And Gesar’s horse is the warrior’s sense of confidence,
which enables him to reach whatever destination he profoundly
scholarship on the Gesar epic
depicting a group of Gesar's knights and beneficent
deities. Like Gesar, each knight was considered a
hero, and after the advent of Buddhism, was also considered
a reincarnation of a bodhisattva.
Just as the facts about
epic figures of other cultures have defied researchers,
the historical Gesar and his knights remain a mystery.
From the beginning of Western scholarship on the
epic, there have been various attempts to locate Ling, the
central setting of the epic, in Ladakh, in the Tibetan region
of Kham, and even in Central Asia.
Equally in question has been the date of its composition
or compilation, with estimates ranging from the seventh
to the thirteenth centuries.
Much of this uncertainty results from the source
material itself. Written texts are known in Lepcha, Burushaski,
Oirat, Xalxa, Buriat, Mongol, Turkic, Chinese, and, of course,
Tibetan. Oral versions
may be as widely spread even today.
It was through a Mongolian rendering that the epic
of Gesar first came to Europe.
In 1839, I.J. Schmidt completed a German summary
of the Mongolian saga, Die Thaten Bogda Gesser Chan’s.
This version clearly depicts Gesar’s mission as bringing
order to earthly society, but lacks some of the more distinctively
Buddhist additions of later Tibetan texts. After the turn of the century, additional texts
were made available through the work of Moravian missionary
A.H. Francke, and the writing of French explorer-scholar
Alexandra David-Neel. David-Neel was the first white woman to enter
Lhasa, Tibet’s capital.
Francke’s work traces the short sagas and song-cycles
of Ladakh’s Gesar stories.
While the material is definitely pre-Buddhist, Francke
says it “has taken the shape of a religion.”
The legends, he says, are still very much a part
of each village’s spring festival and archery competition.
David-Neel, on the other hand, provides a fully Buddhist
version of the epic gathered in Kham, one which she feels
may be entitled to the designation “the official version.”