Destruction Of Zhang Zhung
In the western region of Upper Tibet, there was once a civilized kingdom called Zhang Zhung, destroyed with the rise of the Tibetan Empire. This kingdom was the source of the pre-Buddhist Bon religion. A shamanistic and mystical religion with links to Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, Bon involved animal sacrifice and the burning of juniper. Bon sources say that Zhang Zhung was ruled by 18 kings, which may mean different kingdoms or dynasties in a single cultural region or confederation. Zhang Zhung may have had a form of writing called “Mar,” a divine script meaning “coming from the sky.” With no extant writings from that time, our knowledge comes from the records of their Tibetan conquerors.
Before it ceased to be an independent polity, Zhang Zhung was ruled by Limigya. Tibet was led by Songtsen Gampo, who was Tsenpo (“ruler”) of the kingdom under the title “Divine Mighty One Magically Manifest.” Initially, Songtsen sought good diplomatic relations with his neighbors, hoping for a dynastic alliance with Zhang Zhung. But things didn’t go that way.
Songtsen’s sister Semarkar was given to Limigya in marriage to cement good relations, but she resented being politically marginalized by Limigya. Poems from the ninth-century Old Tibetan Chronicle portray Semarkar’s dissatisfaction with her new home and her scheme to have her brother conquer her husband’s kingdom. She refused to consummate her marriage, alarming the Tibetans and inducing them to send an emissary to convince her to produce an heir for the greater good.
When the emissary returned to her brother’s kingdom, her poems were sung as songs to Songtsen Gampo. He received her gift of 30 pieces of turquoise, eventually understanding that he should wear them around his neck like a man, not in his hair like a woman. Songtsen invaded Zhang Zhung, killed Limigya, and destroyed Limigya’s power base.
Khyunglung Ngulkhar, Zhang Zhung’s capital, became the new residence of the administrative chiefs of Central Tibet. After Zhang Zhung and the highland kingdom of Sumpa were conquered, the division into administrative units known as tongde saw the first unification of the Tibetan plateau and provided man power and resources that spurred the rise of the fearsome Tibetan Empire.