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Zorin A. On the Structure of the Collection of Lyrical Songs Ascribed to the Sixth Dalai Lama // Collection of Abstracts of Beijing Seminar on Tibetan Studies. 2008-10. P. 120-123.


The subject matter of this note appeared quite by chance and at first seemed somewhat dubious. Any real attempt to find „a deeper structure [within] this quite heterogenous corpus of songs“ (as Per Sørensen correctly puts it) has to seem, at first sight, to be a fruitless task. It seems enough to find a number of groups of between two and, at most, five songs, connected with one another in a thematic and/or lexical way. For instance, the connection between songs 7—9 is quite evident, where the image of approaching aurumn is used to show the fading of love; of these three, songs 7 and 8 share an image of bees and flowers. Another example here is found in songs 30—33, with its story of loss of a beloved woman won by a stronger rival. But how can we tie together all these apparently disparate groups, particularly when we consider the fact that a number of songs cannot be assigned to any group at all?

This question might perhaps not have occurred to me had it not been for one event. When I translated the Sixth Dalai Lama's songs into Russian and made glossaries for each of them, I came upon a few lexical issues noted also by other scholars. Onä of them appears in the opening verse of the collection, the enigmatic phrase ma-skyes a-ma. The majority of translators see here a reference to a young girl — a virgin, perhaps, a fantasy, unreal. That no-one found any relation to the hero's mother is not surprising, though, since the context of Tshangs-dbyangs rGya-mtsho's work is primarily amorous.

Nonetheless, two arguments suggest that this interpretation might, in fact, be more fruitful. Firstly, it appears to be the intuitive translation favored by Tibetans themselves. I asked Jampa Namdrol, a young Tibetan who worked at the Tibetan collection of the St Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, RAS, about this phrase; with total assurance, he translated it as „one's own mother“ or „mummy“ — which is interesting, if one interprets the first part as ma(r)-skyes, literally „she who bore down“ (i.e. gave birth), hence „own, dear“. Of course, the opinion of one Tibetan can hardly be definitive in this matter, touching as it does a work written three hundred years ago. This point of view, however, gets a sudden boost from the second argument — the idea that there is a timeline which binds together the entire collection of Tshangs-dbyangs rGya-mtsho's songs.

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