So Spake Mo…
It is an ancient story, a heartbreakingly familiar one.
Once upon a time in the high reaches of Tibet, a spare prince laid the foundations for a kingdom on the high cliffs north of the Indian Himalaya on the south bank of the Sutlej river. Tsaparang, the capitol city of the great Guge Kingdom, ruled largely unopposed from these highly defensible spires for nearly 700 years. As the Muslims swept through the surrounding lands, Guge grew with the influx of Buddhist refugees. Gifted artisans from the Far East, the Near East, and all the conquered lands between joined together in Guge to create a uniquely international mix of Buddhist art that can still be seen today on the walls Tsaparang’s great ruins.
Most famous of their artistic creations were the Silver Eye of Guge, statues so cunningly crafted that no seam from their forging could be detected. The silver-eyed gods and goddesses were highly prized through out Buddhist lands.
What exactly transpired to end 700 years of culture and prosperity, we can’t be completely certain, but there are legends. In the legends, the Jesuits came. The last king of Guge welcomed them sometime in August of 1624 and encouraged them to set up a church in the city, even converted to Christianity himself. His brother, the abbot of the most powerful monastery in Guge, protested and finally declared an all out war. Aligning himself with neighboring Ladakh, the abbot betrayed his kingdom and guided the enemy through a successful siege. The king, unable to watch his people suffer any longer at Ladakh hands, surrendered. He, his family, and his traitor brother were all beheaded.
It is believed that the cave in the walls of Tsaparang which holds the decapitated remains of thirty individuals is the final resting place of the king and his retinue.*
Guge did not long out live its king.
The Ladakh were harsh masters and nature grew harsher still. The last king had ordered work on an aqueduct that would bring water from the melt off of the holy mountain. Legend claims that this angered the gods whose lands lay between and they punished his hubris with the destruction of his kingdom and by taking away all the waters from the once bountiful land around the spires. Angry gods or no, the land soon grew arid and inhospitable and the descendants of refuges became wanderers once more.
And the kingdom of Guge vanished.
And with it, the art and the culture…the dreams of its people.
So Spake Me…
The abbot had his reasons. I’m sure the king did as well. Religion was just as much a game of politics then as it is now. In the end the reasons don’t really matter, we are only left with the results: the destruction of a heritage, the extinguishing of possibilities.
The abbot could not allow for other possibilities, other ideas, so he shut them down at the expense of all ideas. At the expense of life.
It is an ancient story, a heartbreakingly familiar one. One that continues daily from the destruction of Buddhist artifacts in Afghanistan to the taunts on the playground.
In those self-righteous days of my feminist youth, I believed that one day I would have to fight like a she-cat to maintain the possibilities of my future daughter. And in my heart-of-hearts, I believed I would lose against the prejudices of a society that could not allow other possibilities.
I never considered that it might be my son that would find himself shut off from so many of the wonders the world has to offer.
Don’t paint…unless it’s monsters.
Don’t write…unless it’s battle scenes.
Don’t think…unless it’s about sports.
Don’t dance…unless it’s the drunken bounce.
Don’t sing…unless it’s rap.
Don’t play music…unless it’s heavy metal.
Don’t stop to enjoy a beautiful garden. Don’t wear flowers on your shirts. Don’t let color into your wardrobe. Don’t enjoy the company of girls. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.
Stay here in the little narrow space we’ve designed for you or we will wage war on you. We will taunt you. Or will we will taunt others who try to escape on T.V. or in books, so that you will fear to peer beyond these cardboard walls.
Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. So much beautiful art, so much amazing culture that we will never know. I see it disappearing already.
I can’t stop it completely. And I wouldn’t. We find a measure of our strength in life through our gender roles. And I would never deliberately subject my children to the taunts I endured when I walked in their shoes. (And if you think this sort of idea extinguishing can’t take a life just as well as the abbot’s armies, you are wrong.)
But what I lack in bravado, I make up for in unabashed enthusiasm. For what greater motivator has there ever been than joy?
Yes, my daughter, it’s fascinating that the Segway can stand on two wheels!
Yes, my daughter, you are powerful when you figure it out for yourself!
Yes, my son, you created a beautiful arrangement of flowers!
Yes, my son, you can fly to moon on the wings of your own voice!
Yes! Yes, you can.
*Other sources state that the king and his family were sent into exile. Legend did always like a good controversy!
Guge – The Lost Kingdom of Tibet
The Kingdom of Gu-ge
Mountains of Travel Photos: Tibet Guge Kingdom Travel Guidebooks, Books, External Links, Videos
David Antoniuk Travelogue
Magic Tirthapuri and the Lost City of Tsaparang
The Lost Kingdom-Guge
A Dream Come True: Diary of a Journey to Western Tibet
The Story of Place