Organized Panel Session
In 1904, British India invaded Tibet. This invasion was part of the ‘Great Game’ between the Russian and British Empire. It ended with the signing of a treaty on 7th September in Lhasa. A regional governor from Trongsa in Bhutan known as Ugyen Wangchuck (enthroned as the First King three years later) became the principal mediator in the conflict. His skills in negotiation earned him tremendous goodwill of both the British and Tibetans.
Zhabrung Jigme Chogyal, the head of the Bhutanese state composed a poem then reflecting upon the painful decision to send Ugyen Wangchuck as the mediator. Nyenzer Latshab, an eminent Buddhist lama composed another poem expressing disenchantment at the destruction wrought to Buddhism by the invasion. Tshewang Peldon, a serf composed yet another poem later celebrating the success of Ugyen Wangchuck’s mission.
Zhabdrung Jigme Chogyal and Nyenzer Latshab wrote in chokey or classical Tibetan. Tshewang Peldon excelled in oral composition. Zhabdrung Jigme Chogyal’s free-style followed the poetic tradition of tshig-kang-guma or the nine-syllable format. Nyenzer Latshab wrote an acoustic poetry or katsom. Tshewang Peldon used the medium of lozey or oral ballad.
However, few Bhutanese today know about the historical circumstances, the poems and the genres in which they were written. Access has been limited by the language education, which is mainly English. By considering these three poems as examples, this paper discusses contemporary efforts of translating and publishing oral and traditional literature as well as the trends and challenges in making them more accessible to today’s readers.