Category Archives: Zhang Zhung Language

In the Language of Zhang Zhung: MU RA TA HEN

The Zhang Zhung language was a written and spoken language which predates the Tibetan language. In ancient times, the Yungdrung Bön scriptures were translated from Zhang Zhung into Tibetan, as well as many other language such as Chinese and Sanskrit.

There remains examples of the Zhang Zhung language throughout the texts. This Zhang Zhung language reference to Tönpa Shenrap Miwo, Buddha and founder of the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, occurs twice within the commonly practiced one hundred syllable mantra.

In the Language of Zhang Zhung…

The Language of Zhang Zhung

Fire puja offerings photo Geshe Kunchap 2014 11These boards with mantras written in gold were created in order to be offered during the fire ritual of the Yungdrung Bön tradition,   These mantras are written using the ancient Zhang Zhung script.

Learning Zhang Zhung: Mutsuk Marro!

The phrase “Mutsuk Marro!” is from the Zhang Zhung language and means ‘Auspiciousness and good health’.  Here, it is written using the Tibetan script.  In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, this phrase often occurs at the conclusion of a text as an aspirational ending.

Zhang Zhung Element Syllables

5 elements ZZ edit

Here, the seed syllables of the five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth are written in the Zhang Zhung mar chen script.  From left to right, the seed syllables are AH, YANG, RAM, MANG, AND KHAM.

The Forty Magical Letters of Zhang Zhung

 Over 18,000 years ago, the founder of the Yungdrung Bon tradition was born into a human body and was known as the Supreme Shen, the Enlightened Teacher, Buddha Tonpa Shenrap Miwoche.  He had many students and his teachings flourished in the ancient kingdom called Zhang Zhung.

This ancient kingdom included what is now Western Tibet and the sacred Mount Tise, also known as Mount Kailash.  The Zhang Zhung language includes forty letters, and  according to Yungdrung Bön texts, these ‘Forty Magical Letters’ were taught by Tonpa Shenrap Miwo. The two standard scripts were called Zhang Zhung mar chen and Zhang Zhung mar chung, ‘excellent capital letters of Zhang Zhung’ and ‘excellent lesser letters of Zhang Zhung.’ 

Zhang Zhung mar chen and mar chung samples

Above, a sample of Zhang Zhung mar chen. Below, a sample of Zhang Zhung mar chung. Both have the corresponding Tibetan script underneath. (Zhang Zhung fonts from the website: himalayabon.com)

The divine words of the Buddha Tonpa Shenrap were written down using this script.  Due to the murder of King Ligmincha of Zhang Zhung by king Trisong Detsen of Tibet in the 8th century, the Zhang Zhung kingdom fell and the power and influence of Tibet increased.  Therefore, the Zhang Zhung script was transformed and called ‘Tibetan’.  According to the ‘Far-reaching Lamp of Clarity’:

“Mar chen was changed into [the formal Tibetan] u chen script, and mar chung was changed into informal script.”

A Yungdrung Bon ritual text begins a section with “According to the language of Zhang Zhung Mar…”

Today, the titles of many Yungdrung Bön texts are written in both the Zhang Zhung mar chen script as well as in the Tibetan script.  Additionally, many Zhang Zhung words are found within the texts and even significant section headings are given in both the Zhang Zhung and Tibetan language.

The title page from a Yundgrung Bon text with the title written in Zhang Zhung script above and Tibetan script underneath.

For more information regarding the Zhang Zhung language: (all English language sources)

  • The Light of Kailash Vol 1 and 2 by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche
  • A Lexicon of ZhangZhung and Bonpo Terms edited by Yasuhiko Nagano & Samten Karmay
  • Zhang Zhung-Tibetan-English Contextual Dictionary by Namgyal Nyima

In the Language of Zhang Zhung: The Letters

zhang zhung script 1

According to the Yungdrung Bön, sometime before the 2nd Tibetan king, the letters of the Tibetan alphabet were created from the letters of the ancient Zhang Zhung alphabet.  Yung Drung Bön was the state religion of the ancient country of Zhang Zhung and the texts were written in this language.  However, due to great persecution in the 7th century, the texts had to be hidden in order to protect them from being forever destroyed. During this time, the Zhang Zhung language almost became extinct.  However, there were a few Bön lamas who passed on their knowledge of this language.  As the scriptures were being copied into the Tibetan language, many of them preserved their titles and the first few lines of texts in the old language of Zhang Zhung.  This can be seen in the scriptures today.

OM in Zhang Zhung script Geshe Chaphur 2

Calligraphy of the Bön syllable OM in the Zhang Zhung script as drawn by Geshe Chaphur Lhundrup of Gyalshen Institute.  If you would like to purchase a calligraphy of this, or another syllable, contact Gyalshen.org.

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