Seeing the sad state of Tibet after the fall of the Tibetan Royal dynasty of Yarlung (127 BC – 842 AD), the authors wrote the epic around the 12th century to uplift the Tibetan people and give them a reminder of the patriotic fervor of the Tibetan empire. It was constructed around a historical figure of the period, Trison Deutsen (742 – 797 AD), and pays homage to the order of kingship and liberation, acting as a story to arouse respect and pride for one’s own heritage. Today, the Epic of Gesar continues to grow. New volumes have been added by authors or sung by Ling bards, making it a non-static story of amazing events.
The Epic of Gesar relates the heroic deeds of the culture hero Gesar, the king of the Ling. It is one of the oldest and most recited epics, with some 100 bards still active today in the Gesar belt of China, making it one of the few epics that maintains its oral tradition. At 120 volumes, it is the longest epic in the world. It is comprised of more than one million verses, divided into 29 “chapters.”
The epic is sung throughout central Asia, Russia, Mongolia, India, Nepal, Tibet, and China and because it maintains an oral tradition, there is no standard version of the epic. It is centered around the Amnye Machen range in Amdo and Kham regions of Tibet but its popularity spread from there. The epic appears among Chinese minorities such as the Bai, Naxi, the Pumi, Lisu , the Yugur peoples as well as various other Tibeto-Burmese, Turkish, and Tunghus tribes. It is recorded variously in poetry and prose with chantfable being the style of a traditional performance.
Its cultural significance lies in the fact that it contains matter, such as the adages, which were the collected wisdom of the Tibetan and their environs passed down through word of mouth generation after generation. An adage is a memorable saying, which holds some important fact of experience that is considered true by many people or has gained credibility through long use. It not only provides us with a unique glance into ancient Tibetan culture, the lessons and stories it recounts teach values important in our society today such as bravery and valor, national unity and patriotism, and integrity.
The plot of the Epic of Gesar is as follows:
In the kingdom of Ling there was no king and chaos prevailed. One of the sons of the Heavenly God was sent down to the earth. He was reborn into a noble family (or as a son of a mountain spirit). As a baby he was slobbering and deformed, and was given the name Dzoru. Even as a child he began to destroy demons and various monsters. As an adolescent he came to the throne and earned the beautiful Brugmo as consort. He also obtained his magic horse, heroic shape, and proper name. The first heroic deed was the annihilation of the demon of the North. The demon’s wife Meza Bumskiid helped him to accomplish this task, but after the victory she gave Geser the herb of forgetfulness and so he stayed in the North. At home, Geser’s uncle Khrotung tried to seduce Brugmo—without any success. Khrotung betrayed his land and led the Hories to Ling. The Hories carried off Brugmo. Geser was finally able to break the spell with the help of heavenly forces and hurried to the camp of the enemies disguised as a scabby boy. By means of magic and supernatural power, he destroyed the king of the Hories, subdued his kingdom and returned to Ling.
For further reading, refer to “An Introduction to the Gesar of Ling epic.”