Sum Pa Glang Gi Gyim Shod

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sum pa glang gi gyim shod

General Information

NameSumpa Langgi Gyimshö
Name ShortSumpa
Transliteration formsum pa glang gi gyim shod
PronunciationSumpa Langgi Gyimshö
Etymologycollect/pull together/shut (or an alternative spelling of gsum pa) - elephant/bull - ('brel sgra) - sentinel (gyim po); music (gyim shing) - bottom, lower valley (shod); to say/explain (shod pa). This is a difficult word to etymologize, perhaps reflected by the fact that Sumpa is rarely called by its full name. In Ramble (1999, p. 22), Langgi Gyimshö is treated as a separate place in Sumpa, and this is likely the case at the highest level of magnification, but the two are so often treated as one that it bears treatment as one for an investigation such as this. Sumpa on its own clearly means pulled together, condensed, or collected (rub rub bzos pa), and could describe geographical restrictions or those of the communities therein. Since Sumpa acted as a sort of gateway to Zhang Zhung (see below), it could make sense to take the sentinel (archaic) interpretation of gyim, though gyim shing ("music") might make more sense in the context of shod pa meaning to say, explain, talk. In this latter scenario, the translation could be "The Collection [Place] of the Elephant's Speech and Sounds." Elephant could also just be "bull" as suggested above. Alternative translations could be "The Lower Valley of the Bull Sentinel, which is Shut", or, in the case of just the short name, it might be referring to Sumpa as the "Third [Place]", in the same way that Sichuan means "Fourth Province", or it could just be "The Shut [Place]". The bod rgya tshig brzod chen mo gives one definition of "sum pa" as "sum pa'i ru'i bsdus ming", or "abbreviation for the horn of sum pa [the third?]." In this case, the ru of sum pa'i ru refers to the horns of Tibet, usually grouped in four, of which sum pa could be a designation for the third horn of Tibet, which has been established since the time of Songtsen Gampo (srong btsan dgam po). In any event, the words are fairly archaic and the original meaning has probably been lost.
Spatial LocationUnknown
Cultural locationZhang Zhung (at one time), TAR
Location's languageTibetan (a mdo skad)

Though the exact boundaries of Sumpa are not known, Namkhai Norbu (1995, p. 235 n45) places it somewhere in modern-day Amdo. Given that sources all agree on Sumpa's historical membership in the Zhang Zhung kingdom, this perhaps extends the latter's eastern border further than previously imagined. One of Sumpa's greatest claims to fame in the Bönpo sphere involves the story of Trisong Detsen's fabled murder of the Zhang Zhang king, thus sparking Tibetan hegemony in the region of modern-day Tibet. A Zhang Zhung queen, having been wooed by Trisong Detsen, allegedly gave him the itinerary for the Zhang Zhung king's upcoming travels, specifically identifying "Langyi Gyimshöd in Sumpa" (Norbu 1995, p. 33) as the best place to "lie in wait and kill him." In the Treasury of Good Sayings (p. 16, also in Norbu 1995, p. 152), Sumpa is most frequently referred to as one of the countries to where Bön first spread, by means of the great six translators who studied under Mucho Demdruk (mu cho ldem drug) in Ölmo Lungring. The countries in its company are Takzik (stag gzig), Zhang Zhung, India, China, and Trom (phrom). Another instance in the Treasury (p. 97) describes how thousands of Zhang Zhung communities were separated from thousands of Sumpa communities when Trisong Detsen killed the king of Zhang Zhung. Other sources discuss the "Bön of Sumpa" as the first wave of Bön, "revealed Bön", at the time of the first Tibetan king (Norbu 1995, p. 43); Langgi Gyimshö in Sumpa is the location of the cemetery that is the "six-fold exalted place of shel le rgya skar" (Ramble 1999, p. 22); and Sumpa Langgi Gyimshö is defined as "Gateway Zhang Zhung", synonymous with the area of the Khyung clan, a high plateau north of the Kyichu (skyid chu) river (Martin 1999, p. 291 n41).

These few examples confer a great variety of significances upon Sumpa as Bön geography. It was a part of Zhang Zhung (perhaps its eastern gateway), and the backdrop of the single event that led to the kingdom's undoing. It was one of the six most substantial recipients of Bön when it spread from Ölmo Lungring, and the place whence Bön spread to Tibet. It figured in cosmology and mythology as a sort of charnel grounds. If one believes the story about the Zhang Zhung king's murder, or at least believes that the event took place in Sumpa, it would be reasonable to assume that this geography would be mythologized for later Bönpos. On the other hand, its greatest function in the Treasury is as a place of early Bön teachings, and a substantial one at that, on par with the likes of India and China, and a separate entity from Zhang Zhung. Though "countries" may be a misleading translation in that we cannot know the degree to which an actual nation could be found there, it is telling that early mythologists would treat it so substantially. The concern about Sumpa and Zhang Zhung communities being split from each other - likely by the rise of Wütsang as the seat of the Tibetan empre - also reifies it as a substantial place, and one perhaps autonomous from Zhang Zhung.


Karmay, Samten G., ed. and trans. 1972. The Treasury of Good Sayings: A Tibetan History of Bon. London: Oxford University Press.

Karmay, Samten G. 1998. "A General Introduction to the History and Doctrines of Bön." In The Arrow and the Spindle: Studies in History, Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Tibet, 1998, edited by Samten G. Karmay, Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point, pp. 104-157.

Martin, Dan. 1999. "‘Ol-mo-lung-ring, the Original Holy Place." In Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places, 1999, edited by Toni Huber, Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, pp. 258-301.

Norbu, Namkhai and Adriano Clemente, ed. and trans., and Andrew Lukianowicz, trans. 1995. Drung, Deu, and Bön. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.

Ramble, Charles. 1999. "The Politics of Sacred Space in Bön and Tibetan Popular Tradition." In Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places in Tibetan Culture, 1999, edited by Toni Huber, Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, pp. 3-33.