Jomo Rirang Khar Introduction (April 13, 2011)
Antiquities of Zhang Zhung
Reproduced with permission from the author
under the THL Digital Text License.
I.1. Residential Structures Occupying Summits: Fortresses, breastworks, religious buildings, palaces, and related edifices
Jomo Rirang KharJo mo ri rang mkhar
Basic site data
- Site name: Jomo Rirang KharJo mo ri rang mkhar
- English equivalent: Elder Sister Mountain Castle.38
- Site number: A-54
- Site typology: I.1a.
- Geographic coordinate (N. lat.): 30º 53.4΄
- Geographic coordinate (E. long.): 80º 48.8΄
- Elevation: 5000 m to 5110 m
- Administrative location (township): KhyunglungKhyung lung
- Administrative location (county): TsadaRtsa mda'
- Survey expedition: UTAE
- Survey date: April 29, 2001
- Contemporary usage: None.
- Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
General site characteristics
The large all-stone citadel of Jomo Rirang KharJo mo ri rang mkhar is spread out over the top of a flaming orange-red spur, on the south side Mount Jomo RirangJo mo ri rang. This summit is surrounded by cliffs and very steep slopes, endowing it with an excellent defensive aspect. The site enjoys a panoramic view of the Gya NyimaRgya nyi ma basin, situated some 500 m below the site. Unlike the open and centralized location of Big Sun Castle (A-53), Jomo RirangJo mo ri rang is situated at the head of an uninhabited and isolated valley. The Jomo Rirang KharJo mo ri rang mkhar stronghold consists of three ruined residential complexes: upper, middle and lower. These complexes form contiguous bands of structures and cover no less than 2000 m² in total. The many diminutive buildings are stacked in vertical arrays, which spread out along the steep acclivities of the various summit ridges. Some of the edifices in the upper complex were two stories tall. The present day desolation of the locale contrasts with its ostensible demographic status in ancient times, when hundreds of people must have lived and worked here. Corbelled stone roofs and semi-subterranean, small, windowless rooms are prominent design features of the site, firmly placing it in the archaic cultural horizon. All edifices were built with long corbels, bridging stones and dry-mortar random-rubble walls. Dark gray corbelling and bridging stones, up to 2.3 m in length, are scattered all over the site. The structural evidence indicates that the buildings were finely built, alluding to the one time presence of a sophisticated cultural center.
Possibly the legendary prehistoric Zhang ZhungZhang zhung association of Big Sun Castle is really intended for jo mo ri rang mkhar. Local drok pa’brog pa consider Mount JomoJo mo ri rang very inauspicious, and the deaths of both people and livestock are commonly attributed to it. It is said that the territorial deity (yüllhayul lha) JomoJo mo ri rang once manifested as an onager (kyangrkyang) and visited a shepherd’s camp near DenchuGdan chu monastery (located on the headwaters of the Sutlej (Langchen Tsangpoglang chen gtsang po)). By circling the tents she slew many livestock. The five families that lived there erected a prayer flag mast in honor of the territorial deity in an attempt to placate her. One of the members of the camp was an avid hunter, and on a hunting foray he spotted a onager with a golden saddle and caparison. When he looked at it a second time it was merely an ordinary onager so he shot it. To his astonishment, when he arrived at the spot of the kill there was an adept (druptopgrub thob) there. He quickly looked away but when he returned his gaze there was the slain onager. He skinned the dead animal and brought the pelt back to his camp. Soon thereafter, he died followed by all the other inhabitants of his camp from one cause or another. For a long time afterwards not even livestock or wild ungulates would graze in the area. JomoJo mo ri rang is reputed to make the buildings on her inner (south) side invisible to onlookers, while at other times visitors see buildings and livestock roaming about. A rock outcrop on JomoJo mo ri rang in the vicinity of the citadel is called Female Srin Spear Carrier (Sinmo Dunkhyersrin mo mdung ’khyer).
I think it likely that JomoJo mo ri rang is a Buddhist form of the nearly forgotten and demonized ancient Bon goddess Dralé GyelmoSgra bla'i rgyal mo, who has Gya NyimaRgya nyi ma (old Bon name: Nyinö Yenmar GyelkhamNyi 'od g.yen dmar rgyal khams) as one of her main residences.39 This Bon place name probably refers to a fairly large swathe of extreme southwestern Tibet. The implacable savagery (in the service of religious ideals) of Dralé GyelmoSgra bla'i rgyal mo forms a theme in a Bon origin tale appended to a ritual text written for the discharge of wrathful activities.40 Textual descriptions of her abode as a place of red rocks very much fits the JomoJo mo ri rang locale. For instance, in Sangling Meri DzatiGsang gling me ri dzwa this we read:
The female guardian [Dralé GyelmoSgra bla'i rgyal mo] resides between Mount TiséTi se and Lake MapangMa pang on the copper [colored] talus slopes of Yenmar KhamG.yen dmar khams, in a castle of blazing metallic chunks (tulumthu lum) of celestial iron.41
The parentage of this important Bon goddess is provided in a canonical (kabka') text for the tutelary deity MeriMe ri:
Over yonder in that direction, up in the direction of the setting sun, at Nyinö Yenmar GyelkhamNyi 'od g.yen dmar rgyal khams, in the tabernacle (sekhargsas mkhar) of blazing metallic chunks, the father is the honored Gang Dang Lha Yi GyelpoGangs dang lha yi rgyal po (King of Snow Mountains and lhalha) and the mother is the honored Chucham GyelmoChu lcam rgyal mo (Water Lady Queen) of the miraculous crystal ZaBza'.42 Dralé GyelmoSgra bla'i rgyal mo stag ri rong was manifested from this wonderful couple.43
The upper complex is perched on the highest summit of the JomoJo mo ri rang site. This narrow ridgeline (32 m x 3 m to 4 m) is densely packed with the walls of crumbling buildings. These structures are staggered in the crags at various elevations. Standing walls are highly fragmentary and most buildings have been reduced to their footings. Isolated wall segments reach 3.2 m in height. Only a single roof beam and one corbel (among many hundreds) seem to have survived in situ. From the summit, a south facing gully (52 m long along the axis of the slope and 14 m wide) spills down the side of the formation. It contains the ruins of a contiguous band of habitational structures. Flanking the gully are stone ribs that hosted continuous lines of analogous structures. These edifices were all small (around 10 m²) and built in the archaic fashion with all-stone corbelled roofs. In total, the upper complex must have contained around 60 rooms and/or interconnected buildings.
The middle complex is located on a 70-m long ridgeline, adjacent to the lower end of the structure-filled gully of the upper complex. The middle complex contained around 40 rooms in total. Its east or upper end consists of a single line of southern aspect all-stone buildings. These poorly preserved structures were deeply built into the rocky mountainside, reducing the amount of stone needed for the construction of their walls. At the lower west end of the middle complex there is a cluster of around 20 rooms and/or buildings. Some of these semi-subterranean structures still have a few roof slabs and bridging stones in place. The longest in situ bridging stone is 2.1 m. At the western extremity of the complex there is a single two-story tall structure, which probably contained four lower rooms and four upper rooms. One of the lower rooms still has a substantial portion of its ceiling intact. The corbelling of the ceiling was skillfully installed to create a robustly designed structure that could easily support a second story.
The lower complex is located some tens of meters east of the middle complex. It contains a few ruined all-stone buildings of diminutive size, along a 27-m length of the summit.