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Outline of Linguistic Relationship

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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In the seventh century on Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo’s visionary insistence on the need to have Tibet’s own written language, Thonmi Sambhota was sent to India to learn Indian languages under the tutelage of Indian Guru Brahman Lipikar and Dev Vidyasingha. Seven years of diligent hard work had paid him handsomely with expertise in Indian languages and Buddhist philosophy. Equipped with this knowledge he returned back to Tibet and started to shape the

present day Tibetan alphabets on the model of Indian alphabets. Thonmi had not just shaped the Tibetan alphabets on the model of the Indian script, he also composed eight Tibetan grammatical treatises based on the-then available Indian grammatical systems, but unfortunately it is said that out of these eight Tibetan grammatical treatises only two survived, and except their titles, the other six were lost. Tibetan historians are unanimous in regarding Thonmi’s

scholastic activities as the beginning of IndoTibetan linguistic relationship. Till the end of monarchy, Indo-Tibetan linguistic relationship remained strictly within the activity of translation of Buddhist scriptures. After the improvement of the Tibetan language, Thonmi also engaged in translation of

two of the Buddhist scriptures: Zhamatok and Pankonchagyapa, that had reached Tibet during the reign of 27th King, Lha Tho Tho-ri Nyantsan. The king could not - however - understand the meaning of these two texts - so he preserved them as an object of worship - to be inherited by each of the ensuing kings. It

is believed that these two are the first texts that were translated into Tibetan. Thonmi - therefore - laid the foundation for translation work between India and Tibet. Also, in his collaboration with Guru Kusara and Brahman Shankara, Nepalese Guru Shilamanju and China’s Guru Mahadevatse, translated many

other Indian and Chinese Buddhist scriptures. From then on the work of translation either in collaboration with Indian Gurus or by Tibetan translators themselves were perpetuated for about a thousand years. In the


eighth century during the reign of Trisong Detsen, at the request of Tibetan translator Yeshe Wangpo and Indian Guru Shantarakshita, the king established

Tibet’s first translation centre in the-then newly constructed Samye Monastery. It had done a great service in strengthening and promoting the Indo-Tibetan linguistic relationship. Moreover for a meticulous and accurate translation of Buddhist scriptures, the need to have a high level of proficiency in

Sanskrit was necessary. Sanskrit language was also taught in the above mentioned translation centre. This centre was the first Sanskrit learning centre in Tibet. During the reign of King Songtsen Gampo and Trisong Detsen, a large number of Buddhist scriptural texts were translated into Tibetan, but all those

translations were done from different versions like Chinese, Sanskrit, and Pali, with remarkable proficiency. This undiscriminating modus operandi had led the stealthy intrusion of different incompatible versions of Buddhist terminology, in turn to their semantic corruption in Tibetan. Around 814 AD, during the reign of Tridhe Songtsen, prominent Tibetan translators, in collaboration with Indian scholars, shouldered the task of wiping out any irregularities and corruptions, and thus established the first Tibetan guiding principle for the translation of Buddhism from Sanskrit to Tibetan called Sgrasbyor bam-po

gnis-pa (SSBP). Out of necessity the SSBP was liberally sprinkled with detailed elucidation of Sanskrit grammatical features, and its wordformation. This guiding principle made a healthy influence in the course of Tibetan translation works and because of this, the translation works were appreciated and

praised by those who assessed their works. Moreover, prominent Sanskrit-Tibetan translators exclaim in unison that when those Tibetan Buddhist scriptural texts are translated back to Sanskrit, there is no semantic intrusion. One could restore the text to its prototypal version without any lapse in its

semantics. Such is - therefore - an obvious indication of profound linguistic relationship that has existed between India and Tibet. It has done a great service in the restoration of India’s one of the most sophisticated philosophical treasures. The end of


monarchy in Tibet did not diminish the vigour in translation of Buddhist texts. The Second Diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet saw especially the translation of a large number of Indian grammatical and poetic literature in Tibetan, along compositions of commentary on these literatures by Tibetan scholars. Indo-

Tibetan relations were deepened and thus enriched the Tibetan language. It is said that earlier there were ten widely known grammatical treatises in India and starting from 11th century AD, four out of these ten (i.e. Kalapa Vyakaran, Chandrappa Vyakaran, Sarasvati Vyakaran, and Panipa Vyakaran), and their commentaries composed by different Indian scholars were translated into Tibetan. For each of these four treatises a good number of commentaries were

composed by different Tibetan scholars at different times, and learning of these Vyakarana in Tibetan language is still present in the Tibetan Academia. Tibetans were aware of Indian grammatical treatises before this translation took place. As aforementioned, that during his seven years in India Tibet’s

first translator Thonmi Sambhota had learnt Indian grammatical treatises like Panini Vyakaran, Kalapa Vyakaran, and Chandrappa Vyakaran. All the later translators had also learnt Indian grammatical texts either in India or in Tibet, under the tutelage of Indian Gurus. Kavyadarsha, one of India’s most-

celebrated treatises on poetry, was also translated in the 13th century, and was established as the main principle of traditional Tibetan poetry henceforth. As works of poetry need a rich synonymic and metaphorical vocabulary, Amarakosha a Sanskrit thesaurus composed by Indian Guru Amara Sinha was

translated into Tibetan in the 14th century. It is said that since the 13th century, none of the Tibetan traditional poems have ever surpassed the limits prescribed by Kavyadarsha, and also the traditional Tibetan poems that were written from thenon were inundated with synonymic and metaphorical vocabularies

borrowed from Indian languages. As it is universally claimed, the celebrated poem Meghadootam of India’s great poet Kalidasa have never failed to capture the imagination of all the world’s

literary giants; such is also stood for Tibet. In the 14th century AD, Tibetans saw the celebrated Meghadootam for the first time in the Tibetan version and from then on critical reviews and commentaries were composed by different Tibetan scholars; nor was there a shortage of poems which had followed the

beautiful poetical writing that Kalidasa had exhibited in the Meghadootam. Then in the 15th century, Zhang-Zhung Choewang Dakpa, the crest-jewel of Tibetan poets had poeticised the celebrated Indian epic: Ramayana, in such a beautiful and spellbinding style that later this poem created a new paradigm in

Tibetan poetics. The epic of Ramayana was translated into Tibetan between the 8th and 9th Century. At that time there was a lack of attention amongst Tibetan scholars on this epic. Later in the tenth century a prominent Tibetan translator Rinchen Zangpo translated the Devatishyastotra and

Vesheshstavatika (both were eulogies to the Buddha), and in the 13th century AD - we may recall Kavyadarsha and Amarakosha - were translated into Tibetan. Tibetan scholars gradually oriented towards the Ramayana and also Zhang-Zhung Choewang Dakpa’s beautiful exhibition of the epic in poetic style. This began capturing the attention of the whole of Tibet. It seems that the earlier Tibetan scholars had not attempted to translate the epic of Mahabharata into

Tibetan, but many of earlier Tibetan scriptural text and literature documents that were translated from India were tenanted with partial accounts of Mahabharata. In the 19th century, Tibetan scholar Lhamon Yeshi Tsultrim had poeticised the Mahabharata with hundred and fifty two Shlokas (stanzas), which

exuded aesthetic brilliance, and attracted admirations and praises that continue till present-day. For over a thousand years, the Indo-Tibetan linguistic relationship had achieved an utmost depth and extension that even today in India’s Himalayan Regions - like Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim - too have their languages deeply rooted in Tibetan.




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