Tibetan Renaissance Seminar > Week 4 > Nartang

Nartang Gazeteer Entry

Alison Melnick

General information

NameNartang (སྣར་ཐང)
Transliteration formsnar thang
Chinese纳当 (Simplified), 納當 (Traditonal)
Source of informationRoerich, George N, The Blue Annals, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996 (Reprint). The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center: TBRC #G225) The Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library:
Spatial LocationLatitude: 29.683°, Longitude: 88.033°
ProvinceTibet Autonomous Region
DistrictRyavec Township
Cultural locationCentral Tibet (specifically Tsang: gtsang)
Location's language(Central) Tibetan
Blue Annals Referencespp. 81, 272, 282, 283, 305, 319, 336-9, 592, 749, 782, 810, 1043, 1068, 1069, 1072.


Nartang is both the name of a region and a Kadampa (bka' gdams pa) monastery within that region. Located near Tashilhunpo, (bkra shis lhun po - the seat of the Panchen Lamas) the monastery is best known for its printed editions of the Kangyur and Tengyur. According to Roerich’s translation of the Deb ther sngon po, the Blue Annals, the monastery was founded in 1153 CE. The Gazeteer entry for Nartang reads more like a Monastery entry, since all discussion of Nartang in the Blue Annals is in reference to the monastery rather than the region as a whole. Gö Lotsawa (’gos lo tsa ba) specifically focuses on the high levels of spiritual attainment and scholastic learning achieved by the monks associated with Nartang. He also provides an explanation for why the text collections of Nartang were so venerated in his time.

Nartang in the Blue Annals

Throughout the Blue Annals, references to “Nartang” are always references to the monastery itself, and not the larger geographical region. The first mention of the monastery in the Blue Annals (R81) comes as a reference to Pelden Dro (dpal ldan gros) taking over its administration. Neither he nor his teacher are mentioned anywhere else in the book except for this one instance. Although there is not much indication of it at this first mention, throughout the rest of the Blue Annals, Nartang is closely associated with scholastic learning, a high level of religious practice, and the printing of important texts.

At the next mention of the monastery, there is an entire sub-chapter devoted to the history of Nartang’s abbatial line. This occurs in the chapter on the life of one of Atisa’s lineage-holders, Sharwapa (shar ba pa). It seems that here, the names and dates of Nartang’s abbots are the key focus, while there is no mention of the practices or teachings conducted at the monastery. The author includes some history of the monastery, such as an explanation of how Tumstö Lodrodrakpa (gtum ston blo gros grags pa) came to found the monastery after eleven years meditating and developing a following in the region.

Gö Lotsawa describes Nartang as an active religious center during his life. The abbatial history of the monastery which he provides includes the abbot at the time of writing the deb ther sngon po, this abbot was Shenrap Gyeltsen (shes rab rgyal mtshan).

It is not until Book 6 (on the origins of the teaching of Madhyamika and etc.) that we see the first discussion of the kinds of practice taking place at Nartang. The author paints a picture of a large and highly active monastic community that attracts scholars and their followers from great distances. Many of the practitioners who are mentioned are authors of philosophical texts, and it seems that Nartang is consistently associated with a high level of monastic education and practice (including retreat). The author’s focus on Nartang suggests its centrality as a place of study at the time of writing the deb ther sngon po. Here it is explained how Chim Chenmo (’chims chen mo) advised Kyénak Drakseng (skyel nag grags seng) to found a monastic college at Nartang, in spite of objections from “the bka’ gdams pas.” The two succeed in tricking the residents of Nartang to allow a debate to take place, out of which comes the decision to found a monastic college (R336). While it is clear that there were at least two opposed groups in the discussion of whether a monastic college should be created at Nartang at this time, the author is unclear as to their reasons for differences of opinion. It is clear that the author was in favor of the decision to form the college, he explains how the creation of the college attracted “many learned men,” who were extremely capable and highly sought-out practitioners, not to mention men with the power to cure disease. Here the author includes an account of one such man, who after becoming afflicted with leprosy, traveled to Nartang in search of a cure to his ailment. There, under the guidance of Kyostöpa (skyo ston pa, who Gö Lotsawa mentions propitiated Vajrapāṇi vigorously), was able to cure himself by reciting the Pramāṇaviniścaya one thousand times. Once Kyostöpa was cured, he joined the community at Nartang and went on to attract “many learned disciples.” The author explains that “Two thirds of the Tripiṭakadharas of that time are known to have gathered at Nartang…” After Jomdenpa (bcom ldan pa) arrived at Nartang, he composed 16 śāstra volumes. Although not all of them were extant at the time of Gö Lotsawa’s writing, he mentions that some of Jomdenpa’s works were still kept at Nartang. (337) Jomdenpa seems to be one of the most important people (for ’gos los tsa ba) affiliated with Nartang.

In his discussion of Nartang, Gö Lotsawa includes an extremely important account of the arrival of copies of the Kangyur (bka’ ’gyur) and Tengyur (bstan ’gyur) at the monastery. He explains that the copies of the two collections that were installed there had come directly from their original versions. Gö Lotsawa provides a detailed explanation about how the Nartang copies of these collections were the most complete and original versions available during his life. He also emphasizes that these served as templates for many other monastic establishments in Tibet (R338). He includes a list of all of the places copies of the Nartang Collections were sent and who prepared them. It seems that the textual affiliation for which Nartang is known today was also central during the life of Gö Lotsawa.

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