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Ritual Funeral Text inv. 4084 from the Tangut Collection of IOM RAS. — A Brief Textual Study

Pages 61 - 69


This article is a short textual study of a previously unidentified Tangut text from the IOM RAS collection, a small manuscript fragment not contained in existing catalogues. Because of its type of binding and legible handwriting it became an eye-catching source to focus on during the recent cataloguing work. Following analysis, it became clear that this was a funerary text fragment, and probably a translation from the Tibetan from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. Though it is only a small fragment, the text contains the specific traits of the ancient Tibetan funeral ritual, which enables us to compare it with similar religious and cultural traditions in Central Asia. As a comprehensible text in Tangut language, it provides valuable aspects and data from everyday life in the Xixia period.


Institute of Oriental Manuscripts / Институт Bосточных Pукописей, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg

1 IOM RAS: Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

2 This word of Sanskrit origin is used in many Indian languages for “books” in general. In antiquity, Indian books were made of bark and later from palm leaves, were of square form and varying sizes. Later this book form was adopted in South-East Asia, Tibet and Central Asia.

3 This small text is not registered in both previous catalogues of Tangut collection. See Z. I. Gorbacheva and E. I. Kychanov, Tangutskie rukopisi i ksylography (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Vostochnoy Literatury, 1963); E. I. Kychanov, Katalogue tangutskikh buddiiskikh pamiyatnikov Instituta Vostokovedeniia Rossiyskoy Akademii Nauk (Kyoto: University of Kyoto, 1999). This text was registered under this inventory number inv. 4084 by E. I. Kychanov in the librarian inventory list (inventarnaya kniga), in the process of first stage of cataloguing work in the 1970s. N.B.: inv. – the numbering system first introduced as press-marks in Gorbacheva's and Kychanov's catalogue of Tangut books from the Kozlov collection. In the current cataloguing work of Tangut collections a new press-marking form is used.

4 The integrity and completeness of content is extremely rare among the Khara-Khoto books preserved mostly as fragments of varying sizes.

5 The phonetic transcription from Kychanov's Dictionary is used in this article. See E. I. Kychanov, Tangut Dictionary. Tangut-Russian-English-Chinese Dictionary, (Kyoto: University of Kyoto, 2006).

6 The last two Tangut characters in the title, signifying the ritual act itself, are translated here as order. This notion exists as vidhi in Sanskrit, as cho-ga in the Tibetan language, and in the Chinese it is translated as zuo shun 作順. As with the most of Tangut texts, all translations cited in this article are only suggested variants.

7 In the latter case, this would be evidence of a convoluted book.

8 Different sources provide different dates.

9 In this field of research, the oeuvres of French tibetologist R. A. Stein are especially interesting and significant.

10 E. I. Kychanov, Ocherk istorii tangutskogo gosudarstva (Moscow: Nauka, 1968), p. 78.

11 There is a great probability that this text is a translation from the Tibetan. Apart from the textual common meaning some lexical traits depending on the original source (Tibetan or Chinese) provide evidence. Though the text might be a translation, it is still significant because it provides historical evidence that verifies the existence of similar traditions in Tangut society. There is a list of identified translations from Tibetan in the Kychanov catalogue of 2009. See E. I. Kychanov, Katalog tangutskikh buddiiskikh pamiaytnikov …, pp. 475–503.

12 Most likely, these types of burial existed simultaneously in the same period, but this still needs to be proven by documentary or archeological evidence.

13 A rare illustrative – in the literal meaning of the term – evidence of interment burial practice amongst the Tanguts is the icon from Khara-Khoto Bodhisattva Guanyin and the funeral of the Tangut Emperor (X-2439), kept at the State Hermitage Museum. See K. F. Samosyuk, Buddiiskaya zhivopis' iz Khara-Khoto XII–XIV vekov: Mezhdu Kitaem i Tibetom (Buddhist Paintings from Khara-Khoto, XII–XIV Centuries: Between China and Tibet) (St. Petersburg: The State Hermitage, 2006), pp. 56–60 and 145–148.

14 I refer here to the data from the Chinese chronicles cited in Prof. Kychanov's monograph Ocherk istorii tangutskogo gosudarstva, mostly based on their evidence on the Tangut state. Kychanov lists all Chinese sources in his introduction, with a full description. The principal sources are the Song shi 宋史, Liao shi 辽史 and the Jin shi 金史. See Ocherk istorii …, pp. 5–9 and 335–338.

15 “Red-faced” and “Black-headed” are the descriptive names of two groups or tribes of Tangut ancestors. The origin of these names has yet to be fully explained.

16 N. A. Nevsky, Tangutskaya philologiya, (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Vostochnoi literatury, 1960), vol. 1, p. 38.

17 E. I. Kychanov, Vnov' sobrannyie dragotsennyie parniye izrecheniya (Moscow: Nauka, 1974), pp. 93 and 108.

18 See Li Fanwen 李範文, Xixia lingmu chutu canbei cuibian 西夏陵墓出土殘碑粹編 (Beijing, 1984).

19 At one instance Kychanov gives, in a translation from the Chinese, a detailed description of the Tangut air funeral. It is cited from Xixia ji shi ben mo, 西夏纪事本末, ch. 10, p. 6a. See E. I. Kychanov, Ocherk istorii …, p. 74.

20 M. Polo, Kniga Marko Polo (Moscow, 1956), pp. 80–81.

21 It must be stressed at this point that the astrologist depended not only on the horoscope for the precise moment of the burial, but also on the constellation of the four elements (Air, Fire, Water, Earth). See Béla Kelényi, “The cult of good luck”, Demons and protectors: Folk religion in Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism (Budapest, 2003), p. 49.

22 The symbolic significance of this ceremony was the purification of the corpse that allowed to unite the bones of the dead with the ancestors' bones. See M. Granet, La civilisation chinoise (Paris: Albin Michel, 1994). The following Russian translation of this book was used for this article: Kitayskaya tsivilisatsiya (Moscow: Algorithm, 2008), pp. 268–269.

23 E. I. Kychanov, L. S. Savitsky, Liudyi bogy strany snegov (Moscow: Nauka, 1975), p. 160. In contrast to China, where interment was exclusively practised, interment was completely forbidden among the Buriyats and the Mongolians, who only used surface burials.

24 See G. Tsibikov, Izbrannie trudy (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1991), vol. 1, p. 53.

25 In modern research on this subject, this process is often defined as “lamaization”. However, it is more correct to apply this term to the assimilation of ancient beliefs amongst the Mongols and Buryats, a process that took place between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. These people received Tibetan Lamaism as an established system of inculturated local beliefs. Moreover, this tendency towards religious assimilation is already evidenced for an earlier period of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly among the Tanguts. K. J. Solonin devotes much emphasis in his research to the impact of ideology and philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism on Tangut cultural traditions. See his Obretenie ucheniya. Traditsiya Huan‘-Chan’ v buddizme tangutskogo gosudarstava Xixia (Sankt-Peterburg: Izdatel'stvo S-Peterburgskogo universiteta, 2007), pp. 27–35.

26 K. M. Gerasimova, “O nekotorih aspektakh assimiliyatsii dobuddiyskich kultov po tibetskim obriyadnikam”, Buddism i srednevekovaya kultura narodov Tsentralnoy Asii (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1980), pp. 63 and 73–76.

27 K. M. Gerasimova, “O nekotorich aspektakh assimiliyatsii…”, pp. 122–123.

28 E. I. Kychanov, L. S. Savitsky, Liudyi bogy strany snegov, pp. 159–160.

29 K. M. Gerasimova, “Tibetoyazichnie obriydniki lamaizirovannogo kulta shamanskich predkov”, Buddism i traditsionnie verovaniya narodov TsentralnoyAsii (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1981), p. 117.

30 R. A. Stein, «Un document ancien relatif aux rites funéraires des bon-po Tibétains», Journal Asiatique t. vol. 258, nos 1–2 (1970), pp. 170–171.

31 H. V. Guenther, The life and Teaching of Nāropa (Boston & London: Shambala, 1986), p. 148.

32 R. A. Stein, « Un document ancien…», p. 170.

33 K. M. Gerasimova, “Tibetoyazichnie obriydniki…”, p. 122.

34 This is only one variant of translating this verse line, dependent on the context. In any case, this line implies some process of perceiving the purpose and origins of earthly existence.

35 K. M. Gerasimova, “Tibetoyazichnie obriydniki…”, p. 119.

36 E. I. Kychanov, L. S. Savitsky, Liudy i bogy strany snegov, p. 234.

37 G. R. Galdanova, Dolamaistskie verovaniya buryat (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1987), pp. 49–50.

38 See E. I. Kychanov, More znachenii, oustanovlennih sviyatimi, (St. Petersburg: Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie, 1997), pp. 72–78.

39 R. A. Stein, «Un document ancien…», p. 157.

40 The title is only of symbolical significance, not an accurate translation.

41 See F. Lenoir, La rencontre du bouddhisme et de l'Occident (Paris: Fayard, 1999), pp. 243–244. According to the author, in France alone there are about three hundred thousand copies of “The Tibetan book of the dead” in different translations. The 1981 year edition with Lama Anagarica Govinda sold an impressive 74,000 copies.

42 As an example of the modern philosophic interpretation of this teaching in context of Tantra traditions, see H. V. Guenther, The Life and Teaching of Nāropa, pp. 235–249.

43 As a direct example, “The Six Yogas of Nāropa” is a famous text that conveys this teaching. Tangut translations of these text versions or commentaries are kept at the IOM RAS Tangut collection, the texts also being registered in Kychanov's catalogue of 2009. Nishida T. (1928–2012) shortly described these texts in the introductory article to this catalogue. See Katalog tangutskikh buddiiskikh pamiyatnikov…, pp. IX–XLVII. Ruth Dunnell also refers to these texts and in context of its translation in Tangut. See R. W. Dunnell, “Translating history from Tangut Buddhist texts”, Asia Major (Third Series), vol. 22, no. 1 (2009), pp. 53 and 56.

44 Tibetskaya Kniga Mertvych (St. Petersburg, 1994), p. 37.

45 I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the reviewers of this CAJ issue for their helpful commentaries, which will stimulate further investigations into this field of research.


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