Preserving Ti­betan mas­ter­piece a chal­lenge as time marches on

China Daily (Canada) - - TIBET -

mod­ern tech­nol­ogy has pro­vided Ti­betans more op­tions on amuse­ments, but it also has had an im­pact on the tra­di­tional way of trans­mit­ting the her­itage, which is mainly trans­mit­ted orally,” Tser­ing said.

“Both the gov­ern­ments and in­sid­ers have been valu­ing preser­va­tion, rather than stud­ies, in the past few decades, be­cause of its im­por­tance to Ti­betan folk cul­ture,” he said.

An of­fice ded­i­cated to preserving the King Ge­sar epic was first opened in 1979, ac­cord­ing to the Ti­bet Academy of So­cial Sci­ences. Start­ing in the 1980s, Ti­bet car­ried out sur­vey­workon­the epic’smany it­er­a­tions, seek­ing sto­ry­tellers, and­col­lect­ing old manuscripts and wood-blocked ver­sions of the saga, said Tser­ing, 50.

More than 74 old manuscripts were col­lected, and within a cou­ple of years, the of­fice had iden­ti­fied 39 sto­ry­tellers who could each re­count morethan 10 of the KingGe­sar tales. The epic’s nar­ra­tors were mainly found in Ti­bet’s north­ern Nagqu pre­fec­ture, east­ern Qamdo pre­fec­ture and western Ngari pre­fec­ture.

Since then, more than 57 sto­ry­tellers have been iden­ti­fied and their tales have been pre­served in print, and on au­dio record­ings and video. More than 5,000 hours of au­dio record­ings were col­lected and many of the sto­ries have been ren­dered into books. A col­lec­tion of King Ge­sar tales per­formed by 10 em­i­nent sto­ry­tellers from Ti­bet is ex­pected to be pub­lished this year.

An­other pro­ject, the Ge­sar Mu­sic Col­lec­tion, which Tser­ing di­rected, also has been com­pleted. The first of its kind and 11 hours in length, it con­sists of five videos and fea­tures 118 tunes sung in the voices of 76 of the epic’s char­ac­ters. Six pre-em­i­nent King Ge­sar artists of Ti­bet’s Nagqu pre­fec­ture were se­lected as per­form­ers.

“Nagqu is a place with the rich­est tunes for King Ge­sar,” Tser­ing said.

Among the preser­va­tion­ist's proud­est achieve­ments is a col­lec­tion of tales recorded by Sam­drub, a leg­end among King Ge­sar sto­ry­tellers, who died in 2011.

Rec­og­nized as the most com­plete col­lec­tion of an in­di­vid­ual sto­ry­teller’s cat­a­log in Ti­bet, Sam­drub’s King Ge­sar sto­ries are amassed in 45 un­bound manuscripts. They have more than 500,000 lines, much longer than the lauded Ma­hab­harata, an epic San­skrit poem of an­cient In­dia, which has 200,000 verses.

Tser­ing has spent 16 years work­ing to make the col­lec­tion read­able, lis­ten­able, an­davail­able for later gen­er­a­tions.

In­ter­est in The Epic of King Ge­sar is a global af­fair. Na­tional and in­ter­na­tional sem­i­nars on King Ge­sar stud­ies have been held in China for many years. Ti­bet was the host of the Na­tional Sem­i­nar on King Ge­sar Stud­ies in 2009. The 7th In­ter­na­tional Sem­i­nar on King Ge­sar was held in China’s Sichuan prov­ince last Septem­ber.

In ad­di­tion to in­ter­na­tional sem­i­nars, work­shops on King Ge­sar have been held in­Qing­hai’s pre­fec­tures of Golok and Yushul, Gansu’s Machu county, and Sichuan’s Garze pre­fec­ture.

The Epic of King Ge­sar is sung widely through­out Cen­tral Asia, and has been found among China’s eth­nic groups of Ti­betan, Mon­go­lian, Bai, Naxi, Pumi, Lisu, and Yugur peo­ples, and in Bhutan, Nepal, Mon­go­lia, Pak­istan, In­dia and Rus­sia.

Ti­bet’s Epic of King Ge­sar was listed as aWorld In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage item by UNESCO in 2009.

“Mak­ing doc­u­men­taries of other King Ge­sar sto­ry­tellers is the key work my team will tackle next as other sto­ry­tellers have asked us to record their songs,” Tser­ing said. “Be­sides trans­lat­ing the col­lected epics into Chi­nese, English is our next big plan.”

Con­tact the writ­ers through palden@chi­


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