East of the moon and west of the sun? Approaches to a land with many names, north of ancient India and south of Khotan

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Author: Bettina Zeisler
Date: Autumn-Winter 2009
From: The Tibet Journal(Vol. 34, Issue 3-4)
Publisher: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives
Document Type: Geographic overview
Length: 38,251 words
Lexile Measure: 1390L

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Introduction

Commemorating 50 years of Indian hospitality towards the Tibetan people, what could fit better than a contribution concerning the region at the very junction of Tibet and India: Ladakh? Once a colony of the Tibetan empire, independent for almost one millennium, Ladakh is now part of India, her crown, as some politicians would say. In the west, Ladakh is also known as Little Tibet, by which designation most people understand something secondary, a miniature replication of something more real, Tibet. This perception is wrong in two ways. First of all, the privilege of being called Little or Lesser Tibet goes to Baltistan, while Ladakh was known merely as Greater Tibet. This terminology reflects an ancient convention, attested in Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan nomenclature, by which Lesser means Closer to a particular reference point. This reference point could be a neighbouring state who applied the terminology from its own perspective, (2) it could be a more common, pan-national reference point, such as Mt Meru, the Central Asian axis mundis, and it could be the geographic or political Centre of the entity itself. The term Greater would thus apply to territories further away from the reference point or to politically peripheral regions, regions that were secondarily acquired and colonialised. In this latter way the Tibetans applied the term Bod for Central Tibet and Bodchen for Amdo and Khams.

Ladakh and Baltistan are commonly perceived as an intrinsic part already of Ancient Tibet, and as such their distinct linguistic, cultural, and political history, the Indian and Iranian influences, have often been underestimated. In general, apart from the 'nation'-building fictions of the royal genealogies, we do not know much about Tibetan prehistory and early history from independent sources. While there are ample studies (and good overview volumes) concerning Tibet's neighbours or more broadly South, Central, and East Asia, prehistoric Tibet apparently lies in the blind angle of any such approach. It is as if it never existed. The situation for Ladakh and Baltistan is even worse, if an augmentation of nothingness is thinkable, at all.

Examining the early history of Ladakh as well as that of the more fabulous than historically traceable Zarjzurj. one cannot avoid coming across the names Yangtong, Suvarnagotra (Gold Clan/Family), Nuguo (Women's Dominion), and Moluosuo (with its seemingly Tibetan equivalents Mard and Maryul) or Sanbohe. These names are used by Chinese historiographers and travellers in an all-too-often contradictory manner, and one may thus wonder whether these entities have any reality at all or whether they are just faeries or spiritual realms (like the Bonpo Holmo Lurjrirjs) beyond the reach of an ordinary, unenlightened human being.

The first name, Yangtong, bears a certain similarity with the Tibetan name Byajthaj (Changthang), and if there is some etymological relation, then the name must be quite old and certainly not signifying 'northern plain' (a designation that only makes sense from the later Tibetan perspective). There seems to be also a certain phonetical similarity between the designations Yangtong and Zanzun. and many scholars believe...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A242180224