c. 500 BC–625 AD[1]
General location of Zhangzhung, with contemporary neighbouring polities c. AD 500
Common languagesZhang-Zhung language
Historical eraIron Age? to Classical Antiquity
• Established
c. 500 BC
• Conquest of Songtsen Gampo
625 AD[1]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Neolithic Tibet
Yarlung dynasty
Tibetan Empire
Today part ofChina
Tibetan name
Tibetan ཞང་ཞུང་
Lhasa IPAɕaŋɕuŋ
Chinese name
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu PinyinXiàngxióng

Zhangzhung or Shangshung was an ancient kingdom in western and northwestern Tibet, pre-dating Tibetan Buddhism. Zhangzhung culture is associated with the Bon religion, which has influenced the philosophies and practices of Tibetan Buddhism. Zhangzhung people are mentioned frequently in ancient Tibetan texts as the original rulers of today's western Tibet. Only in the last two decades have archaeologists been given access to do field work in the areas once ruled by the Zhangzhung.



Tradition has it that Zhangzhung consisted "of three different regions: sGob-ba, the outer; Phug-pa, the inner; and Bar-ba, the middle. The outer is what we might call Western Tibet, from Gilgit in the west to Dangs-ra khyung-rdzong in the east, next to lake gNam-mtsho, and from Khotan in the north to Chu-mig brgyad-cu rtsa-gnyis in the south. Ladakh, including Lahaul and Spiti, was part of sGob-ba. The inner region is said to be sTag-gzig (Tazig) [often identified with Bactria], and the middle rGya-mkhar bar-chod, a place not yet identified." [citation needed] While it is not certain whether Zhangzhung was really so large, it was an independent kingdom and covered the whole of what is today's Western Tibet, Ladakh and Gilgit.[2][3]

The capital city of Zhangzhung was called Khyunglung (Wylie: Khyunglung Ngülkhar or Wylie: Khyung-lung dngul-mkhar), the "Silver Palace of Garuda", southwest of Mount Kailash (Mount Ti-se), which is identified with palaces found in the upper Sutlej Valley.[4][better source needed]

According to Rolf Alfred Stein, author of Tibetan Civilization, the area of Shang Shung was not historically a part of Tibet and was a distinctly foreign territory to the Tibetans:[5]

"... then further west, the Tibetans encountered a distinctly foreign nation. – Shangshung, with its capital at Khyunglung. Mt. Kailāśa (Tise) and Lake Manasarovar formed part of this country., whose language has come down to us through early documents. Though still unidentified, it seems to be Indo European .... Geographically the country was certainly open to India, both through Nepal and by way of Kashmir and Ladakh. Kailāśa is a holy place for the Indians, who make pilgrimages to it. No one knows how long they have done so, but the cult may well go back to the times when Shangshung was still independent of Tibet. How far Shangshung stretched to the north, east and west is a mystery .... We have already had an occasion to remark that Shangshung, embracing Kailāśa sacred Mount of the Hindus, may once have had a religion largely borrowed from Hinduism. The situation may even have lasted for quite a long time. In fact, about 950, the Hindu King of Kabul had a statue of Vişņu, of the Kashmiri type (with three heads), which he claimed had been given him by the king of the Bhota (Tibetans) who, in turn had obtained it from Kailāśa."[5]



Possible Iron Age culture


Archeological work on the Chang Tang plateau in 2010 found possible evidence of an Iron Age culture in the area which some have tentatively identified as that of the Zhangzhung.[6]

Conquest of Zhangzhung

Map showing Zhangzhung and its capital Kyunglung under the Tibetan Empire

There is some confusion as to whether Central Tibet conquered Zhangzhung during the reign of Songtsen Gampo (605 or 617–649) or in the reign of Trisong Detsen (Wylie: Khri-srong-lde-btsan), (r. 755 until 797 or 804).[7] The records of the Tang Annals do, however, seem to clearly place these events in the reign of Songtsen Gampo for they say that in 634, Yangtong (Zhangzhung) and various Qiang tribes, "altogether submitted to him". Following this he united with the country of Yangtong to defeat the 'Azha or Tuyuhun, and then conquered two more tribes of Qiang before threatening Songzhou with an army of more than 200,000 men. He then sent an envoy with gifts of gold and silk to the Chinese emperor to ask for a Chinese princess in marriage and, when refused, attacked Songzhou. He apparently finally retreated and apologised and later the emperor granted his request.[8][9]

Early Tibetan accounts say that the Tibetan king and the king of Zhangzhung had married each other's sisters in a political alliance. However, the Tibetan wife of the king of the Zhangzhung complained of poor treatment by the king's principal wife. War ensued, and through the treachery of the Tibetan princess, "King Ligmikya of Zhangzhung, while on his way to Sum-ba (Amdo province) was ambushed and killed by King Srongtsen Gampo's soldiers. As a consequence, Zhangzhung was annexed to Bod (Central Tibet). Thereafter the new kingdom born of the unification of Zhangzhung and Bod was known as Bod rGyal-khab."[10][11][12] R. A. Stein places the conquest of Zhangzhung in 645.[13]

677 revolt


Zhangzhung revolted soon after the death of King Mangsong Mangtsen or Trimang Löntsän (Wylie: Khri-mang-slon-rtsan, r. 650–677), the son of Songtsen Gampo, but was brought back under Tibetan control by the "firm governance of the great leaders of the Mgar clan".[14]

Zhangzhung language


A handful of Zhangzhung texts and 11th century bilingual Tibetan documents attest to a Zhang-Zhung language which was related to Kinnauri. The Bonpo claim that the Tibetan writing system is derived from the Zhangzhung alphabet, while modern scholars recognise the clear derivation of Tibetan script from a North Indian script, which accords with non-Bon Tibetan accounts. A modern Kinnauri language called by the same name (pronounced locally Jangshung) is spoken by 2,000 people in the Sutlej Valley of Himachal Pradesh who claim to be descendants of the Zhangzhung.[15]

Cultural legacy


Bonpo tradition claims that Bon was founded by a Buddha named Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche,[16] to whom are ascribed teachings similar in scope to those ascribed to the historical Gautama Buddha. Bonpos claim that Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche lived some 18,000 years ago, and visited Tibet from the land of Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring, or Shambhala.[17] Bonpos also suggest that during this time Lord Shenrab Miwoche's teaching permeated the entire subcontinent and was in part responsible for the development of the Vedic religion. An example of this link is said to be Mount Kailash, which is the center of Zhangzhung culture, and also the most sacred mountain to Hindus. As a result, the Bonpos claim that the supposedly much later Hindu teaching owes its origin – at least indirectly – to Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche.

See also





  1. ^ Aldenderfer, Mark (2007). "Defining Zhang Zhung ethnicity: an archaeological perspective from far western Tibet". In Amy Heller and Giacomella Orofino (ed.). Discoveries in Western Tibet and the Western Himalayas: Essays on History, Literature, Archaeology and Art. Tibetan Studies, Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Oxford, 2003. Leiden: Brill. pp. 1–22. ISBN 978-90-04-15520-6.
  2. ^ Karmey, Samten G. (1979). A General Introduction to the History and Doctrines of Bon, p. 180. The Toyo Bunko, Tokyo.
  3. ^ Stein, R. A. (1972). Tibetan Civilization. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-8047-0901-7.
  4. ^ Allen, Charles. (1999). The Search for Shangri-La: A Journey into Tibetan History. Abacus Edition, London. (2000), pp. 266–267; 273–274. ISBN 0-349-11142-1.
  5. ^ a b Tibetan Civilization by R.A. Stein, Faber and Faber
  6. ^ "KM-III EXPLORATION REPORT: A Reconnaissance Mission to Locate the Sri Ashtapad Temple". Archived from the original on 2010-05-28. Retrieved April 14, 2010.
  7. ^ Karmey, Samten G. (1975). "'A General Introduction to the History and Doctrines of Bon", p. 180. Memoirs of Research Department of The Toyo Bunko, No, 33. Tokyo.
  8. ^ Lee, Don Y. (1981). The History of Early Relations between China and Tibet: From Chiu t'ang-shu, a documentary survey, pp. 7–9. Eastern Press, Bloomington, IN.
  9. ^ Pelliot, Paul. (1961). Histoire ancienne du Tibet, pp. 3–4. Librairie d'Amérique et d'orient, Paris.
  10. ^ Norbu, Namkhai. (1981). The Necklace of Gzi, A Cultural History of Tibet, p. 30. Information Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, H.P., India.
  11. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. (1987). The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia, p. 20. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. Fourth printing with new afterword and 1st paperback version. ISBN 0-691-02469-3.
  12. ^ Allen, Charles. The Search for Shangri-La: A Journey into Tibetan History, pp. 127–128. (1999). Reprint: (2000). Abacus, London. ISBN 0-349-11142-1.
  13. ^ Stein, R. A. (1972). Tibetan Civilization, p. 59. Stanford University Press, Stanford California. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-8047-0901-7.
  14. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia. A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages, 1987, Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02469-3, p. 43.
  15. ^ Ethnologue 14 report for language code:JNA
  16. ^ "Bon: Tonpa Shenrab – The Founder of Bon". www.ligmincha.org. Archived from the original on 2005-12-30. The Founder of Bon religion is the Lord Shenrab Miwo. ... The Lord Shenrab was born in the Barpo Sogye Palace to the south of Mount Youngdong. He was born a prince, married while young, and had children. At the age of 31 he renounced the world and lived in austerity, teaching the doctrine.
  17. ^ Jigme N. Kazi (20 October 2020). "Buddhism in Tibet". Sons of Sikkim: The Rise and Fall of the Namgyal Dynasty of Sikkim. Chennai: Notion Press. ISBN 9781648059810. Retrieved 31 October 2022. The mysterious land of Olmo Lungring is said to be part of a larger geographical region to the northwest of Tibet called Tazig, which scholars identify with Iran or, more properly, Central Asia. ... According to the 'gZi-brjid,' Olmo Lungring was also known as Shambhala in Sanskrit .... ... Bonpos claim that Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche lived some 18,000 years ago, and visited Kongpo in southern Tibet from the land of Tagzig Olmo Lungring or Shambhala.



Further reading