The Life of King Gesar
The Life of King Gesar is the only living epic in the world today.
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There are still more than 100 folk artists scattering in Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Qinghai and singing of the great achievement of the Tibetan hero King Gesar.
The Life of King Gesar appeared in years between 300 B.C. to 6th century. In the following 1,000 years, the contents of the epic had been enriched continuously thanks to the efforts of the folk artists. By the beginning of 12th century, The Life of King Gesar had developed into a matured and complete epic that was widely popular around the Tibetan areas.
The story was set far in the distant past, when the common people of the Tibetan plateau were subjected to natural disasters and calamities across their lands. Demons and spirits run wild. The Goddess of Mercy, in the hope of helping the people, asked the Amitabha Buddha to send the son of the God of Heaven to the world to defeat the evil demons.
Toiba Gawa, who later came to be known by the name Gesar, descended to the earth and became the king of the Tibetan people. Able to defeat the demons, aid the poor and benefit the common people, Gesar is portrayed as a combination of god, dragon and a fierce spirit known as nyan in Tibetan primitive religion. He was endowed with special characteristics and marvelous powers and abilities. Gesar suffered several trials. However, his invincible power and the protection of the God of Heaven allowed him to survived and eventually defeat the evil demons.
Throughout his life as a human, he worked to rid the common people of the scourges of their existence. At the age of five, he moved with his mother to the banks of the Yellow River. When he was eight, they were joined by the members of the Ling tribe. Winning a horse race against the finest warriors of the tribe at the tender age of 12, he was recognized as the chief of the tribe. He married Sengjam Zholmo. Gesar then led expeditions against the enemies of his tribal kingdom. He defeated the northern demons who had invaded the lands of the Ling Kingdom.
In successive campaigns, he defeated King Gurdkar of the Hor Kingdom, King Sadam of the Jang Kingdom, King Shingkhri of Monyul, King Nor of Tangzig, King Chidan of Khachevigyu, King Toigui of the Zugu Kingdom and scores of small tribes and minor kingdoms known as zongs in ancient Tibet. After completing his sacred mission, he returned to Heaven together with his mother and wife, bringing to a dramatic close the grand epic of his life.
The Life of King Gesar has been collected as a work composed of 120-odd volumes, with more than 1 million lines of verses, totaling over 20 million words. It is the longest epic known to the world, and has been called the Orient's Homeric Epic.
Most contents of The Life of King Gesar came from the folk songs, mythologies and legendary stories. All the figures in the epic, no matter hero or despot, man or woman, old or young, are vividly depicted. Linguistically, it applies with a great deal of Tibetan proverbs and keeps the feature of oral language.
As a precious cultural heritage, the compilation, translation and publication of The Life of King Gesar are paid much attention by the Chinese government. In 2002, China held a grand celebration to mark the 1000th anniversary of this epic. Currently, there are a dozen colleges and institutes in China that are engaged with the research and study on the epic of The Life of King Gesar.
More about Chinese Epics
- Epic Manas
Different from the Tibetan epic The Life of King Gesar and the Mongolian epic Jangur, the epic Manas of Kyrgyz ethnicity features not just one hero, but eight generations of a family.
- The Epic of Jangur
Jangar was written between the 15th century and the first half of the 17th century in the Weilate region of Mongolia.
- The Life of King Gesar
is the only living epic in the world today.