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The Project No. 2018/30/M/HS3/00372 funded by The National Science Centre, Poland, in the framework of the HARMONIA 10 program, hosted by the Faculty of Journalism, Information and Bibliology, Department of Books, and Media History, University of Warsaw, Poland in a partnership with the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and the Centre de Recherche sur les Civilisations d’Asie Orientale (CRCAO), Paris.

The aim of this project is to carry out a codicological and text-historical study of a unique collection of manuscripts belonging to the Bön religion of Tibet. The collection, consisting of 280 different items with a total of 2 900 folios, cards, or individual sheets of paper, represents the ritual repertoire of the priests of the kings of Mustang, once a Tibetan kingdom and now a district of Nepal. The texts have not been used since the priestly line ended in the 1950s or 60s. The value of this collection is twofold: first, the collection was assembled from different parts of Tibet and the Himalaya over six centuries, and offers a rich body of material which can be retrieved by material and codicological analyses that will contribute to our understanding of book and paper making traditions in the region, as well as social aspects of Tibetan manuscript production; and secondly, in terms of its content, it offers a window onto the nature of royal religion in a Tibetan kingdom. These manuscripts were used in rituals for the protection and prosperity of the kingdom of Mustang, its subjects and members of royal lineage; knowledge of the materials and ritual practices involved in the creation of physical objects will help to understand the interaction between religion, patronage and political authority in Tibetan society.

The house where the Drangsong collection is stored, in Lo Monthang

The Drangsong collection of manuscripts is named after the family in whose house it is kept. The name Drangsong is a Tibetan term (drang srong) that translates the Sanskrit word rishi, ‘sage’, but in the Bön religion the name has a special connotation as the equivalent of the Buddhist Gelong (dge slong), a fully-ordained monk. In the present case, however, the name applies to a hereditary patrilineal succession of Bönpo priests. At present we have no documentation about the origins of the family, although members of later generations do appear in literature from a later period – notably, in the biography of a Bönpo monk from Eastern Tibet who spent many years in Mustang and Dolpo. According to an oral account given by the present occupant of the house, named Wangdü, the house came to be occupied in the mid-fifteenth century, during the reign of the second king, Agön Zangpo. It was this king who built the walled city with the palace and the two main temples, Thubchen and Jampa Lhakhang, and according to the oral account, he had the adjacent land cultivated and invited people from the surrounding settlements to take up residence in the city. Those who accepted this invitation were allocated certain corvee duties: a number of households were required to plough and sow the king’s fields, and three households had the task of harvesting them. These duties are said to have continued until they were abolished in the late 1950s. Twenty minutes’ walk to the west of the city is a hill, now used as a cemetery, that bears the traces of extensive settlement, including portions of a perimeter wall and a large stupa. This is Jaragang, a former Bönpo community. A priestly family of that name continues to flourish in Lubrak, the only remaining Bönpo village in Mustang, situated to the south of the Muktinath Valley. It is said that the progenitors of the Drangsong lineage in Lo Monthang were Bönpo lamas whom Agön Zangpo invited from Jaragang to occupy the house and to act as his domestic chaplains (bla mchod). Successive generations of the lineage continued to serve the royal family until the 1950s, when the last member of the line, Pema Trinle, died without male issue. His priestly duties were assumed by a Buddhist astrologer, now remembered simply by his title Tsipa (rtsis pa), ‘astrologer’. Following his death, the role of chaplain passed to a medical practitioner of noble family named Trashi Chözang, who died in the 1990s, and was succeed by his two sons, the layman Gyatso and the monk Tenzin.