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An Introduction to Ngawa Cultural Region

  Ngawa   ( rnga ba ) is named after the Nga River   ( nga chu ) , which flows south from Nyenpo Yurts é   ( snyan po g.yu rtse ) into the Chuchen ( chu chen , Da Jinchuan) which eventually becomes the Gyelmo Ng ü lchu   ( rgyal mo rngul chu , Dadu River). Because of the wide range in altitude in this river valley, from 10,000 feet along the river to 16,000 in the surrounding hills, there are both farmers called Zhingpa ( zhing pa, “people of the field”) and nomads called Drokpa ( 'brog pa, “people of the high pasture”), who together are called the Zhingdrok ( zhing 'brog, sometimes pronounced Shimdrok). Although this term is used generically in eastern Tibetan areas to refer to this mix of lifestyles, here the term seems to have been used more as a proper name. Traditionally, the Mé king ruled over nearby groups or divisions ( tsowa, tsho ba ), though larger monasteries, including the distant Labrang Monastery ( bla brang dgon ) were influential as well. The main town of Ngawa is the center of the diverse religious institutions, but there are also some eighteen villages scattered throughout the region. The Gelukpa  (dge lugs pa) Kirti Monastery ( ki rti dgon pa ) , founded in 1472, is the largest in region, with 2,000 monks.

The Bön   (bon) tradition is particularly strong in this region. For example, Ngawa’s Nangzhik Choklé Namgyel Trashi Yungdrung Ling ( snang zhig phyogs las rnam rgyal bkra shis g.yung drung gling , est. 1108) monastery is largest Bön monastery in the world (900 monks), following a S hedra ( bshad grwa , academic/philosophical) approach versus a meditative approach to Buddhist training. The monastery is led by successive family members, and it was the twenty-ninth abbot who increased the size of the monastery in the mid-eighteenth century. A connection to the Gelukpa Labrang monastery was established when the thirty-third leader of Nangshik was also recognized as the reincarnation of one of Labrang’s leading Trülkus ( sprul sku ) . Nangshik is at the center of some thirty-six branches monasteries. Tokden Monastery ( rtogs ldan dgon ) of the New Bön tradition (discussed in the Gyelrong entry), was established in the seventeenth century and is the second largest Bön monastery in Ngawa with some 300 monks. It is located just over a mile from Nangshik Monastery .

Ngawa , like the neighboring Dzamtang ( 'dzam thang ) region and Pema ( pad ma , Baima ) county in Golok ( mgo log ), is also home to the Jonang ( jo nang ) tradition . The Jonang monastery of Samtenling ( bsam gtan gling ) , founded in the early seventeenth century, is located just outside the main town of Ngawa . It is home to more than 800 monks. There are also a few Sakya ( sa skya ) , Kagyü ( bka' brgyud ) and Nyingma ( rnying ma   ) monasteries.



Baumer, Christoph. “The Hidden Valley of Aba: A Refuge of the Jonangpa and the Bönpo.” Oriental Art. vol. 47, no. 3 (2001) 41-54.

An Introduction to Ngawa Cultural Region
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Author Gray Tuttle