration of a stepped shrine in this work is accompanied by captions and some have notes appended to them with further information. The data furnished in each caption are divided into four sections with standard categories of information abbreviated as follows:

1) Type of rock art.
Petro = petroglyph; Picto = pictograph

2) Appearance and method of production
For petroglyphs an initial two-letter code denotes the degree of establishment on a stone surface. This is designated as follows: LP = light penetration of stone surface; MP = moderate penetration of stone surface; DP = deep penetration of stone surface.

The initial two-letter code is succeeded by a hyphen and a third letter representing the dominant technique used in making a petroglyph. The following basic techniques are included:

P = pecking (striking of surface with sharp tool creating discontinuous markings, which usually lightly penetrate the stone surface).
C = chiseling (chipping or cutting away of the surface with sharp tool, creating continuous lines of many kinds)
B = bruising (abrading of the surface with hard tool, producing a silhouetted effect)
E = engraving (removal of the surface in a uniform manner with more advanced types of tool and techniques, often producing deep incisions).
Pecking, chiseling and engraving come in a variety of modes, suggesting that variable techniques and tools were used. Also, various levels of carving proficiency are represented.

The above methods of production in combination with one another are designated as follows:

LP-P = light penetration, pecked
MP-P = moderate penetration, pecked
LP-C = light penetration, chiseled
MP-C = moderate penetration, chiseled
DP-C = deep penetration, chiseled
LP-B = light penetration, bruised
MP-B = moderate penetration, bruised
DP-B = deep penetration, bruised
MP-E = moderate penetration, engraved
DP-E = deep penetration, engraved

For pictographs, colors are designated as follows:

RO = red ochre (oxides of iron)
W = a white pigment*
BC = bichrome (red ochre and white)
PC = polychrome (red ochre, yellow ochre and white).

3) Tibetan name of site where stepped shrine rock art is found, followed by location in parentheses using the modern administrative unit known as county (rdzong)

4) Height of rock art, where known (in most cases where height is not given it is due to rock art being inaccessible for measurement)

White pigments used to make rock art worldwide include calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate and magnesium calcium carbonate.

Group I: elementary two-tiered shrines (three specimens)

This is the most elementary category of stepped shrines in the rock art of Upper Tibet. Its three specimens were made utilizing different pecking techniques and vary considerably in terms of wear and re-patination.

1a. Petro (MP-P), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 27 cm

1b. Petro (LP-P), Ser mdzod rdo ring (Ru thog) / Note: Carved adventitiously on an archaic funerary pillar; see Bellezza 2001, pp. 160, 161; 2012b.*

1c. Petro (LP-P), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 10 cm

For studies of funerary stelae (walled-in pillars and arrays of pillars appended to temple-tombs), see works such as Bellezza 2001; 2002; 2008; 2014a; 2014b; 2016-2017.

Group II: elementary three-tiered shrines (ten specimens)

This category of stepped shrines is diverse stylistically and in the techniques used to produce them. Both petroglyphs and pictographs are represented. Some examples among them may be incomplete renditions of shrines.

2a. Petro (LP-P), Sngo sog (Ru thog), 12 cm

2b. Picto (RO), Rdo ’khor phug pa (Shan rtsa) / Note: This stepped shrine as well as specimens 10c, 10d, 10h, 10i, 18c, 18d are located on the same hard-to-access wall of an ancient cave sanctuary. For more information on this site, see Bellezza 2013f.

2c. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 9 cm

2d. Petro (DP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 20 cm / Note: Located on same panel as specimens 3f, 4j, 13h, 13i, forming an uneven row. Each specimen exhibits different carvings techniques and degrees of re-patination, indicating that they were made by different people at different times. On these stepped shrines, see Bellezza 2002, pp. 144, 248 (fig. XI-11g).

2e. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 30 cm / Note: Situated in between two more complex stepped shrines (specimens 13p and 17a) that exhibit more refined carving techniques.

2f. Petro (LP-P), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 17 cm / Note: Situated near specimen 9i, which is less re-patinated. There are also two Tibetan A carved on the same rock panel dating to the Vestigial period (see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 339).

2g. Petro (LP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 17 cm

2h. Petro (LP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 18 cm

2i. Petro (LP-C), Ri mo gdong (Ru thog)

2j. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chen (’Dam gzhung), 8 cm / Note: Found near specimen 10u and painted using the same red ochre pigment. A petroglyph at the Gri’u chu thang site (Ru thog) comparable in form to specimen 2j was destroyed several years ago when the main road was improved. For the documentation of this stepped shrine, see Bellezza 2002, pp. 146, 257 (fig. XI-2k).

Group III: elementary four-tiered shrines (11 specimens)

With one exception the specimens in this category consist of three graduated tiers topped by a rounded extension or vase. Based on physical condition, specimens 3a, 3b, 3g and 3k appear to be among the oldest stepped shrines in the rock art of Upper Tibet. An inscription with old paleographic traits suggests that specimen 3h dates to the Early Historic period.

3a. Petro (MP-C), Bshag bsangs (Nyi ma), 12 cm

3b. Petro (DP-C and MP-B), Skabs ren spungs ri (Ru thog), 15 cm / Note: On this stepped shrine, see Bellezza 2000b.

3c. Petro (DP-C), Brag gyam (Sgar)

3d. Petro (MP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 6 cm

3e. Petro (LP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 18 cm

3f. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 22cm

3g. Picto (RO), Stong shong phug (Dpal mgon), 9 cm / Note: On this ancient cave sanctuary with a natural circular hole in the roof, see Bellezza 1997, pp. 248–250.

3h. Petro (MP-P), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 17 cm / Note: Below the stepped shrine an inscribed Oṁ exhibits a similar carving style, wear and light re-patination characteristics (for the inscription, see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 386). This suggests that the stepped shrine is of roughly the same age (possibly 10th century CE).

3i. Petro (LP-P), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 24 cm

3j. Petro (LP-P), Sgog ra (Ru thog), 34 cm / Note: This specimen is accompanied by a counterclockwise swastika.

3k. Petro (DP-C) Skabs ren (Ru thog), 13 cm / Note: This stepped shrine was partially obscured by the superimposition of a ma ṇi mantra carving. For this specimen, see Bellezza 2002, pp. 139, 231 (fig. XI-19d).

Group IV: elementary multi-tiered shrines (23 specimens)

Some of the shrines in this category are very similar to Group III, only somewhat more complex in form. Others depict a larger series of tiers or platforms, creating towering structures. What appear to be the oldest examples of stepped shrines in Upper Tibet are found among this group and include specimens such as 4b, 4c, 4n, and 4o.* Some other specimens in this category also appear to date to the Protohistoric period.

For an artist’s conception of what these and other elementary shrines may have looked like as three-dimensional objects, see Bellezza 2014a, p. 24.

4a. Petro (DP-C), Skabs ren spungs ri (Ru thog), 12 cm

4b. Petro (DP-C), Skabs ren spungs ri (Ru thog), 22 cm / Note: On this stepped shrine, see Bellezza 2002, pp. 139, 230.

4c. Petro (MP-C), Rdzong chung (Ru thog), 14 cm

4d. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 14 cm

4e. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 20 cm

4f. Petro (MP-P), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 31 cm

4g. Petro (MP-C), Brag gyam (Sgar), 21 cm

4h. Petro (LP-P), Brag gdong East (Ru thog)

4i. Petro (LP-P), Sngo sog West (Ru thog), 19 cm

4j. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 23 cm

4k. Petro (LP-P), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 34 cm

4l. Picto (PC), Ra ma do, (Dpal mgon), 32 cm / Note: The top of the pictograph has been obliterated.

4m. Picto (BC), Stong shong phug (Dpal mgon), 17 cm / Note: The left side of this highly eroded pictograph has been effaced.

4n. Petro (DP-E), Rno bo g.yang rdo (Ru thog), 26 cm / Note: Situated on same limestone face as specimen 4o. There appear to have been at least three other highly worn stepped shrines on the same rock face. Most of the extensive rock art at this site was destroyed a few years ago by the construction of a dam for hydroelectric power. This dam looms above the large agricultural village of O byang in a seismically active zone.

4o. Petro (DP-E), Rno bo g.yang rdo (Ru thog), 56 cm

4p. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 23 cm

4q. Petro (MP-C), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 38 cm

4r. Petro (DP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 17 cm

4s. Petro (MP-C), Gyam rag East (Ru thog), 35 cm

4t. Petro (MP-C), Brag gyam (Sgar), 47 cm

4u. Petro (LP-C), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 50 cm

4v. Petro (LP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 23 cm / Note: Found near specimen 16e.

4w. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 29 cm

Group V: elementary segmented shrines (nine specimens)

This category of stepped shrines is characterized by carved and painted vertical lines that create segmented layers. Other than this distinguishing trait, this group is stylistically and technically diverse.

5a. Petro (MP-P), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 26 cm / Note: Ma ṇi mantras were partially carved on top of this stepped shrine.

5b. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chen (’Dam gzhung), 20 cm

5c. Petro (LP-C), Gyam rag East (Ru thog), 24 cm

5d. Petro: No data available (possibly modern imitation)

5e. Petro (MP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 26 cm / Note: Situated next to specimen 6c.

Group VI: elementary shrines with spatulate or crescent-shaped finials (four specimens)

This category of stepped shrines is distinguished by its unique style finials. Predicated on overall site characteristics as well stylistic, technical, physical features, specimens 6a, 6b and 6c appear to date to the Protohistoric period, while specimen 6d may belong to the Early Historic period.

6a. Picto (RO), Slop dpon phug (Shan rtsa), 12 cm / Note: Situated near specimen 6b. An animal and counterclockwise swastika were painted between these two stepped shrines and are of comparable age. On specimen 6a, see Bellezza 2008, p. 184 (fig. 334).

6b. Picto (RO), Slop dpon phug (Shan rtsa), 12 cm

6c. Petro (MP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 15 cm

6d. Picto (RO), Rta mchog ngang pa do (Dpal mgon)

Group VII: elementary shrines with multi-foliate finial (two specimens)

This category of stepped shrines with their finials are unique in Upper Tibet. They appear to date to the Protohistoric period, and have a more advanced patina then examples of Early Historic-period rock art and inscriptions at the same site.*

For this Early Historic-period art and inscriptions, see Bellezza 2016b (first article).

7a. Petro (MP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 31 cm / Note: Carved over a chariot that is more heavily re-patinated. See Bellezza 2010b.

7b. Petro (MP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 36 cm / Note: Partially carved over two or three anthropomorphic figures with upraised arms, which are somewhat more heavily re-patinated. An Oṁ with archaic paleographic traits was inscribed immediately to right of the stepped shrine. The Oṁ is less re-patinated and part of a ma ṇi mantra scrawled over the boulder (see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 319).

Group VIII: elementary shrines with tricuspidate finial (four specimens)

This unusual category of what appear to be pictographic variations of stepped shrines that may straddle the Protohistoric and Early Historic periods.* The two most fragmentary examples (8b, 8c) appear to be the most ancient. The other two specimens in the group (8a, 8d) can be assigned to the Early Historic period. The prominent three-pronged finials are particularly noteworthy.

For these four shrines, also see Bellezza 2013h.

8a. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 14 cm / Note: Accompanied by five-pointed star and counterclockwise swastika painted by the same hand. See Bellezza 2000b; 2002, pp. 127, 202; 2017d, p. 15.

8b. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 7 cm / Note: Situated next to specimen 8c.

8c. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 5 cm

8d. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung). / Note: Accompanied by five-pointed star and counterclockwise swastika painted by the same individual. There are also red ochre letters in close proximity apparently belonging to the same period. An A and hung (fully written out with nga) are discernable (see Bellezza forthcoming fig. 149).

Group IX: idiosyncratic elementary shrines (12 specimens)

This category contains miscellaneous figures, some of which cannot be positively identified as shrines. The oldest among them, if it is a shrine, is specimen 9h, which like much other rock art at the same site is attributable to the Iron Age. Specimens 9a and 9b also appear to be of advanced age, as their physical condition and proximate rock art indicates. The bell-shaped figure (9c) is a kind of chorten that dates to the Early Historic period.

9a. Petro (LP-C) Gna’ ba lung (Ru thog), 14 cm

9b. Petro (DP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 35 cm

9c. Petro (MP-C), Ru thog rdzong (Ru thog) / Note: Found on a boulder on the southern flank of the ruined Ru thog citadel. Also on the same boulder are at least two animals, what appears to be an anthropomorphic figure, two ma ṇi mantras, Oṁ ma huṁ, and a few desultory Tibetan letters. The inscriptions exhibit archaic paleographic features (see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 370). These carvings were all made in the same time frame (possibly by the same individual) and present the same carving techniques, wear and re-patination. On this rock art see, Bellezza 2001, p. 104.

9d. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 26 cm / Note: On this specimen, see Bellezza 2002, pp. 130, 206.

9e. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 19 cm / Note: This stepped shrine as well as specimens 9f and 14e were painted inside Sgrol ma phug, on the north side of the headland.

9f. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 32 cm

9g. Petro (LP-P), Sngo sog (Ru thog), 24 cm

9h. Petro (DP-C), Ri rgyal (Sger rtse), 20 cm / Note: There is also a crescent (moon) that is part of the same composition.

9i. Petro (LP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 21 cm

9j. Petro (LP-P), Gyam rag E (Ru thog), 27 cm

9k. Petro (LP-P), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 24 cm

9l. Petro (LP-C), Sngo sog (Ru thog), 16 cm

Group X: shrines with small bulbous upper section (22 specimens)

This category of fairly complex stepped shrines appears to date to both the Protohistoric and Early Historic periods. These stepped shrines are mostly distinguished by small rounded vases and some have simple masts. Except perhaps for the engraved specimens 10a and 10b, the stepped shrines in this group are mostly or exclusively the product of non-Buddhist religious traditions. Specimen 10s may be from the Vestigial period, the work of someone affiliated to a non-Buddhist or bon group, which existed at Gnam mtsho until ca. 1225 CE.*

On this earlier religion in the region, see Bellezza 1997, pp. 167–173; forthcoming.

10a. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 33 cm

10b. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 75 cm

10c. Picto (RO), Rdo ’khor phug (Shan rtsa)

10d. Picto (RO), Rdo ’khor phug (Shan rtsa)

10e. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 14 cm / Note: A red ochre ma ṇi mantra encroaches upon the base of this stepped shrine (see Bellezza forthcoming fig. 139). This pictograph as well as specimens 10f, 10g, 10k 10l, 10u and 18l are all located near Bkra shis rtags brgyad phug. On these shrines, also see Bellezza 2002, pp. 127, 128, 199–210; Bellezza 1997, p. 181.

10f. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 49 cm

10g. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 14 cm

10h. Picto (RO), Rdo ’khor phug (Shan rtsa)

10i. Picto (RO), Rdo ’khor phug (Shan rtsa), 30 cm

10j. Petro (MP-C), Ri mo gdong (Ru thog), 33 cm / Note: Near this specimen is an early inscription that reads: nga’i (mine), which appears to have been carved separately (see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 365).

10k. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 24 cm

10l. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 36 cm / On this specimen, see Bellezza 2000a, p. 41.

10m. Petro (LP-C), Gser sgam (Rtsa mda’), 34 cm

10n. Petro (MP-E), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung) / Note: This is one of the only petroglyphs carved into the limestone formations at Bkra shis do. It has acquired a rather heavy patina.

10o. Petro (LP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 14 cm / Note: Situated immediately below specimen 10p.

10p. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 37 cm

10q. Petro (LP-C and LP-B), Gna’ bo lung (Ru thog), 24 cm

10r. Picto (RO), Rta dmar lding (Shan rtsa). / Note: On this specimen and neighboring rock art and inscriptions, see Bellezza 2014a, pp. 445, 448, 449; forthcoming, figs. 260–263.

10s. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 44 cm / Note: This stepped shrine is found in the same cave, Brag phying gur phug, as specimens 14g and 18g, among many other non-Buddhist pictographs. See Bellezza 1997, pp. 202–210.

10t. Petro (DP), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 40 cm

10u. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chen (’Dam gzhung), 6 cm

10v. Picto (RO), Stong shong phug (Dpal mgon)

Group XI: twin shrines sharing common base (three specimens)

This category is comprised of depictions of twin tiered structures sharing a common base. Specimen 11b seems to date to the Early Historic period, as other rock art in the proximity suggests. Specimen 11c, with its relatively heavy re-patination and surrounding archaic symbolism, can be ascribed to the Protohistoric period. Most probably all three examples are depictions of non-Buddhist religious monuments.*

There are multiple tiered shrines with a common base in Spiti, but these are different style Buddhist depictions. See Bellezza 2015e, figs. 21.8, 21.13, 21.14.

11a. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 32 cm / Note: Situated next to fig. 13n, but both exhibit different carving techniques. 13n is more thoroughly chiseled into rock forming a more solid looking outline. These technical differences are suggestive of different periods of manufacture. On these stepped shrines and adjoining specimens, see Bellezza 2000b.

11b. Picto (RO), Sgar gsol brag phug (Shan rtsa), 29 cm / Note: A third chorten to the right has been included here as it appears to be an integral part of the same composition. Also see Bellezza 2017d, p. 16. These stepped shrines are found amidst large pictographs of bon priests and other non-Buddhist subjects. See Bellezza 2008, pp. 179–181, 213. On this cave sanctuary site, see Bellezza 2014a, pp. 397–399.

11c. Petro (DP-B), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 14 cm / Note: Above this stepped shrine, on the same pillar-shaped slab of rock is a counterclockwise swastika flanked by a sun and crescent moon. Below the twin shrines is a khyung, two anthropomorphic figures with avian traits, tree, stag, wild yak, tiger and archer. All these figures appear to form an integrated composition. The seminal subjects represented possessed profound ritual and mythic significance, pertaining to the socio-religious world of the maker(s). In this context, the stepped shrines may symbolize cosmological mountains situated just below the heavens. On this rock art, see Bellezza 2001, pp. 217, 358, 359; 2004, fig. 15a; Bellezza 2008, p. 175; Bellezza 2017a, fig. 71.

Group XII: simple style chortens (seven specimens)

This category is comprised of rudimentary depictions of chortens, all of which (except for one) were carved at the site of Brag gyam. This site boasts the most complex rock art chortens found in western Tibet (see Group XIX). Most of the chortens in group XII have a lower section comprised of five graduated tiers surmounted by a small rounded vase, but do not have spires or finials. The only exception is specimen 12g, which in addition to five graduated tiers has a separate plinth as well as a small structure depicted above the vase. These chortens can be assigned to the Early Historic period and perhaps to the Vestigial period as well. Their religious orientation is not very clear: some may possibly have been made by practitioners of syncretic traditions.

12a. Petro (DP-C), Brag gyam (Sgar), 28 cm

12b. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 44 cm

12c. Petro (MP-C), Brag gyam (Sgar), 34 cm / Note: Situated next to specimen 13k. On these chortens, see Bellezza 2008, p. 184 (fig. 339).

12d. Petro (MP-C), Brag gyam (Sgar), 29 cm

12e. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 86 cm

12f. Petro (MP-C), Brag gyam (Sgar), 29 cm

12g. Petro (MP-E), Ser mdzod rdo ring (Ru thog) / Note: Carved adventitiously on the base of an archaic funerary pillar.

Group XIII: chortens with forked finial (20 specimens)

This category is distinguished by stepped shrines with horn-like finials or crowns, a lower section of four or five graduated tiers and a small vase. The two spikes or branches of most forked finials are curved and sometimes flare out at the ends. They resemble the horns of wild ungulates in some Upper Tibetan rock art. The two branches of the finials in specimens 13s and 13t join at the top, as do the horns of some wild yaks (’brong) in the rock art of the region.* Specimen 13l is unique in Upper Tibet for its almost cross-shaped body, a design trait common in Ladakh. The rock art of Group XIII can be ascribed to the Protohistoric period and Early Historic period, and was primarily the work of non-Buddhists. According to its design and physical condition (heavily re-patinated), specimen 13a is among the oldest in this category. Specimens 13p and 13q are finely engraved and can be assigned to the Early Historic period and may possibly have been created those practicing an amalgamation of religious traditions.

On wild yak rock, see Bellezza 2016d; 2017b.

13a. Petro (DP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 27 cm / Note: On this stepped shrine, see Bellezza 2002, pp. 143, 144, 248 (fig. XI-12g).

13b. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 18 cm / Note: Situated in row along with specimens 11a, 13d, 13e, 13f, and 13n. These stepped shrines were made by various individuals over an indeterminate stretch of time. On these shrines, see Bellezza 2002, pp. 143, 249.

13c. Petro (DP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 30 cm

13d. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 21 cm

13e. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 24 cm

13f. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 27 cm

13g. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 23 cm

13h. Petro (MP-C and MP-B), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 26 cm

13i. Petro (DP-C and MP-B), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 29 cm

13j. Petro (DP-C), Ser mdzod rdo ring (Ru thog) / Note: Carved adventitiously on an archaic funerary pillar.

13k. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 79 cm

13l. Picto (RO), Skyid sgrom sgo gru bzhi (Shan rtsa), 71 cm / Note: On this ancient cave sanctuary site, see Bellezza 2014a, pp. 395–397. In this large cave there is also a chorten that was painted on mud pargetting. The ground around the entire body of the chorten is tinted brown, while its outline is much lighter in color. However, the spire is in red ochre. It is not clear if these two extant parts originally belonged to the same chorten or were matched later. The chorten fresco appears to date to the Vestigial period.

13m. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 38 cm

13n. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 51 cm

13o. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 38 cm / Note: On this stepped shrine, see Bellezza 2002, pp. 144, 249 (fig. XI-13g).

13p. Petro (DP-E), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 52 cm / Note: Situated near specimens 13q and 17a. Specimen 13p is less re-patinated than the two neighboring examples and was produced using a much finer engraving technique. To the left, on the same rock panel, is a group of three counterclockwise swastikas. On these chortens, see ibid., pp. 144, 250.

13q. Petro (DP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 33 cm / Note: This chorten was superimposed on two counterclockwise swastikas and other geometric rock art.

13r. Petro (LP-C and LP-B), Skabs ren spungs ri (Ru thog), 48 cm / Note: A large ma ṇi inscription cuts right across the middle of this stepped shrine. The superimposition of Buddhist mantras on older non-Buddhist rock art is a common occurrence in Upper Tibet. The placement of Buddhist inscriptions over stepped shrines betokens the denigration or superseding of earlier religious traditions. On signs of Buddhist domination in rock art and epigraphy, see Bellezza 2008, pp. 188, 189; 2012c; forthcoming.

13s. Petro (MP-C), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 21 cm

13t. Picto (RO), Sgar gsol brag phug (Shan rtsa), 23 cm

Group XIV: chortens with cross-piece spire (15 specimens)

This category is characterized by simply designed stepped shrines with masts bisected by a series of short lines. It is otherwise a varied group technically and stylistically. Two exceptions aside, the specimens in this group are all pictographs. All specimens of the group appear to be chortens and date to the Early Historic period and probably the Vestigial period as well. They are mainly or entirely non-Buddhist renditions, as their designs and surrounding rock art indicates.

14a. Picto (RO), Stong shong phug (Dpal mgon), 68 cm / Note: Situated next to specimen 14b, some distance from the actual cave of Stong shong phug. The letter A appear to have been written in the vase in a different shade of red ochre and in a different hand.

14b. Picto (RO), Stong shong phug (Dpal mgon), 48 cm

14c. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chen (’Dam gzhung), 26 cm

14d. Picto (RO), Se mo do South (Dpal mgon), 60 cm / Note: On this island site, see Bellezza 2014a, pp. 450–460.

14e. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 34 cm

14f. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 37 cm

14g. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chen (’Dam gzhung), 55 cm. / Note: The last syllable of a ma ṇi mantra, huṁ, is superimposed on the vase (see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 30). Butter was heavily dabbed on this chorten by visiting pilgrims.

14h. Picto (RO), Stong shong phug (Dpal mgon), 66 cm

14i. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 50 cm

14j. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chen (’Dam gzhung), 80 cm

14k. Picto (RO), Stong shong phug (Dpal mgon), 56 cm

14l. Picto (RO), Stong shong phug (Dpal mgon), / Note: Situated overhead on same panel as specimen 14m. In between these two stepped shrines is an anthropomorphic figure with a peaked hat. Near the head of this figure is an inscription that reads: Rgyo, but with an odd ligature on the right side (see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 221). The word appears to denote the sex act perhaps in an esoteric context. This inscription, anthropomorphic figure and chorten 14l exhibit comparable wear and pigment characteristics, and may possibly form an integral composition. Higher up on the same panels is a crudely written red ochre inscription that reads: Kun ’tu bzang mkhyen (see ibid.). It was painted in a pigment of a much lighter hue. This refers to the primordial Buddha, Kun tu bzang po (sic; All Goodness One), and signifies the practice of Rdzogs chen, an esoteric mind-training tradition common to both Bon and Buddhism. Nevertheless, the presence of several counterclockwise swastikas and the subject profile of pictographic art in Stong shong phug (located on north side of Gnam mtsho) indicate that this inscription belonged to non-Buddhist or syncretic cults active in the region until ca. 1250 CE.

14m. Picto (RO), Stong shong phug (Dpal mgon)

14n. Petro (DP-C), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 58 cm / Note: The spire of this stepped shrine was carved over the head of a wild yak confronting another wild yak. On this chorten, see Bellezza 2001, pp. 223, 368.

14o. Petro (DP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 15 cm

Group XV: Giant pictographic shrines (five specimens)

The pictographs in this category are between 300 cm and 500 cm in height. They are situated in a row on an east-facing rock face, on the south side of the limestone escarpment at Bkra shis do chung, Gnam mtsho.* The stepped shrines are near a built shrine called Sri gcod bum pa (see Bellezza 1997: 179). The pictographs are all heavily eroded, precluding an assessment of fine stylistic details. These are non-Buddhist portrayals of stepped shrines and probably date to the Early Historic period.

For these pictographs, see Bellezza 2001, pp. 209, 210, 339–341.

15a. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung) / Note: This is the most northerly specimen at the site. On the adjacent inscription consisting of the syllable A written several times, see Bellezza forthcoming, figs. 85, 86.

15b. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung)

15c. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung)

15d. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung)

15e. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung)

Group XVI: flat-topped chortens (18 specimens)

This category is characterized by stepped shrines terminating at the base of what commonly underlies a spire. These chortens are mostly attributable to the Early Historic period. However, specimen 16e appears to date to the Vestigial period. Another exception is specimen 16r, which is a Buddhist depiction that can also be dated to the Vestigial period. However, most examples are non-Buddhist or syncretic religious portrayals.

16a. Petro (DP-E), Ser mdzod rdo ring (Ru thog) / Note: Carved adventitiously on the base of an archaic funerary pillar.

16b. Petro (DP-E), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 16 cm / Note: Situated next to specimens 16c and 16o. The physical appearance and carving technique used to produce the three chortens suggests that they constitute an integral composition. On these three chortens, see Bellezza 2001, pp. 222, 223, 367.

16c. Petro (DP-C), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 19 cm

16d. Petro (LP-C), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 36 cm

16e. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 34 cm / Note: In the vase is a vertically oriented inscription made in the same red ochre pigment, which seems to read, A Oṁ huṁ (see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 373). In the platform just below the vase, an additional letter A was written.

16f. Petro (MP-C), Ser mdzod rdo ring (Ru thog) / Note: Carved adventitiously on an archaic funerary pillar.

16g. Petro (MP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’) / Note: The base of this petroglyph is partially submerged in the ground.

16h. Petro (LP-C), Rno bo g.yang rdo (Ru thog), 17 cm / Note: Situated in the vicinity of specimen 19y.

16i. Petro (MP-E), Sngo sog (Ru thog), 17 cm / Note: Situated beside specimen 16p.

16j. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 130 cm

16k. Petro (MP-C), Brag gyam (Sgar), 117 cm

16l. Petro (DP-E), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog) 63 cm / Note: On this chorten, see Bellezza 2001, pp. 223, 368.

16m. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 54 cm

16n. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 53 cm

16o. Petro (DP-E), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 50 cm

16p. Petro (MP- E), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 31 cm / Note: The top of this chorten is damaged.

16q. Petro (LP-C) Sngo sog (Ru thog), 26 cm / Note: On this chorten and proximate Early Historic-period rock art and inscription (reads: Khyung po li la brtsan), see Bellezza 2008, pp. 186 (fig. 349), 187; Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 358.

16r. Petro (MP-C), Glog phug mkhar (Ru thog) / Note: Beside this specimen is what appears to be a more rudimentary example. Also on the same rock face are several Oṁ, a ma ṇi mantra, huṁ and at least two animal petroglyphs, which date to the Early Historic and Vestigial periods. On this rock art, see Bellezza 2001, pp. 224, 372; on the inscriptions, see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 341.

Group XVII: chortens with simple spires (12 specimens)

This diverse category of chortens is marked by elementary spires of various kinds. Most of these were probably the workmanship of those adhering to non-Buddhist or syncretic traditions, and can be dated to the Early Historic period. However, specimens 17k and 17l are Buddhist depictions assignable to the Vestigial period or perhaps somewhat earlier. Specimen 17h is one of only two all-white chorten pictographs documented in the rock art of Upper Tibet (also see 18s), both of which appear to date to the Vestigial period.

17a. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 26 cm

17b. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar)

17c. Petro (DP-C), Brag gyam (Sgar), 98 cm

17d. Petro (MP-C), Brag gyam (Sgar), 90 cm

17e. Petro (MP-C), Brag gdong East (Ru thog), 24 cm. / Note: The rock surface hosting the right half of carving is now missing.

17f. Petro (MP-E), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 45 cm

17g. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chen (’Dam gzhung)

17h. Picto (W) Rta mchog ngang pa do (Dpal mgon), 21 cm / Note: An unusually designed triple gems motif is found below the chorten and was painted using the same pigment. These pictographs are near specimen 18s and belong to non-Buddhist traditions.

17i. Petro (MP-I), Brag gyam (Sgar), 200 cm

17j. Petro (LP-C), Sngo sog (Ru thog), 39 cm

17k. Petro (MP-C), Ri mo gdong (Ru thog), 20 cm / Note: This stepped shrine is flanked by a sun and crescent moon, and above them on the same rock face is a ma ṇi mantra (see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 366). These subjects form an integral composition.

17l. Petro (MP-C), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 16 cm / Note: Above this specimen is a ma ṇi mantra and over it is a conjoined sun and moon (nyi zla), all made in the same general period. On these carvings, see Bellezza 2001, pp. 224, 371; Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 350.

Group XVIII: intricate non-Buddhist chortens (23 specimens)

This category contains the most elaborate group of largely non-Buddhist chorten rock art found in Upper Tibet. Among them are many idiosyncratic examples. Where present, a variety of different types of finials are represented in this group. Specimens 18c has a forked finial, while 18j, 18k, 18q, 18s, 18t, 18u, and 18v have bifurcating finials with a rounded or pointed central prong. Specimens 18a, 18f, 18o, 18p possess finials more closely resembling the conjoined sun and moon (nyi zla) finial of later Buddhist chortens. However, these are at variance with conventional sun and moon crowns, hence their identification as such is uncertain. This motif marks chortens of probable non-Buddhist affiliation dating to the Early Historic period. It appears to have served as a precursor to the depiction of chortens with standard sun and moon finials of the post-10th century CE era.

Most specimens in Group XVIII are datable to the Early Historic period, a time in which non-Buddhist Upper Tibetans adopted the chorten for their own ritual and symbolic purposes. Nevertheless, on stylistic and epigraphic grounds, specimen 18w can be assigned to the Vestigial period. Specimens 18n and 18o appear to date to the post-Imperial period. On the other hand, 18k may possibly be an entirely different kind of stepped shrine attributable to the Protohistoric period. Some of the pictographs from the eastern Byang thang in this category are polychrome paintings. Specimen 18s was painted in a white pigment.

18a. Petro (DP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 19 cm*

18b. Picto (BC), Stong shong phug (Dpal mgon)

18c. Picto (RO), Rdo ’khor phug pa (Shan rtsa), 20 cm

18d. Picto (RO), Rdo ’khor phug pa (Shan rtsa), 32 cm

18e. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 139 cm / Note: On this chorten, see Bellezza 2008, p. 184 (fig, 341; 2017d, p. 17.

A somewhat comparable stepped shrine petroglyph is found at Lha klu mkhar in Dpa’ shod county, eastern Tibet. On the same rock panel are other carvings including archers, wild ungulates, a swastika and a few Tibetan letters that may date to the same period as the stepped shrine. On this rock art see, Suolang Wangdui: 1994, pp. 163–170.

18f. Picto (BC), Chu ro (Shan rtsa)

18g. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chen (’Dam gzhung), 29 cm / Note: On this chorten, see Bellezza 1997, p. 207; 2008, p. 184 (fig. 338).

18h. Picto (PC), Ra ma do (Dpal mgon), 39 cm / Note: On this specimen, see Bellezza 1997, p. 262; 2008, pp. 159, 160 (fig. 266).

18i. Petro (MP) Mtha’ kham pa ri (Ru thog), 79 cm / Note: This stepped shrine was carved over petroglyphs of stags. / Note: On this rock art, see Bellezza 2013c.

18j. Picto (BC), Chu ro (Shan rtsa)

18k. Picto (RO), Lug do (Dpal mgon), 78 cm / Note: Next to it is a smaller pictograph that may represent a stepped shrine as well.

18l. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 15 cm

18m. Picto (BC), Rta ra dmar lding (Shan rtsa) / Note: On the cave complex and archaic structures at this site, see Bellezza 2014a, pp. 444–450.

18n. Picto (BC), Chu ro (Shan rtsa) / Note: Situated overhead near specimen 18o.

18o. Picto (BC), Chu ro (Shan rtsa) /

18p. Picto (PC) Brag khyung mdzes po (Nyi ma) / Note: There is a red ochre counterclockwise swastika to the right of this chorten, which is an integral part of the composition. On this rock art, see Bellezza 2000b; 2002, pp. 130, 131, 208; 2008, pp. 159, 160 (fig. 267); 2017d, p. 18.

18q. Petro (MP), Mchod rten sbug sna kha (Ru thog), 42 cm / Note: There appears to be a rudimentary syllable A engraved in the base. On this rock art in apparent inscription, see Bellezza 2008, p. 185 (fig. 345); forthcoming fig. 336.

18r. Petro (MP-C), Rdu ru can (Rtsa mda’), 32 cm

18s. Picto (W), Rta mchog ngang pa do (Dpal mgon)

18t. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 78 cm / Note: On this chorten, see Bellezza 2000a, p. 41; 2000b. Note the interconnected counterclockwise swastikas in the base of the pictograph. Rows of miniature stepped shrines ornament the oblong vase or middle section of the pictograph, a design trait also seen in Buddhist rock art chortens in western Tibet and Spiti, circa 1000–1200 CE. See Bellezza 2014e; 2015e, figs. 21.5, 21.7–21.9.

18u. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chung (’Dam gzhung), 76 cm / Note: In close proximity is an extensive red ochre inscription. Unfortunately, it is highly worn and no longer legible, although a few individual letters can be discerned. On this chorten and the inscription, see 2000a, pp. 40, 41; 2000b; 2017d, pp. 19, 20; forthcoming, fig. 135.

18v. Picto (RO), Chu mkhar gyam sgrub phug (Ru thog), 44 cm / On this chorten and large cave sanctuary, see Bellezza 2002, pp. 51, 52, 146, 254.

18w. Petro (MP-C), Dar chung (Nyi ma) / Note: On this chorten and inscription, see Bellezza 1997, pp. 388, 389; forthcoming, fig. 383.

Group XIX: intricate chortens of Brag gyam (25 specimens)

All except two of the chortens in this category come from a single, site, Brag gyam. It appears that the elaborate chortens of Brag gyam were produced over a relatively short span of time, coinciding with the Early Historic period and perhaps somewhat later. On the other hand, some of the elementary stepped shrines of the site may predate the 7th century CE. There are no indications that any of the elaborate examples at Brag gyam were made as patently Buddhist monuments. Rather, their creation appears to be syncretistic in nature, derived from indigenous religious traditions combined with Buddhist artistic inspiration emanating from Ladakh (see Part III for further details).

One chorten from another site is specimen 19h, which was carved on an archaic funerary pillar. It, too, is in the far west of Tibet and can be dated to the Early Historic period. Specimen 19y is typical of the Vestigial period, one of several Buddhist antiquities dating to the second diffusion of the religion to have survived in Ru thog.

Brag gyam (Rock Formation Shelter) is the name of a blue limestone outcrop located near the current frontier with Ladakh (India). Elementary stepped shrines and chortens are situated on the south side of this outcrop. They were carved on a vertical face forming the base of an escarpment. The site is divided by naturally occurring ribs of rock, 10 to 14 meters thick, into three sectors: east (43 m long), central (32 m long) and west (49 m long). Sixty-eight stepped shrines in a dense array were documented here, by far the single largest assemblage of such rock art in Upper Tibet. By virtue of having so many votive and dedicatory carvings, Brag gyam must have been an important cult site. Certainly, considerable time and effort went into creating it. However, the site exhibits few signs of contemporary usage.

The shrines of Brag gyam range in style from simple stepped structures to elaborate chortens. Some of them were crudely carved while others were more finely engraved. In terms of design, Group XIX is the most complex in the rock art of Upper Tibet, showcasing engraving skills reminiscent of more adroit chorten carvings in regions to the northwest. The specimens of this group exhibit different types of finials, extending to precursors of the conjoined sun and moon motif, which were widely represented in Buddhist chortens of the Tibetan cultural world in the second millennium CE. Among the best developed examples of this motif are specimens 19i and 19m. Other counterparts to the crescent moon are more horn-like in appearance (19j, 19o, 19p, 19s). Specimen 19t has a finial consisting of a cluster of five leaves or petals. In this regard, it is comparable with older examples in Group VII.

The engraved lines of the Brag gyam chortens are mostly between 5 mm and 15 mm thick and several millimeters deep. They have weathered to assume a polished effect on the limestone surface and in some instances, they have acquired a reddish hue. Three inscriptions are found at Brag-gyam, which in terms of wear and weathering, closely match proximate chortens.*

Three Early Historic period (possibly Imperial period) inscriptions were documented at Brag gyam: Co gru zhang btsun thar byang gĭs / bzhengs; Snang za mo bsod namsu zhengs (Classical Tibetan = bzhengs); and Gshen rgyal / bkris. For translation and discussion of these epigraphs, see Bellezza 2008, p. 187 (n. 193); forthcoming, figs. 329, 330.

19a. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 106 cm

19b. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 114 cm

19c. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 118 cm

19d. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 115 cm

19e. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 28 cm

19f. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 119 cm

19g. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 127 cm

19h. Petro (DP-E), Nag khung rdo ring (Ru thog), 58 cm / Note: On this chorten, which was adventitiously carved on a funerary menhir, see Bellezza 2014b, pp. 44, 45. As some point in time, this pillar was uprooted and the chorten carving partly placed over a section of the stone that was originally underground. This can be seen in the current height of the pillar: a splayed middle section typically installed below the ground to increase the stability of the rdo ring is now exposed. The carving of a chorten on a funerary pillar that was excavated raises questions as to its function. It may be that the chorten was made to ritually and symbolically bring the menhir into conformance with Early Historic-period religious traditions and territorial considerations.

19i. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 54 cm

19j. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 89 cm

19k. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 147 cm

19l. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 177 cm

19m. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 183 cm

19n. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar)

19o. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 115 cm

19p. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 144 cm

19q. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 199 cm / Note: Inscriptions reading Oṁ, huṁ and A were carved inside the vase (see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. 385).

19r. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 201 cm / Note: On this chorten, see Bellezza 2008, p. 184 (fig. 340).

19s. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 177 cm

19t. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 234 cm / Note: The middle of the chorten was engraved over the carving of an almost life-sized anthropomorphic figure with outstretched arms. This figure appears to belong to the same time frame as the chorten and may possibly represent a religious subjugation theme such as that carried out in the sri gnon rite. The chorten also has an eye with an arching eyebrow in its vase.

19u. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar)

19v. Petro (MP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 162 cm

19w. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 204 cm / Note: A hand was engraved in the vase that appears to be an integral part of the chorten.

19x. Petro (DP-E), Brag gyam (Sgar), 178 cm

19y. Petro (MP-E), Rno bo g.yang rdo (Ru thog), 250 cm

Group XX: Buddhist chortens (seven specimens)

This category of chortens are all depictions of Buddhist versions of the monument. Specimen 20c can probably be assigned to the Early Historic period. In many ways it is closely aligned with Group XIX but is included here because of its fully formed sun and moon finial. It is possible, however, that Specimen 20c may be of a syncretic religious persuasion and not Buddhist per se. Specimen 20d can be assigned to the Vestigial period or somewhat earlier. Accompanying inscriptions clearly identify it as Buddhist art. Specimens 20a and 20b are fully modern forms of chortens dating to the Vestigial period or somewhat later. They appear to be portrayals of byang chub chortens, one of the most common types in Buddhist Tibet of the last millennium. By the Vestigial period relatively few rock carvings and paintings made in the manner of ancient rock art were still being produced in Upper Tibet. Thus, specimens 20a and 20b represent the terminus of the great rock art tradition in the region, carvings and paintings with at least a two-thousand-year-old cultural legacy behind them.

With their eyes and square upper sections, specimens 20e and 20f are of a genre that finds fullest expression in Nepal. They appear to postdate the Vestigial period, rare examples of older rock art techniques still in use in Upper Tibet. Specimen 20g is of even more recent manufacture. It is included to provide a visual link between the ancient rock art of this study and more recent forms of technological production and religious ornamentation using fixed rock surfaces as a medium. The trio of chortens of 20g are not petroglyphs, but were carved in relief by removing the surrounding rock surface, a technique that gained much favor in Tibet from 1000 CE onwards.

20a. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chen (’Dam gzhung), 29 cm / Note: The end of an inscription was superimposed on the finial of the chorten (see Bellezza forthcoming, fig. xlix). Situated near specimen 20b in the Stag lung phug. On these two chortens, also see Bellezza 2002, pp. 129, 130, 203.

20b. Picto (RO), Bkra shis do chen (’Dam gzhung), 22 cm

20c. Petro (MP-C) Sngo sog (Ru thog), 58 cm / Note: The body and spire of this chorten were carved over Bactrian camels, which are more heavily re-patinated. On this rock art, see Bellezza 2012d.

20d. Petro (MP-E), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 88cm / Note: Inside the body of this chorten, the Rigs gsum mgon po mantras were inscribed. They exhibit old-fashioned paleographic qualities and may have been carved at the same time as the chorten. On these carvings and inscription, see Bellezza 2001, pp. 224, 370; forthcoming, fig. 386.

20e. Petro (MP-E), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 123 cm / Note: For this specimen, see Bellezza 2001, pp. 223, 224, 369. A vertically aligned Oṁ A huṁ was engraved in relief in the vase, and other Buddhist inscriptions are found below it. These inscriptions may postdate the chorten.

20f. Petro (LP-E), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 112 cm /

20g. Petro (LP-E), Rwa ’brog ’phrang (Ru thog), 28 cm to 32 cm / Note: On these chortens, see ibid, pp. 224, 371.

 

Next month: Ancient cosmopolitan links and the riddle of the stepped shrines!

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