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6. Ritual Monument Batpalathang B3

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See also Bellezza's report about his exploration of the Changthang in Tibet in

Tentative Architectural and Functional Comparison

After returning from Bhutan in July 2000, we came to know about platform-like stone structures featuring puzzling similarities with the central platform of B3 monument at Batpalathang. The structures are located in northern Tibet, in a region named Byang-thang. Among 150 archaeological structures mapped and described, American scholar and explorer John Bellezza documented five structures he named “graves with superstructures built on summits” and about twelve buried structures he called “cist-type graves, both square and round in form”. He published examples of them in a World Wide Web site (Bellezza 1999).

The “graves with superstructures built on summits” can be described as simple stone platform of square shape, mostly built on mountain and ridge tops. Their side dimensions are averaging 2-3 meters and they are built entirely above ground (Fig. 56). Each platform features a single square chamber (maximally 1 x 1 meter) that was sealed with large flat stone slabs. In the structures with lacking chamber covering, the chambers seem to be lacking any sedimentary deposit. The open chambers contain clearly distinguishable human remains (Fig. 57). The observer states that there is a single body in each individual monument and that the bodies were dismembered.

Fig. 56

Fig. 57

The “cist-type graves” are said to be found throughout northern Tibet and are sometimes found clustered. On the actual surface, they appear as oval or square shapes, measuring about 3-4 meters across, and made of roughly arranged stones. Some graves were found opened, revealing their chamber. At this point, we must state that the interior of those Tibetan chambers is built exactly the way our platform chamber is, with vertical stones at the base, supporting horizontally layered stones (Fig. 58).

Fig. 58

The similarity with monument B3 is not solely reduced to the chamber morphology, but also to the fact that the Tibetan graves are not built above ground level. They were built a way that the side of the platform is invisible from the surface. Unfortunately, no peripheral wall was observed in Tibet. The peculiar trapezoidal shape of B3 seems also to be specific to the Bhutanese monument.

Bellezza’s informants attribute both the above ground structures (mon.pa.nag.po) and the buried graves (mon.khang) to Mon-pa (or Bon-po) religious belief which was widespread before the advent of Buddhism in the 7th century A.D. Bellezza himself tends to assign these monumental graves even more precisely to the little known Zhang Zhung kingdom. This political unit existed independently, eventually in the last five centuries before the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet. The dynastic succession of 32 kings are said to have ruled over a very large territory encompassing most of Western Tibet. Among the other sites eventually attributed to Zhang Zhung period, Bellezza documented numerous other architectural remains, including fort ruins, terraces and walls, megalithic pillars and stelae, rock carvings and paintings, religious structures in caves, sedentary village ruins, etc. With his large scale surveying investigations, Bellezza made an important contribution to the pre-Buddhist studies.

As we noticed, the Tibetan graves indeed have similarities with monument B3 at Batpalathang, but their age is estimated to be fairly older than our object, making even indirect linkage difficult. We would nevertheless like to underline here that a relation cannot be fully excluded concerning the architectural tradition, building type, and landscape integration of both Tibetan and Bhutanese monuments. To explain this, we are supported by the fact that Bön belief and traditions partly survived the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan, some Bön elements being integrated into the new developing cults. This seems especially true in the valleys of Central Bhutan. Moreover, the Bön religion went through several revivals in Tibet (at least one starting in 1017 A.D.). Between the 11th and the 14th centuries A.D., the Bon-po had at least four important study centers in the Tsang province of Tibet. It is estimated that there were 330 Bon-po monasteries in Tibet by the start of the 20th century. The strong rooting of Bon-po in many Tibetan regions, and the fact that the same beliefs were once widespread in Central Bhutan, make it possible that at some times in the history of the Choskhor valley, links with the Bon-po communities of Tibet were tied. To push the hypothesis a concrete step further, the possibility of important Bon-po leaders staying in the central valleys of Bhutan cannot at all be excluded, even midst of the 16th century, time at which monument B3 was built at Batpalathang. The absence of preserved human remains in the chamber of monument B3 does neither exclude that the monument is built following a tradition which originated in Bon-po context; a cremation could have taken place instead to dispose of the body, thus joining Bon-po and Buddhist beliefs and traditions into a single cross-cultural ceremony.

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See also Bellezza's report about his exploration of the Changthang in Tibet in

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Copyright 2001, Reto Blumer, Switzerland
Copyright 2001, SLFA Zürich, Switzerland

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Last updated: 31-05-2001.