King Gesar is a heroic epic created collectively by the Tibetans during the 11th to 13th century. As the beloved king of the ancient Tibetan kingdom of Ling, Gesar was believed to be the son of God of Heaven. Gesar and his followers bravely and resourcefully struggled against evil forces and conquered the kingdom of demons with great wisdoms and super natural power, bringing peace and happiness to his people. The great hero and his brave army are kept alive in the imaginative retelling of the epic. The epic contains a lot of great poetry and vivid description of the characters. It sings high praise for Gesar’s efforts to aid the weak and poor, to defeat the demons and to benefit the common people. It reflects the wishes of the ordinary Tibetans to fight against the evil and struggle for peace and freedom.
Theme of the epic, King Gesar
The epic, King Gesar, was adapted according to legends of this real hero. His lifetime serves as the source of the great work. The theme of the epic centers on the life, deeds, and merits of the divine hero, Gesar, whose mission from heaven to this world was to rescue his loved ones from earthly calamities, unify disparate tribes, defeat ravaging monsters, and aid the weak and the poor.
Artistic Achievements in King Gesar
The epic of King Gesar is a great work of both realism and romanticism. All the characters in the epic, no matter positive or negative, male or female, young or old, are described in such a vivid way that they are kept alive in the telling and singing of the epic.
Gesar is a great ballad – epic about an ancient Tibetan hero; it also tells us much about ancient Tibetan society, including war, production, living styles, nationality, religion and morality. Thus it is a virtual encyclopedia about the lives of ancient Tibetans, and enjoys high aesthetic and academic value.
Story of the King Gesar
The story is set in the far distant past, when the people of the Tibetan plateau were being plagued by natural disasters and calamities, and demons and spirits were running wild. The Goddess of Mercy took pity on the people and asked the Amitabha Buddha if he would send the son of the God of Heaven to the world to defeat the evil demons.
Toiba Gawa, later known as Gesar, descended to earth and later became the king of the Tibetan people. Gesar is usually portrayed as a combination of god, dragon and a fierce spirit in early Tibetan religion. He possessed invincible powers, marvelous abilities and the protection of the god of Heaven, which helped him to defeat the demons, aid the poor and bring help to the common people.
Becoming the King
The legend goes that Gesar was persecuted soon after his birth, then his mother and him were forced to move to the Yellow River area when he was only five years old. A few years later the Ling tribe also migrated to this area. Gesar grew up to win a great horse race, defeating his uncle and other tribal chiefs, for which the prize was the crown, and marriage with Qomo, the most beautiful girl in the tribe. He was then named the Lion King of the World, or Gesar Lhobo Zhadui.
Subduing the Demons
When he ascended the throne, King Gesar was confronted with the invasion launched by four vicious enemies. The major part of the epic lies in battles between between Ling and different ancient states, such as Mo, Hor, Jiang and Moin.
Battle between Mo and Ling
To the north of the State of Ling was the State of Mo ruled by King Lutsang who ate children. One day, he kidnapped Maisa, the second concubine of Gesar. To wipe out the demon and rescue his concubine, Gesar left for the north. He managed to get in touch with Maisa and the two worked to wipe out King Lutsang.
Maisa hated to be Gesar’s concubine in the State of Ling. She wished to be his wife. She managed to make Gesar take her magic portion. As a result, Gesar stayed in the State of Mo for 12 years. During the period, the State of Ling was invaded by the State of Hor, and Gesar’s wife, Zhubmo, was kidnapped by the invaders, too.
Battle between Hor and Ling
The State of Hor lay to the northeast of the State of Ling. It was ruled by three kings who were brothers. Named after tents in which they lived, they were called Yellow Tent King, White Tent King, and Black Tent King. White Tent King was the most powerful. He sent magic Parrot, Magpie and Crow to look for beauties for him, and the Crow flew to the State of Ling and was astonished by zhubmo’s beauty. When White Tent King was informed of the news, he launched a war against Ling. With the help of the traitors of Ling, White Tent King seized the power and took away zhubmo.
When Gesar woke up from the magic portion he took, he rushed back to Ling. In a battle, he killed White Tent King and brought back zhubmo.
Battle between Jiang and Ling
To the southeast of the State of Ling there was the State of Jiang ruled by King Sadain, a sorcerer who was very greedy. Sadain tried to seize the salt fields belonging to the State of Ling. Gesar sent Sinba, a general formerly of the State of Hor, to win over Yulha Toju, son of Sadain, and he himself led his troops to guard the saltern. With help from Yulha Toju, Gesar knew everything about Sadain. When Sadain drank water one day, Gesar incarnated into a tiny gold fish and was swallowed by Sadain without awareness. Once in the stomach, Gesar incarnated into a large wheel which turned endlessly until Sadain surrendered.
Battle between Moin and Ling
The State of Moin was enemy of Ling. It harassed and looted Ling when Ling was weak. When Ling became stronger and had subdued three demons, Sinchi, king of the State of Moin, was the only demon left un-subdued. Gesar decided to bring down Sinchi and marry his daughter Meido Zholma who was very pretty. Through fierce fight, both suffered. Gesar went over to fight Sinchi in person, and shot Sinchi to death in the end.
Other minor battles
With the four demons killed, the State of Ling enjoyed peace and happiness. Then, the epic goes on with continuous minor battles waged by Gesar to defend the invaded neighboring states.
For example, as Gesar’s uncle stole some horses from the State of Dashi, both states saw red. This forced Gesar to fight the State of Dashi. Gesar won again, and distributed Dashi’ s wealth among the people before returning to the State of Ling.
Chidain, king of the State of Kachi, had conquered Nepal, Korgas and some other small states, and sent troops to invade Ling. Gesar retaliated and killed Chidain.
In successive campaigns, Gesar defeated scores of small tribes and minor kingdoms known as zongs in ancient Tibet. Then, he defended the Salt Sea, launched battles to conquer 54 zongs. He won all these battles. The State of Ling grew in strength, and became very powerful.
Returning to the Heaven
When Gesar had completed his mission on the earth, he returned to the heaven together with his mother and wife. Here lies the end of the epic, King Gesar.
Features of King Gesar
An early epic
Created during the 11th to 13th century, King Gesar is acclaimed as the oriental Iliad, after the Greek epic by Homer in the eighth century BC.
Boast the longest epic in the world
So far, Gesar has been collected as a work composed of more than 120 volumes, with more than 1 million verses, altogether over 20 million words. The entire work is longer and has a greater number of verses than the world’s other five great epics combined. (The other five epics are the ancient Babylonian Gilgamesh, the Greek Iliad and Odyssey, and the Indian Ramayana and Mahabharata.) Along with the Babylonian, Greek and Indian epics, Life of King Gesar is of significant value as part of the world’s cultural treasure-house, making great contributions to human civilization.
Enjoy popularity both in Tibet and abroad
Gesar is a popular epic in the Tibetan area. For generations, stories about Gesar had actually been passed down in ballads by folk artists in a combination of song and narration. There are a lot of folk artists known as bards in the Tibetan area, who keep the great hero and his brave army alive in the richly imaginative retelling of the epic. They are very popular and beloved by the common Tibetans.
The epic of King Gesar is also popular abroad. As early as 200 year ago, the Russian edition of King Gesar was published, and in 1839, appeared the German edition. In 1905, Life of King Gesar was published in both Tibetans and English. Noted as the world’s only surviving epic, King Gesar has been translated into many languages, including English, French, German, Russian and Indian and has spread to more than 40 countries and regions worldwide.
An epic awaits further sorting
Being a folklore passed down through generations in singing and retelling, Gasar still awaits sorting. In 1958, a special research institute was set up by the Qinghai Government to work on the gathering, collecting, sorting out, translating and publishing of the great work.