The Heroic Epic of King Gesar: A Tale of Bravery, Wisdom, and Triumph

An Introduction of King Gesar

King Gesar is a collective heroic epic originating from Tibet in the 11th to 13th centuries. Revered as the son of the God of Heaven, Gesar ruled over the ancient Tibetan kingdom of Ling. With great wisdom and supernatural abilities, Gesar and his followers courageously fought against malevolent forces, ultimately conquering the realm of demons. This victorious endeavour brought peace and happiness to his subjects. King Gesar was born in 1038 and passed away in 1119. Throughout his existence, he vanquished demons, eliminated violence, and established peace among the righteous. He triumphed over both the northern and southern regions, uniting over 150 tribes, regardless of their size, thus unifying the territory of the Ling Kingdom.

The epic vividly portrays the valiant hero and his courageous army, weaving together captivating poetry and detailed character descriptions. It resoundingly praises Gesar for his commitment to aiding the weak and impoverished, defeating demons, and championing the welfare of the common people. In essence, the epic embodies the aspirations of ordinary Tibetans to combat evil and strive for peace and freedom.

guge Kingdom

The epic, King Gesar, was adapted from legends of the real hero. It centres on the life, deeds, and merits of the divine hero Gesar. His mission was to rescue loved ones, unify tribes, defeat monsters, and aid the weak and poor.

Artistic Achievements in King Gesar

The epic of King Gesar combines realism and romanticism. The characters in the epic, regardless of their gender or age, are vividly described and come to life through storytelling and singing. Gesar is a significant ballad epic that depicts the legendary deeds of an ancient Tibetan hero. It offers valuable insights into the society of that era, covering topics such as warfare, production, lifestyle, nationality, religion, and morality. As a result, Gesar can be considered a comprehensive source of knowledge about the lives of ancient Tibetans, boasting both aesthetic and academic value.

Story of the King Gesar

The story is set in ancient times when the people of the Tibetan plateau were plagued by natural disasters, calamities, and the unruly presence of demons and spirits. The Goddess of Mercy, feeling compassion for the people, requested the intervention of Amitabha Buddha. She asked if the son of Heaven could be sent to the world to vanquish the malevolent demons.

Topa Gawa, later known as Gesar, descended to earth and became the king of the Tibetan people. Gesar is typically depicted as a divine being, incorporating traits of both a dragon and a fierce spirit in early Tibetan religion. He possessed invincible powers, extraordinary abilities, and the protection of the heavenly god, enabling him to vanquish demons, assist the impoverished, and aid the common folk.

Legend has it that Gesar faced persecution in his early years and was compelled to relocate with his mother to the Yellow River region when he was a mere five years old. Eventually, the Ling tribe also settled in this area. In due course, Gesar emerged victorious in a momentous horse race, triumphing over his uncle and other tribal leaders. As a result, he was bestowed with the crown and the hand of Jomo, the tribe’s most exquisite maiden. Subsequently, he earned the title of Gesar Norbu Damdul, the Lion King of the World.

King Gesar ascended the throne to face an invasion by four vicious enemies. The epic mainly focuses on the battles between Ling and various ancient states like Mo, Hor, Jiang, and Mon.

ling gesar gyalpo
Ling gesar gyalpo

The battle between Mo and Ling by King Gesar

To the north of Ling was Mo, ruled by King Lutsang who consumed children. One day, he abducted Maisa, the second concubine of Gesar. To defeat the demon and rescue his concubine, Gesar journeyed north and made contact with Maisa. Together, they endeavoured to eliminate King Lutsang. Maisa despised being Gesar’s concubine in Ling and aspired to become his wife. She slyly convinced Gesar to consume her magical potion, resulting in him remaining in Mo for 12 years. During this time, Ling was invaded by Hor, and Gesar’s wife, Drukmo, was also taken by the invaders.

King Gesar’s Battle of Hor

The State of Hor lay northeast of Ling. It was ruled by three brothers: Yellow, White, and Black kings. White was the most powerful. He dispatched a magical Parrot, Magpie, and Crow to find beautiful women for him. Crow flew to Ling and was amazed by Drukmo’s beauty. When Gukar received the news, he initiated a war against Ling. With the help of Ling’s traitors, White seized power and took Drukmo. Upon awakening from his enchanted slumber, Gesar hurried back to Ling. In a battle, he defeated Gukar and rescued Drukmo. 

The battle between Jang and Ling

To the southeast of Ling, there was Jang, ruled by King Sadain, a greedy sorcerer. Sadain attempted to seize Ling’s salt fields. Gesar sent Sinba, a former general of Hor, to convince Yulha Toju, Sadain’s son while leading his own troops to defend the saltern. With Yulha Toju’s help, Gesar gained knowledge about Sadain. One day, when Sadain drank water, Gesar transformed into a small goldfish and was unknowingly swallowed by Sadain. Inside Sadain’s stomach, Gesar transformed into a large wheel that incessantly spun until Sadain surrendered.

The battle between Mon and Ling

The State of Mon was an enemy of Ling, harassing and looting it during times of weakness. Ling, having become stronger and subdued three demons, had only one demon left un-subdued: Sinchi, the king of the State of Moin. Gesar, desiring to defeat Sinchi and marry his beautiful daughter, Medok Dolma, engaged in a fierce battle. Both Gesar and Sinchi suffered. Ultimately, Gesar personally fought Sinchi and successfully killed him.

Other minor battles

After defeating the four demons, Ling State experienced peace and happiness. The epic then continues with Gesar engaging in various minor battles to protect neighbouring states from invasion. For instance, when Gesar’s uncle stole horses from Dashi State, both states became hostile towards each other, leading to a battle between Gesar and Dashi. Gesar emerged victorious and distributed Dashi’s wealth among the people before returning to Ling State.

Chidan, the ruler of Kaji State, had already conquered Nepal, Gorkhas, and several other small states. He then dispatched troops to invade Ling. In response, Gesar retaliated and killed Chidan. In subsequent campaigns, Gesar defeated numerous small tribes and minor kingdoms, referred to as Dzongs, in ancient Tibet.

He also defended the Salt Sea and launched battles to conquer 54 Dzongs, emerging victorious in all of them. As a result, Ling State grew in strength and became immensely powerful. After completing his mission on Earth, Gesar, along with his mother and wife, ascended to Heaven, marking the epic conclusion of 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

Gesar is a vast work consisting of over 120 volumes, containing more than 1 million verses, totalling over 20 million words. It surpasses the combined length and number of verses of the other five great epics in the world: the ancient Babylonian Gilgamesh, the Greek Iliad and Odyssey, and the Indian Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Life of King Gesar, along with these aforementioned epics, holds immense cultural value and has made substantial 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 popular internationally. Over 200 years ago, a Russian edition of King Gesar was published, followed by a German edition in 1839. In 1905, the Life of King Gesar was published in Tibetan and English. King Gesar, known as the world’s only surviving epic, has been translated into various languages, such as English, French, German, Russian, and Indian, and has spread to more than 40 countries and regions globally.

An epic awaits further categorization. Gasar, a folklore passed down through generations in song and storytelling, is still awaiting categorization. In 1958, the Qinghai Government established a dedicated research institute to gather, collect, categorize, translate, and publish this remarkable work.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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