On this day in 641, it is said that Songstän Gampo (sometimes seen as Songzan Gambo), one of the must influential of Tibet’s early rulers credited with bringing many advancements to the Himalayan Kingdom, married Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, bringing about a politically important alliance between Tibet and its mighty eastern neighbour.
Little is known of the details of the marriage to Wencheng, but it seems likely that their union was built out of diplomatic necessity. Gampo was known to have made military incursions into China, but a political alliance was deemed to be more mutually beneficial. The legacy of the union would have far-reaching consequences, as it was crucial in assisting the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet, and it also helped maintain civil relations between two nations with a history of enmity.
Songstän Gampo, born some time around 607, was only a boy when he came to the throne, but what he lacked in years he made up for in bravery and determination. He is credited with completing the task of pacifying and subordinating the region’s many ethnic tribes, becoming the leader of the first truly unified Tibetan Kingdom, and founding the Tibetan Empire.
Despite varied military successes, Gampo’s reign is most remembered for the considerable cultural advancements that it brought to Tibet. One of the most significant achievements of his reign was the introduction of Buddhism to the Kingdom. Heavily influenced by his wives Wencheng and Bhrikuti, who was from Nepal, Gampo adopted their religion and it was soon established as the state religion. Tibet’s first Buddhist temples began to appear at this time, and a system of laws based on the Buddhist philosophy of dharma, or natural law, quickly gained a foothold in the region.
The adoption of Buddhism necessitated other cultural changes, not least the need for a written language. Only with a Tibetan script could Buddhist texts be translated and properly disseminated. Aware of this, Gampo sent an emissary, Thonmi Sambhota, to India, instructing him to observe and study the workings of Sanskrit. Upon his return, Sambhota supposedly devised a script for the Tibetan language, and laid down the rules of its grammar. From this time on, Tibetan began to be recorded, and its rich culture of poetry and legend was able to flourish.
Gampo proclaimed Lhasa as the new capital of the Tibetan nation, and in a demonstration of power and wealth, adorned it with a number of magnificent buildings. Foremost among these was the Jokhang Temple. It was built for Wencheng and Bhrikuti, as a place to house the Buddhist statues that each had brought to Tibet as part of their marriage dowry. The temple continues to house the Jowo Shakyamuni, an effigy of the Shakyamuni Buddha, and the most venerated shrine in Tibet.
Gampo died around 650 AD.