Youngest storyteller chants heroic tales received during dreams
As the youngest known storyteller of The Epic of King Gesar, 25-year-old Sithar Dorje revels in his role as a nascent messenger for the ancient Tibetan masterpiece.
“I feel proud of transmitting the heroic stories of the warriors to the audience,” he said.
Sithar’s interest in the King Gesar tales started early, at the age of 9, in a remote village in Tibet’s eastern Qamdo prefecture. It started with a dream during a rest break at school:
Standing on a vast grassland covered with flowers, sheep, horses and yaks, hemet two tall red-faced warriors wearing armor on horseback. They said they were ministers of King Gesar, and asked him to join them on a trip.
He was taken to a giant tent in the middle of a camp filled with soldiers and horses. In the tent, the two warriors commanded him to swallow a stack of scriptures, and authorized him to tell the King Gear stories to the human world. When he left the camp, he found he had one foot on the earth and another on a rainbow in the sky.
“I was awakened by my class teacher,” he recalled. “I thought the experience was not a dream, but real.”
He awoke feeling his stomach was so full that he wanted to vomit, even though he had missed his breakfast that morning. Then, during a Tibetan lesson, he suddenly began to talk to himself about something his classmates did not understand.
“The self-talking lasted for two hours, and all my classmates were scared and peeping at me from outside of the window. On the contrary, my Tibetan teacher enjoyed my chanting,” he said.
The Tibetan teacher was pleased, because what came out of his mouth was the great Tibetan epic of King Gesar.
Since then, Sithar Dorje’s name has spread on the grassland. He has been invited to countless weddings and parties to tell the stories, gaining ever more praise for the way he delivers the tales of heroism, magic and adventure.
“In my hometown, Tibetan people treatedmelike a Living Buddha,” he said.
When accounts of his storytelling prowess reached Lhasa, the capital city of the Tibet autonomous region, he was recruited by Tibet University in 2010. He studied Tibetan history and the language. Upon graduation in 2014, he was offered a job at the university’s China Tibetology Institute.
At the institute, he is tasked with telling and recording the Gesar stories so they can be preserved and made available as audio recordings, videos, and in books, including electronic versions. Seven books based on his stories have being published so far.
With advanced literacy in both Tibetan and Mandarin, and as the first KingGesar storyteller in Tibet with a university degree, Sithar Dorje can reach a variety of audiences, said Namgyal, one of his colleagues at Tibet University.
“With clear articulation, Sithar Dorje is distinguished from other storytellers because he makes his stories understandable to most of his audiences with different dialects,” Namgyal said.
He can recite 105 episodes of King Gesar’s story in total, content equal to more than 20 printed books. Two teachers at the university, which is tasked with preserving the King Gesar epic, are designated to assist in preserving his store of literary treasures.
Jamyang Drakpa, a classmate, is a good friend and a fan of the storyteller, though he admits that he doesn’t have a full appreciation of Sithar’s storytelling mastery.
“I hardly understand a word he sings, however, I enjoy the melody and the rich facial expressions he makes during his performance,” Jamyang said.
Now in his second year of graduate studies, Sithar wishes for more time to spend with family or play soccer, which he loves. But his workload is heavy.
“I always miss my time on the soccer field, but one happy thing for me at the moment is that I can spend some time with my parents in Lhasa,” he said.
As for the future, the King Gesar dreams keep coming.
“With one new dream every year, new stories are born in my brain constantly,” he said.
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