Languages

Literature in Bhutan

The term Literature has no single meaning and taken broadly it denotes all material, written or oral, and on any countless subjects. More narrowly the term literature may be regarded as writings in prose or verse or something that has been composed and which expresses ideas and values. The Bhutanese concept of literature refers rather to the general collection of texts like Rigney and Zhung. From this point, Bhutanese literature is those texts that yields knowledge and has positive outcome. As such, Bhutanese literature divides learning into five headings: grammar, dialectics, healing, the outer sciences and inner sciences that cover Buddhist doctrines and practices. These are not purely Bhutanese but are greatly influenced by the growth of Buddhism and have largely been influenced by other cultures too. The corpus of Bhutanese literature can be broadly classified as follows:
LiteratureLiterature
All of this literature deal mostly with the religious works but also convey information on the social set up, the form of government and the economic life of the Bhutanese in general.

1. Chhoejung (dharma histories and religious literature that includes Kangyur and Tengyur)
2. Namthar (Religious biographies)
3. Gyalrab(Historical chronicles of dynasties or other)
4. Logyu (Records or history of chronicles)
5. Terma (Treasure texts)
6. Srung (Epics like that of Gesar of Ling)
7. Glu (Folk songs)
8. Nyam Gyur (religious poetry)
9. Nyan Ngag (Ornate poetry)
10. Karchag (Catalogues)
11. Tshig Dzod (dictionary)

1. Chhoejung (dharma histories and religious literature that includes Kangyur and Tengyur)
Chhoejung, which literally means “Origin of dharma”, is related to religious books. This type of literature includes histories of Dhrama and in this field the Buddhist canons Kangyur and Tengyur stand out as the best example. Kangyur is a translated word of Buddha, while Tengyur is the translated commentaries on the words of Lord Buddha; both these texts are vast and complex and represent the teachings of the Buddha.

Chhoejung also include information on other religious aspects other than those contained in the Kangyur and Tengyur. Lhoyi chhoejung is a text authored by the 69th Je Khenpo, Geshe Gedun Rinchen. This text deals with the religious movements in Bhutan and the various schools of Buddhism that took roots in Bhutan including the schools of Drukpa Kagyud, Chagzampa, Neyning pa, Shang pa kagyud and others.

2. Namthar (Religious biographies)
Namthars are books which contains the biographies of religious personalities. The most famous namthars are that of Sendha Gyab. This work is a literary classic and has an important historical value for Bhutan. It contains his legendary visit to Bhutan in 8th century and establishment of kingdom. The legend also contains the visit of Guru Rinpoche to Bhutan and introduction of Vijrayana Buddhism in Bhutan.

The namthar of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo is of great historical importance in Bhutanese context. It gives us the details of how Drukpa Kagyed came to Bhutan and how Phajo fought back other Buddhist schools in Bhutan. The namthar also provides us the biography and an account of his journey into Bhutan, his marriage to a Bhutanese lady and of the struggles that he faced especially with the other Buddhist schools. The biography is important as it reflects the social, religious and political aspects of Bhutanese life in the early era of 13th century.

The biography of Sherab Wangchuk (b. 1697- d. 1765), the 13th Druk Desi by the 13th Je Yonten Thaye (1771-1775) and the 12th Je Kunga Jamtsho (1769-1771) gives us an account of Bhutan as it was in the 18th century including a detailed information on the installation ceremony of Zhabdrung Thugtrul Jigme Dragpa, the mind incarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal as the 27th Druk Desi (1810-1811).

3. Gyalrab (Historical chronicles of dynasties or other)
Gyalrab is an account of the kings and can be literally translated into chronologies of Dynasties, kings and other important families. One of the finest work written by Gelong Ngawang during the 17th century is“Gyal rigs jung khung sal wai dron me,” which is translated as “The Lamp which Illuminates the Origins of Royal Families.” This book gives us an account of lineages established in eastern Bhutan and it also talks about Lhasey Tsangma, a Tibetan prince who settled in Dung Rawa in Jamkhar and Tshenkharla in Trashi Yangtse.

One of its kind is another book called “Druk gi gyal rab jung khung” by Lopen Pemala. It gives the historical accounts of the ethnic composition of people as well as the spread and growth of Buddhism, the coming of Zhabdrung to Bhutan and the establishment of dual system of government and finally the emergence of Wangchuck Dynasty and the evolution of Monarchy in Bhutan. The other work also includes ‘Druk Karpo’ written by Lopen Nado.

4. Logyu (Records or history of chronicles)
The term logyu literally means “tidings of years.” This type of literature maintains a record of history in sequential order. But it is often the case that they do not at all give a year by year account of their subject-matter, but rather present a narrative of events that are historical in rough chronological sequence. The ballad of Pemai Tshewang Tashi and Gelong Sumdar Tashi are best examples under such literature.

5. Terma (Treasure texts)
Terma are the texts hidden and then later rediscovered by prominent lamas and tresurer discoverers called Tertons. The places from where such text was discovered are called ter kha. Terton Pema Lingpa, a Bhutanese is one the five major tertons who discovered texts not only within Bhutan but discovered important texts even outside Bhutan in many parts of Tibet. One such text discovered by Pema Lingpa is titled “Lama Norbu Gyatsho”. Treasure discovery is still practiced and a contemporary terton was the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991). The Buddhist treasure discovery tradition centres round the activities of Padmasambhava who introduced Tantric Buddhism in Tibet and in Bhutan in the mid-eighth century.

6. Srung (Epics like that of Gesar of Ling)
The epic of Ling Gesar Gyelpo is a one of the finest and the most talked one in Bhutan. Most of the people in rural parts of Bhutan tell stories to their children about Ling Gesar Gyalpo.

Ling Gesar Gyelpo is the hero of one of the major epic cycles of Central and East Asia, known throughout Tibet and Bhutan. Gesar is a Buddhist hero and considered as a representative of Guru Rinpoche and other deities and the story is about the triumph of Buddhism over Bon chhoe and other religions. Gesar epic has been published in India, Bhutan and in China. The Bhutanese version of the epic has thirty-one volumes.

7. Glu (Folk songs)
Glu together with gur and nyan ngag form a part of the poetic tradition. It certainly has its origins in connection with music and dance. A large number of glu texts can be found in the terma literature including Padma kathang and Mani kabum. Glu can be also divided into the royal and popular songs: the royal songs or gyal poi glu and the popular or the bangs gi glu. The songs also form a part of Bhutanese literature and the song describes nature, religion, political issues, social values and many others using the figures of speech and beautiful expressions. It also throws light on many events such as the advent of Buddhism to Bhutan.

8. Nyam gyur (religious poetry)
Gur or nyam gyur is a part of glu which denotes a type of Buddhist song and can be found both in oral or written form. Gur might contain subjects dealing with spiritual realizations or religious instructions. Milarepa (1040-1123) was a great composer of gur and his songs run into hundreds of lines. These songs in a way helped to popularize Buddhism. Another great composer of gur was Drukpa Kuenley (1455-1529).

9. Nyan ngag (Ornate poetry)
Nyan ngag literally means “speech agreeable to the ear” and is an ornate and metaphorically written Buddhist poetry that has its origin in 13th century in India. Nyan ngag is actually composed by people with academic background including saints who had monastic background. Nyan ngag is the most ornate and stands out as a pure literary work.

10. Karchag (Catalogues)
Karchag is a text that describes the construction of Buddhist structures like monasteries, temples, Chhoetens and dzongs. It also contains a list of items like relics that Chortens may contain. If it is a holy place it might contain the description of the sacred place along with a guide (lamyig) to it. We also find the names of devotees who extended help in the construction of these structures.

11. Tshig dzod (dictionary)
Tshig dzod is a dictionary. A number of Dzongkha dictionaries can be found edited by prominent Bhutanese scholars. Dzongkha gi Tshig dzod (Dzongkha Dictionary) published by Dzongkha Development Commission in 1993 and Dzongkha gi Tshig dzod chenmo (Advanced Dzongkha Dictionary) published by KMT publishing House in 2002 are excellent examples of Tshig dzod. The recent one is English-Dzongkha dictionary published by DDA.