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Era of Fragmentation

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Title: Era of Fragmentation  
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Subject: Tibetan Empire, History of Tibet, Ganden Phodrang, Tibet, History of European exploration in Tibet
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Era of Fragmentation

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The Era of Fragmentation is a period of Tibetan history between the 9th and 11th centuries. During this era, the political centralization of the earlier Tibetan Empire collapsed following a civil war between Yumtän (Yum brtan) and Ösung (’Od-srung).[1] The period was dominated by rebellions against the remnants of imperial Tibet and the rise of regional warlords.[2]

Civil war and the decline of imperial Tibet

The last king of the Tibetan empire, Langdarma, was assassinated in 842-846, by either a Buddhist hermit or a monk named Pelgyi Dorje of Lhalung.[3][4] The assassination left two possible heirs, Yumtän and Ösung, to fight for the throne, leading to a civil war. The successors of Osung controlled the region of Ngari, while the successors of Yumtän controlled the Ü region.[5] The son of Ösung was Pälkhortsän (Dpal 'khor brtsan) (865–895 or 893–923), who would sire two sons, Trashi Tsentsän (Bkra shis brtsen brtsan) and Thrikhyiding (Khri khyi lding), also called Kyide Nyigön (Skyid lde nyi ma mgon) in some sources. Thrikhyiding migrated to the western Tibetan region of upper Ngari (Stod Mnga ris) and married a woman of high central Tibetan nobility, with whom he founded a local dynasty.[6] This civil war weakened the political authority of the Tibetan monarchy,[7] dissolving Tibet into separate tribes and small kingdoms.[5]

Revolts and warlords

The dissolution of a centralized empire allowed Tibetan peasants, dissatisfied with the political turmoil, to rebel against regional governments. These uprisings split imperial Tibet into a multitude of separate, autonomous kingdoms, each ruled by a local warlord.[5] The warlords constantly fought for political dominance, utilizing private armies and military fortresses.[5] Between 842 and 1247, no central authority was in control of Tibet.

Traditional accounts of the period focus on religion. The Era of Fragmentation is depicted as a low point in the development of Tibetan Buddhism, with the Buddhist monastic order facing persecution and exile. Monastic Buddhism was alleged to have only persevered in the political periphery of Tibet, Amdo, then largely dominated by non-Tibetan tribes, and would not be conquered by a central Tibetan polity until the 10th century.[2] According to this account, during the reign of Langdarma, three monks fled to Mt. Dantig in Amdo. Their disciple Muzu Saelbar (Mu-zu gSal-'bar), later known as the scholar Gongpa Rabsal (bla chen dgongs pa rab gsal) (832–915), was responsible for the renewal of Buddhism in northeastern Tibet. The students of Rabsal are said to have returned to central Tibet, where they re-introduced monastic Buddhism. Modern historians contest traditional views of the era, arguing that Buddhism was in fact widespread during the period, and that regional political authorities shared a close relationship with Buddhist monastic leaders.[2]


  1. ^ Shakabpa. p.173.
  2. ^ a b c Schaik, Galambos. p.4.
  3. ^ Beckwith 1987, pp. 168-169
  4. ^ Stein 1972, pp. 70-71
  5. ^ a b c d Shakabpa. p.177.
  6. ^ Petech, L. The Kingdom of Ladakh, (Serie Orientale Roma 51) Rome: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1977: 14-16
  7. ^ Samten Karmay in McKay 2003, p. 57


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