Friday, March 20, 2009

Tea in Tibet

The following is just a short note on tea in 17th century Tibet and the use of different tea brands as salaries given by the central Tibetan government to officials and employees, such as local and foreign craftsmen.
When reading original Tibetan sources of the 17th century it becomes obvious that quite a number of different tea brands were circulating in Tibet. The following brands are collected from the writings of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) and the regent Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho (1653-1705):

nag po
nag gsar
tA tshang / tA tsha
se hrug
khyim 'jug
ya ju / yA ju / yag ju / yags ju = the quality of yA ju was superior to 'u zi.
spu ja / spus ja
sha shan
'u zi = was regarded as tea of normal quality: dkyus ja 'u zi
zi ling spu ja = quality tea from Ziling
sa'an tsha / san tshA
ya ju za'u 'dres pa = Yaju mixed with Za'u
hu ja / hu ja nag po
zi ling nag ja = black tea from Ziling
rgya ja nag po = Chinese black tea
shir ja / shi ra ja /
stod ja
'jang ja / 'jangs ja = green tea???
ping cing spu ja / pi cing spu ja = quality tea from Beijing
gnam ja
ja ldur
se ljang
sog ja = tea from Mongolia
sha phing / sha bing
shan ja = sha shan
seng ja

Except nag po and nag gsar (= nag po gsar pa) these names seem to be Chinese names and consequently we find many different spellings in Tibetan texts.

Some of these brands had a higher value than others and the price of the different tea brands was fixed according the Lhasa market price (khrom thang).

While searching Tibetan eTexts of the 16th and 18th century it turned out that the above-mentioned brands do not occur in those texts. But it should be kept in mind that the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) and in particular the regent Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho (1653-1705) were very precise in registering the different tea brands. Such matters were perhaps of no interest to other writers of earlier or later periods. May it be as it is, we think, that the list above can be used in dating documents from that period when other hints are missing. Such is the case with the She-bam-chen-mo, a collection of Tibetan legal material, from the second part of the 17th century.

The tea brand yA ju is recorded in the biography of PaN chen Dpal ldan ye shes (1738-1780), in the modern western book-style edition on p. 155 and elsewhere. Other tea brands in this biography are:

ljon ja (?)
rtse ja
gzhung ja 

In the Biography of Shakya mchog ldan we find two other tea brands (fol. 54b, 2-3):

ri shing
rkyang zi

rkyang zi seems to be "pure Zi ling tea"

(This reference was kindly provided by Volker Caumanns.)

More will follow in due course.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


A sample of a glegs thag
from Thailand

In their descriptions of precious Kanjur volumes, the Fifth Dalai Lama and the regent Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho call the rope [glegs thag], which holds the bookblock together, si ta hu. There are different spellings of this word:

si ta hu,
si tha hu,
si ta ho,
se ta hu, and
se ta ho.
This indicates that the word is a loan, perhaps from Mongolia or China.The colours of a si ta hu glegs thag are either red, white or blue. The colour green also occurs, but the colour which is mainly used is red.

The si ta hu is plaited [lhas ma].

The glegs thag is sometimes called sku chings [= waist belt].

[Kundeling Archives, Bonn University]
Document 012 1-2/#/33/6/4 > sdong lhas ser po'i glegs thag
Document 012 1-1/#/17/9/4 stong lhad ser po'i glegs thag

skyi rgya'i glegs thag are presumably made of leather

zhal khebs = cover (for thang sku or the first pages of handwritten books). As a cover of the first pages of highly decorated manuscripts (written for example in ink made of gold or silver) the zhal khebs can consist of several layers (brtsegs) from one to five (lnga brtsegs).
As for the material used as zhal khebs we find ding phon, gos chen, ling, bzang gos, and kha thi.


sngo bzo ba = workers who dye the paper (?)
bu lag = bu tsha lag do = young helper, (German: "Handlanger")
g.yer yig = calligraphy, stylish writing

gzi rgyab = to polish paper with a gzi-stone to give it a shean
ri mo 'dri gdan = drawing board
> She bam chen mo (17th century)

bu tsha lag do
> 5DL > zin tho 1652


Measurements and weights in Tibet were never completely standardized. Each time and location had its own system and even the centralised government of the Fifth Dalai Lama was not able to fix the measurements for all corners of the vast Tibetan plateau.


sor = width of a finger
mtho = 8 sor, the fist with stretched thumb
rgyug mtho = 12 sor, a span

khru = cubit = 3 mtho = 2 rgyug mtho
'dom = 4 khru

1 'dom = 4 khru = 12 mtho = 96 sor

Analogous to rgyug mtho one can find rgyug 'dom, the fast way of measuring cloth by holding it between one's stretched arms.

Let's add a new reference to the mysterious Tibetan weights and measures : Gangs can rigs mdzod vol. 14, a collection of (obscure though beautiful) texts on bzo rig, pp. 81-82, : da ni snga phyi gzhal 'degs bshad pa rnams kyi tshad bshad par bya'o / 'dir bre srang gi tshad sman dpyad dang mthun pas / 'grel {pa} zla zer dang / sha li ho tra sogs las bshad pa mang yang / 'di ni gzhung tshad rang gis 'thus pas / de ni yul sa shed bzang [p. 82] ngan mnyam pa'i nas 'bru che drug la se ba re / se ba nyi shu la zho re ste / zho re la nas 'bru brgya dang nyi shu re yod la /

[[nas 'bru 6 = 1 se ba
se ba 20 = 1 zho
zho 1 = 20 x 6 = 120 nas 'bru]]

yang gzhung lugs snga ma la se ba nyer lnga rer 'gur zho re byed cing / phyis a bo snga 'dzoms kyis se ba sum cu re la zho re byas pa gzhung gi khrims zho zhes che tshad du grags pa dang / 
rgyud lugs la se ba nyer bzhir zho re byed cing / nas 'bru gsum la ra ti re dang / ra ti gnyis la se ba byed pa yod do / 
srang re la spor re yang zer / 
gzhal byed kyi tshad ni / nas 'bru che chung gnyis 'bring gnyis bcas drug 'di kham tshig 'bring gi tshal ya gang dang / kham tshal drug ltar tshal drug / bya mo 'bring gi sgo nga gang / bya rgod [sgo nga] drug la mkhar phul gang / mkhar phul drug la mkhar bre gang / mkhar bre nyi shu la mkhar khal gcig ste mkhar ru'i 'bo gang byed pa yin no //