Monday, June 24, 2024

The Renaissance of Tibet: Cultural, Religious, and Political Flourishing (14th–17th Century)

Written By A Srinivasan (Grade 12)

The Ming dynasty’s eviction of the Mongols in 1368 ushered in a period of Tibetan independence that lasted for a hundred years, with the line of Phag-mo-gru-pa ruling over Tibet. During this period, a cultural rebirth took place, which manifested in literary, architectural, and a combination of artistic styles from different cultures. Tibetan Buddhism gained a strong hold and made a profound impact on the cultural items of that ancient country.

Along with the revival of Buddhism, many literacies, including those of scholars, preachers, mystics, hermits, and eccentrics, emerged. It was noticeable that literary activity was intense; the translation of Sanskrit works was assisted by the Indian pandits who visited. In the early periods, the earliest school of codifiers, classifiers, biographers, and historians was born, becoming part of the rich, literate culture of the Tibetans.

In the later period, the level of monastic construction would be unprecedented, which was unique in representing the Tibetan architectural style. Decorated with highly sophisticated frescoes and exquisitely carved and painted wooden pillars, the chapels filled with gold and gilded copper images bore witness to the exuberance of power and abundance of artistic skills of the time. The art landscape was also affected by elements from China and Nepal, what with foreign workers brought to work in decoration.

In the cultural setting that was then thriving, it was Buddhism that occupied the central place. The noted Indian pandit Atisha’s propagation trip in 1042 ignited the faith, thus paving the way for Buddhism’s increasing legitimacy and permeation of every facet of Tibetan life. Inspired by Atisha and other Pancha Shastris, the Tibetan religious communities came into being, each enunciating different aspects of Buddhist doctrine.

Monks, including the renowned Mi-la Ras-pa, avoided material matters; they became the embodiment of the spiritual aspect of Tibetan Buddhism. Nevertheless, the lay schools, especially the strict Bka’-gdams-pa sect, survived thanks to the patronage of regional lords. Dkon-mchog Rgyal-po, the scholar, also made a contribution to the diverse landscape of Tibetan Buddhism with the creation of the Sa-skya monastery in 1073.

The Mongol invasion in the 13th century resulted in a geopolitical-religious relationship between the Tibetan government and the Mongol emperors. The Sa-skya lamas became Mongol viceroys of Tibet, and this started a break with the past—a time of reorganization. The fall of the Yuan Empire in 1868 brought independence back to Tibet, and for the next hundred years or more, the Phamongtharpa line ruled Tibet as their property.

This epoch of independence brought with it a fervent cultural and religious life. The Sa-skya ruling family did suffer from internal feuds as monastic orders competed among themselves to assert their superiority over the Sa-skya. Fermentation of the Yuan dynasty was the last of Sa-skya’s 80-year reign. The Ming, who succeeded the Yuan, drove away the Mongols, thereby restoring Tibet’s country status, and for over a century, the Phag-mo-gru-pa line ruled the country.

In brief, the Tibetan China of the 14th–17th centuries was a melting pot of cultural, religious, and political influences. The prosperity of Buddhism, the architectural success, and the literary efforts of the era formed the basis of Tibet’s cultural wealth. Through all those centuries, the intricate fabric of the Tibetan people has been sewn, depicting their resilience and creativity. Now the traces of this momentous epic have been left on the identity of this ancient land.

Featured Image Courtesy – Red Zambala

A Srinivasan
A Srinivasan
I'm a passionate writer and I like writing on a regular basis in different fields and expanding my knowledge. I have been to a few workshops for writing which has tremendously moulded my writing ability and my way to present a topic.


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