Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tibetan Tents (གུར་)

Tents were an essential part of Tibetan life, but we do not know much about them, at least I who comes from an urban area in Europe. When browsing through Tibetan documents I came across of names of tents which I am going to collect here for further investigation. The documents I look into can be found on the web page of the Kuendeling Archives

The wife of Gushri Khan, Kunchi Gyalmo, presented to the Fifth Dalai Lama for his trip to China in 1652 a huge tent (gur chen bkra shis phun tshogs). The regent Sanggye Gyatsho had this tent pulled out of the store-rooms for the enthronement of the Sixth Dalai Lama. A detailed description of this story is found in the regent's རབ་གསལ་གསེར་གྱི་སྙེ་མ།། (ISBN 7-223-00191-7; pp. 343-344).
Here are some terms of tents. The list will be extended in the course of time. Any comment or a reference to a new name by one of my respected followers will be highly appreciated. In advance I offer a སྙིང་ནས་ཐུགས་རྗེ་ཆེ།། to them.

མཇལ་གུར་ཆེན་མོ། mjal gur chen mo / large audience tent [of the Rinpoche, whoever it may be]
དབུ་གུར། dbu gur / main tent
རྒྱ་གུར། rgya gur / this may be the name of a Chinese style tent? Or a large tent?
ལྡིང་གུར། lding gur / tent of the guards (ལྡིང་དཔོན།)
གཉེར་གུར། gnyer gur / tent of the stewards or storekeepers
མགྲོན་གུར། mgron gur / tent of the མགྲོན་གཉེར།
ཐབ་གུར། or གསོལ་ཐབ་གུར། thab gur / gsol thab gur / kitchen tent
སྟར་མོ། star mo / an axe-shaped tent (in German "Dreieckszelt"), this tent is used by lower staff
ཕྱིང་གུར། phying gur / felt tent, yurt

after all this eating and drinking during a visit to a tent camp do not miss the
ཆབ་གུར། chab gur / the tent "where you can wash your hands" [as understood in the Japanese sense!]

In front four small སྟར་མོ་ tents
(picture from the murals in the Potala)

It is obvious from this list is that the names of these tents refer either to the shape or size of a tent or to the rank or function of the users.

And here are the terms of particular parts of tents or a camp (but they show up in a funny Tibetan font, please refer to the romanized form):

རལུང་གནོན། rlung gnon / a kind of protection against wind or storm. I have no idea how it looked.
བྱ་གཡབ། bya g.yab / various spellings: 'ja'/ja/bya/ g.yab/g.yabs / canopy
འགོ་སཔྲོད། 'go sprod / various spellings: mgo sprod/phrod / entrance part of a tent ??
ཡོལ་སྐོར། yol skor / various spellings: yol sgor / surrounding curtains ??

The canopy is made in some cases of white thick cotton material འགའ་དཀར་བྱ་གཡབ་

(will be continued)


  1. Thanks for the tent words, S!
    I'm also quite puzzled how a three-storied tent would work. Would the 2nd storey floors be made of canvas? Hmmm...

  2. Hi, D.

    It was a misunderstanding on my side. I think now that the tent had three tops (with a Ganjira) and was not a three-storied one. At my first reading of the passage my imagination ran wild. Anyway, the tent was huge.
    And mgron-gur can also be the tent for the guests.

  3. The temple sitting on the rock, just above those tents in your Potala mural, must be Pabongkha. The inscription confirms it. Did they have red soil there as the inscription also seems to say? I remember the very strange rock formations there. And pools. And pits.

  4. Thanks for the invitation to the guest tent, S. I may take you up on it.

    Oh, and speaking of tent words, did you notice this?

    For a discussion of varieties of Tibetan tents, see Dung-dkar Rin-po-che's dictionary, pp. 17-18, where he lists lding gur rta gzugs ma, lcog gur, dmag gur, sbra gur.

  5. Hi D., Yes, the temple is Pabongkha and they carried red soil from there for the Potala construction. Thanks also for the hint to the Dung-dkar Rin-po-che's dictionary. Congratulations, you are always a step ahead.

  6. I'm always tripping on the step back. Wish me a good travel to dbYin-ji Lung!

  7. It's interesting that the black tent forms a belt across Eurasia stretching from eastern-most Tibetan plateau all the way across the Middle East and the Sahara to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in the west.

    SBRA NAG Angela Manderscheid, The Black Tent in Its Easternmost Distribution: The Case of the Tibetan Plateau, Mountain Research & Development, vol. 21, no. 2 (May 2001), pp. 154-160. Here the sbra nag is distinguished from the rtse sbra. She says that gur derives from Mong. gér. The terms sbra thag and sbra shing are mentioned for the ropes and poles.