Gyasa Bhelsa

Background

During the period 617 to 698 A.D. Tibet was ruled by the 33rd mighty King Songtsen Gampo of the Yarlung dynasty. He established Lhasa as the capital of Tibet and built a fort where the Potala palace now stands. Although the first faint contacts with Buddhism had been made earlier, Songtsen Gampo devoted himself to the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. He drew up a legal code for the observance of the ‘Ten virtuous acts’, founded hermitages and built monasteries. This story is based on popular folk legends.

The Plot

The incarnation of Avaloketsvara, King Songtsen Gampo, when once contemplating the fragile hold of Buddhism in the land of snows, decided that the two most holy images of Buddha, Jho Mingyur Dorjee in Nepal and Jho Thukche Chenmo in China, must be brought to Tibet in order for the Dharma to flourish. He knew the two countries would not give up such treasures easily, but if he took as Queens the princess of Nepal and the princess of China he would then demand the two holy images as gifts with the brides. Songtsen Gampo dispatched one hundred ministers loaded with gold and other presents to the palace of the king of Nepal. The King and Queen of Nepal were delighted with the idea of giving their daughter, Bhelsa Tri-tsun, an incarnation of the goddess Tara, to the incarnation of Avaloketsvara, Songtsen Gampo. The King and Queen sent a number of precious articles as gifts with their daughter including the sacred image of Buddha, Jho Mingyur Dorjee.

The princess Bhelsa was married to Songtsen Gampo in a grand ceremony that lasted many months. After the festivities, King Songtsen made plans to obtain the Chinese princess and the Chinese holy image, Jho Thukche Chenmo. This task was more difficult since the Emperor of China was not too well disposed towards Tibet. Songtsen could not make up his mind as to which of his many valiant ministers be sent to China, so he decided to put this matter to the gods. The King and his ministers rode to the holy ‘Central High Mountain’ to burn incense. They tossed coins to see who would go to China, and the great minister Gar Tongtsen was chosen by the gods. Now King Songtsen Gampo, who because of his spiritual powers could see into the future, knew that the Emperor of China would not easily give up his daughter. So he gave the minister Gar three letters for the Chinese Emperor, which the minister Gar was only to deliver when the situation became extremely difficult for him.

When Gar Tongtsen reached the capital of China, the beautiful city of Chang An, the ministers of the King of India (land of Dharma), the ministers of the King of Nepal (land of turquoises), the ministers of the King of Tak-zik (land of wealth) and the ministers of King Khesar (land of war) had all assembled to plead for the honour of taking theprincess Gyasa Wen Cheng as a bride for their respective kings. Now the Tang Empress, Tai-tsung, revered the Dharma and wished to give her daughter to the King of India, but the Emperor, who had a weakness for jewellery and wealth, wanted to give his daughter to the King of Tak-Zik. The princess’ uncle, a martial man, insisted that his niece be wed to the King of Khesar, while the princess herself, who was fond of turquoises, was inclined towards the King of Nepal. Because of this difference of opinions (which caused much unrest in the court), the Emperor decided to hold a contest between the ministers of all the different nations to resolve the problem once and for all.

One morning a great drum was beaten from the parapets of the “Palace of Heights, at Heaven”, the palace of the Emperor of China, summoning all the ministers of the different nations who were contesting for the hand of the Chinese princess. The ministers, including our hero Gar Tongtsen, gathered at the palace where the Emperor announced that if he gave his daughter to any one nation, the others would become jealous and angry.

Therefore he would only give his daughter to the nation whose minister would be able to succeed in the never-before-accomplished task of stringing the “Great Spiral Turquoise of China”. All the ministers were given three days each to perform this task and none of them succeeded.

Finally the turquoise was given to minister Gar, who later took it back to his lodge. A few days before, he had gone out to a park and found an ant which he had fed well and massaged with oil for a few days, until it grew in size and strength. Finally Gar took the turquoise to the roof of his boarding house where he let it get hot in the sun, after which he tied a length of string around the waist of the stout ant and pushed it through the hole in the turquoise. Since the turquoise was now hot and uncomfortable, and since the ant could not go back because Gar was blowing at the entrance, the ant quickly traversed the full length of the spiral hole and finally came out of the other end, pulling the string along with it in the process. (Since the minister Gar had tied the string rather tightly around the ant, all ants, since that day are said to have very pinched waists). Releasing the ant, Gar then took the strung turquoise to the palace, but the Emperor, though acknowledging the minister’s victory, declared he could not give his daughter to the King of Tibet on the strength of a single victory. He then arranged another contest.

All the contestants were required to attend the “Great Banquet of China” where they were all required to slaughter a large number of sheep each, cure the skins, eat all the meat, eat one hundred measures of tsampa or barley meal, drink barrels of “Chang” or ale, and yet not throw up or become so drunk as to be unable to return to their own lodging.

Despite Gar’s success in all these and many other contests of skill and wisdom, the Emperor of China would still not give up his daughter. Gar was naturally annoyed with the Emperor’s behaviour and he delivered the second letter given to him by Songtsen Gampo. The letter warned the Emperor that he should play fair and not deceive the Tibetans. So, unable to make a flat refusal, the Emperor devised another test for the Tibetan minister. On the following day five hundred Chinese maidens would gather at the “Field of Flowers” and if anyone could pick out theprincess, then he could take her back to his own land. This, the Emperor added, would be the last and final test.

The minister returned to his lodge and confided in his landlady, Apchi Gamu, that there was no way he could identify the princess from the five hundred other maidens. The old lady told Gar that since her own daughter was a maid to the princess she could give an accurate description of the princess, but since there were many numerologists and fortune tellers in the Emperor’s court it would surely be divined by them that she had revealed the secret to the Tibetan minister. But Gar told the old woman to have no fear, and he devised a plan to confound the fortune tellers and numerologists. On three white rocks he placed a large pan full of water. In the center of the pan he strewed a number of feathers of various birds, and on the side of the pan he scattered leaves. Gar covered the old woman with a net and both of them sat by the pan. He then tied a large iron horn around the mouth of the old lady and large copper dish around his own ear. Then the old lady gave him the detailed description of the princess.

Much later, when the suspicions of the emperor had been aroused, he summoned his numerologists and fortune tellers to divine who had revealed the princess’ description to Gar. Now, divination not being an exact science, the numerologists and fortune tellers made a strange discovery which they hurriedly reported to The Emperor. This was what they told the Emperor: “Between three snowy mountains we saw a large lake, the center of which was inhabited by various birds, and the shores of which were covered with trees and bushes. On the side of this lake was a being whose entire body was covered with thousands of eyes and who had a beak of iron. This being revealed the secret of the princess’ identity to another being who possessed ears of copper”. Clearly, this report did nothing to enlighten the Emperor on this matter.

On the day of the contest in the “Field of Flowers”, all the other ministers were unable to distinguish the princess and picked the wrong maidens. Only the minister Gar, following the description given to him by his old landlady, recognized the princess, and planting a mystic arrow on her back, declared his choice in a loud voice.

Even now the Emperor was reluctant to give up the princess, and so the exasperated minister Gar delivered the last letter from Songtsen Gampo.

In the letter the Tibetan king declared that if the princess was not given to him then he would unleash an army of 100,000 avatars and reduce China to a wasteland. So finally the Emperor realised that he had no choice but to submit. Even though the princess was unwilling to go to Tibet, he persuaded her that for the good of the Empire she should become the queen of the mighty Songtsen Gampo.

Finally they arrived at Lhasa where they were greeted by Tibetan officials and their ladies who performed a special dance called Gyal-Shay or the Royal dance, in honour of the princess’ arrival. The princess then presented the holy image of the Buddha, Jho Thukche Chenmo, to Songtsen Gampo. Tribute bearers and ambassadors came from many lands to pay homage to the mighty Tibetan king and his two queens.