Gung Thang

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Gungtang (གུང་ཐང་)

by Ben Deitle

General information

NameGungtang (གུང་ཐང་)
Transliteration formgung thang
Etymologyliterally: "sky-plain"
Source of informationGeorge Roerich, trans. The Blue Annals. Delhi: Motialal Banarsidass, 1976. THDL Gazetteer.
Spatial LocationLatitude: 28.753°, Longitude: 84.763°
ProvinceTibet Autonomous Region
Prefecturegzhis ka rtse
Countyskyid grong
Cultural locationsouth Tibet
Blue Annals Referencesgung thang: 130, 207, 245, 366, 432, 435, 436, 496, 498, 786, 787, 802, 855, 916, 919, 1022, 1023, 1057, 1070; khab gung thang: 260, 321, 338, 436, 1026; mang yul gung thang: 916 (there are actually more occurrences in the Tibetan).


Gungtang was a principality and monastic center on the Tibet-Nepal border north of Kathmandu. This location made it a frequent stopping point along the route from central Tibet into Nepal and India, and lent it particular importance in the renaissance period when there were many Indians, Nepalis, and Tibetans crossing this region and the flow of culture (and money) reached a torrent. Indeed, one of the most important events of the period, the invitation of Atiśa to Tibet, was undertaken by a native of Gungtang, Naktso Lotsawa Tsültrim Gyelwa (nag 'tsho lo tsA ba tshul khrims rgyal ba, 1011-1064). Naktso Lotsawa traveled to India and studied with Atiśa. It seems that this previous experience of Naktso Lotsawa was the main reason he was summoned by Lhatsünpa and asked to go to India and invite Atiśa to Tibet, thus fulfilling the king Jangchup Ö’s dying wish. Naktso Lotsawa was successful, and Atiśa agreed to make the journey to Tibet and spread the Dharma (Roerich, 245-6). In a later list of Atiśa’s disciples within the Blue Annals, Naktso Lotsawa is mentioned as “Gungtang Gompa Tsültrim (gung thang sgom pa tshul khrims)” (Roerich, 262).

Besides the journeys of Naktso Lotsawa, Gungtang also appears as the staging ground for other trips into Nepal and India by figures associated with both old and new schools (Roerich, 130, 1022, 1026). Gungtang itself is the site of several meetings between Indians and Tibetans in the Blue Annals. Drokmi traveled to Gungtang at the urging of Gayadhara to meet and receive teachings from an Indian pandita (207). Dampa Sanggyé was active in southwest Tibet and attracted several followers from Gungtang. Three of the twenty-four nuns listed in the Blue Annals as followers of Dampa Sanggyé were either born or died (or both) and were active in Gungtang (Roerich, 916, 919). Śakyaśrībhadra, a Kashmiri pandita, also traveled through the region. The Blue Annals description of his visit includes Śakyaśrībhadra paying wages for image makers (Roerich, 1070-71).

The Gungtang area also saw significant activity among members of the Kagyü lineage. Milarepa was known to meditate in parts of Gungtang. In the Blue Annals, Milarepa sings a song in which he describes himself as being a person from Gungtang (Roerich, 432). One of Milarepa’s main disciples, Rechungpa, was also a native of Gungtang and the two met there for the first time (Roerich, 436). Another of Milarepa’s disciples is simply known as “Gungtang Repa (gung thang ras pa)” (Roerich, 449).

Gungtang is often mentioned in conjunction with Mangyül (mang yul), in such cases being referred to as Mangyül Gungtang (mang yul gung thang).

The border region of Gungtang is not to be confused with the town and monastic center of Tsel Gungtang (founded by Lama Zhang) which is located southeast of Lhasa in central Tibet. However, the place known as Khap Gungtang (khab gung thang) seems to be the same as Gungtang, or the central site, or castle/residence (khab) of the area.