The documents presented here were photographed in the course of the Nepal-German Project on High Mountain Archaeology, which ran from 1992 to 1997 under the directon of Prof. Dr Dieter Schuh, with funding from the German Rearch Council (DFG; see below, subsection Archival collections in Mustang). We are indebted to the Chief District Officer of Mustang at the time, Mr Bhola Nath Sharma, and to Mr Hikmat Thakali, for arranging the meeting at which the archive was photographed in 1992. A description of these complex arrangements is given below in the Introduction. Above all, we are grateful to the general assembly of mNga’ zhabs Baragaon for taking the considerable trouble to convene—for the first time in almost three decades—and for permitting us to photograph the archive. Finally, we would like to thank Kemi Tsewang Gurung for his creative and user-friendly presentation of the documents on this website.

Click here to skip the introduction and go directly to the documents


 Charles Ramble

The collection

The documents presented here were photographed by Nyima Drandul and me at Muktinath, in Nepal’s Mustang District, in September 1992. I had known about the existence of this archive for several years, but obtaining access to it was far from straightforward: the documents were kept in the priestly settlement of Chongkhor, near Muktinath, and the ‘key’—the seal that closed the cloth wrapping—belonged to Lubrak, another community of priests. We were told, however, that it would not be enough merely to bring together representatives of Chongkhor and Lubrak: according to a local rule the collection could be opened only at a meeting of mNga’ zhabs—literally, ‘the subjects’, a term that is used to denote the non-Noble population of Baragaon as a whole. This meant, in effect, that it would be necessary to organise a meeting of representatives of all the nineteen settlements in the enclave to decide whether we would be allowed to photograph the collection. These meetings were not undertaken lightly; the last one had been called in 1965 to determine the ownership of the so-called Dzekhang, the old armoury that was located in Kag. (The meeting had concluded that the building was the property of the enclave as a whole, and duly appropriated it from the individual who had believed it to be in his private possession.) How could we go about coordinating such a gathering?

A sympathetic villager suggested that I approach the Chief District Officer (CDO) of Mustang, who at that time was a certain Bhola Nath Sharma. I was very sceptical about this suggestion. The sort of undertaking I had in mind did not seem to me to fall within the range of activities in which Chief District Officers were usually interested. Mr Sharma had shown himself to be a highly energetic man. For example, in the short time he had been in Jomsom, the district headquarters, he had initiated a fund to replant juniper in the arid environs of the pilgrimage shrine of Muktinath—the Muktinath Memorial Garden—and several hundred young trees had already been planted and were being regularly watered. He listened patiently to my request and, to my great surprise, declared his enthusiastic support for the project.

In terms of the modern administrative of Nepal, the enclave of Baragaon is divided into four Village Development Committees (VDCs): Jhhong, Jharkot, Kagbeni and Chhusang. Mr Sharma appointed the secretary of Jhhong VDC, Mr Hikmat Thakali, to contact the chairmen of each of the VDCs and summon them to a meeting at Jomsom.  A few days later the chairmen met at the District Headquarters at the appointed time, and the Mr Sharma explained to them my request and asked them how we should proceed.

Since this was a ‘traditional’ meeting of mNga’ zhabs, the chairmen suggested, each community would have to send one or two headmen or appointed representatives according to its size. I would be asked to pay travel and daily allowance costs to each of the representatives, the sum varying according to the distance they would have to travel to the venue, which on this occasion would be at Muktinath. Meetings of mNga’ zhabs circulate around three venues: Cangcang Lungba, close to Eklaibhatti on the territory of Kag; the area called Pönsa in the Muktinath Valley on the bank of the Dzong Chu; and the Muktinath Pauwa, the pilgrims’ lodge that stands a short distance from the sacred site itself. (The last meeting, concerning the ownership of Kag’s armoury, had been held in Cangcang Lungba.) The representatives of the closest settlements—Dzong and Dzar—were subsequently paid 200 rupees each; those somewhat further off, such as Kag and Lubra, received 250 rupees each, and the furthest (Samar, Phelag, Dangardzong and the five Shod yul) were allocated 500 rupees each. The figure for Sangdag, the remotest of the settlements, would have been even higher, but in the event the community sent no representatives. I was anxious that Sangdag’s absence from the gathering might compromise the authority of mNga’ zhabs to allow us to photograph the collection, but since—as many documents in the collection itself show—Sangdag’s presence at such events had historically been the exception rather than the rule, it was held that the representatives of eighteen of Baragaon’s nineteen settlements constituted a quorum.

We gathered in the courtyard of the Pauwa, where the cloth bundle containing the documents was produced, and the wax seal over its stitching was broken. A monk from Dzar had been invited to glance cursorily through the Tibetan documents to ensure that they contained nothing unduly sensitive, and following his assurance that there was nothing among them that ought to remain classified, the gathering proceeded to discuss whether or not I should be permitted to photograph them. The outcome of the debate was favourable, and following a request that I make a voluntary contribution of an additional 3000 rupees to the general Baragaon fund—with which I was happy to comply—we were permitted to proceed.

Archival collections in Mustang

The documents presented in this collection were photographed under the auspices of the Nepal-German Project on High Mountain Archaeology. The project, which extended from 1992 to 1997, was funded by the German Research Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) and directed by Prof. Dr Dieter Schuh. In the course of the project several thousand documents in both Nepali and Tibetan were photographed throughout Mustang district. Two volumes of Nepali documents collected in the course of this research have been translated and published by Dr Madab Karmacharaya. A third volume, comprising the Nepali archive of Te and Tshognam, is in press. Tibetan documents of particular significance feature wholly or in part in articles that were published in the journal Ancient Nepal during the lifetime of the Project. 1

The Baragaon archive

One of the documents photographed (HMA/Baragaon/Tib/01) was a list of contents of the archive, but it is clear that this list does not correspond to what the archive actually contains. The reason for this discrepancy seems to be as follows: at some point in the 1950s or 60s the Warden of Baragaon, Sankarman Serchan (on whom more below) removed the collection from Chongkhor and kept it at his home in Tukche, a short day’s walk south of Muktinath. He later returned the collection, but several items had been removed and a few others added, probably by accident.

The order in which the documents are presented here represents an attempt to sort them thematically. However, the sectional divisions will feature in the printed version, and are not reproduced here.

Section One (HMA/Baragaon/Tib/1–17): internal affairs– disputes or other organisational issues within Baragaon.

Section Two (HMA/Baragaon/Tib/18–34): Trade. Baragaon had reason to deal, as a corporate entity, with other entities—the kingdom of Lo, the national government of Nepal etc.—on a range of matters. The only area of external affairs represented in the Tibetan archives is trade.

Section Three (HMA/Baragaon/Tib/35–37): Disputes between the Commoners (mNga’ zhabs) and the Nobility of Baragaon.

Section Four (HMA/Baragaon/Tib/38–41): Legal cases involving theft.

Section Five (HMA/Baragaon/Tib/42–53): Private documents. These items have nothing to do with Baragaon as a community, and some are altogether unrelated to the enclave. It is likely that, when Sankarman returned the archive to Chongkhor, some of his private papers accidentally found their way into the collection.  


The component enclaves of Mustang 2

Mustang district comprises a number of enclaves that are recognised either as the residues of old administrative entities or the territories of ethnically distinct groups. The northernmost part is referred to as Lo (Glo bo, Blo bo etc.). Upper Lo is the territory that was ruled by the King of Mustang at the time of the unification of Nepal, and recognised by the Gorkhas as his domain. The area is referred to more fully as Lotö Tshodun (Glo bo stod tsho bdun), “the Seven Sectors of Upper Lo”. The word tsho (Tib. tsho), that is translated here as “sector”, is an old Tibetan administrative division that might also be rendered as “county” in the present context. Each of the seven counties contains one or more settlements. Larger communities, like the city of Monthang, account for an entire sector, while other sectors consist of several small villages that have been grouped together. It is likely that these sectors were above all tax-paying units, with all sectors being required to pay the same amount in terms of cash or other commodities. How a sector would organise the distribution of its tax burden among its component settlements or houses seems to have been largely its own affair.

Below Gemi, the southernmost village in Upper Lo, is the large community of Gelung which (with the help of Jumla) broke away from the kingdom in the 1754 (Schuh 1994: 85). Immediately to the south of Gelung is Baragaon. Since it is Baragaon that is the main concern of this book, I shall return to this enclave presently and continue for now with a rough sketch of Mustang as a whole.

South of Baragaon is a group of settlements known as Panchgaon (Nep. Pañcgāũ), a Nepali name which has its Tibetan equivalent Yulkhanga (Yul kha lnga). Both terms mean “the Five Villages”. The villages are: Thini, Shang, Tsherog, Cimang and Marpha. The further subdivisions of this group, however interesting they may be historically, do not concern us here. The District Headquarters, Jomsom, began life as a little satellite of Thini on the left bank of the Kali Gandaki, but has now crossed the river and acquired the proportions of a small town, with an airport, a military barracks, a great many hotels and the rows of offices that serve the purposes of an abundant governmental and non-governmental officialdom. The region between Panchgaon and the southern boundary of Mustang district, comprising thirteen settlements, is known as Thak, and the people who inhabit it as Thakalis, an ethnonym that is also sometimes extended to include the inhabitants of Panchgaon.



An hour’s walk north of Jomsom the Kali Gandaki is joined from the east by the Panda Khola, a small river that traditionally marks the boundary between Panchgaon and Baragaon. The village of Lubra, whose houses and fields stand on its southern side, is also considered to be a part of Baragaon, though the land on which the settlement was founded in the thirteenth century originally belonged to Thini (see Ramble and Vinding 1987: 18). On the opposite side of the Kali Gandaki, and visible from the valley floor, are two other villages, Dangardzong and Phelag. A short way to the north of these, and closer to the river itself, is the settlement of Pagling. The village is said to be the most recent in Baragaon, having been settled by one family from each of the existing communities. This collective enterprise is sometimes cited as the origin of a variant of the name: Pigling, which may mean “the Common (or Shared) Place” (Tib. sPyi gling). There are references to a temple having been built at Pagling in the thirteenth century (see Jackson 1978: 207), and there are indeed ruins near the present village to support the possibility that this is the site. It is quite likely that – as in a number of other cases – the site was abandoned for a period before being resettled.

A short distance north of Pagling, on the left bank of the river, where the gorge converges to a narrow waist, stands the village of Kag, which has grown outwards from its now-ruined palace in several phases of expansion (Gutschow…)

The Nepali name of Kag, Kagbeni, derives from the fact that it stands at the confluence (Nep. beni) of the Kali Gandaki and the Dzong Chu, the stream of the Muktinath Valley which runs parallel to and north of the Panda Khola. At the head of this valley stands the temple of Muktinath, a Hindu pilgrimage site of major importance, although the enclosure within which it is situated also comprises shrines that are revered by Buddhists and Bonpos. The villages on the south side of the valley, in ascending order, are Khyenga, Dzar, Purang and Chongkhor. On the northern side are two others: Putra and Dzong. The communities of the Muktinath Valley are sometimes referred to collectively as Dzardzong Yuldrug, “the Six villages [including] Dzar and Dzong”, or, more popularly, Dzardzong.

Dzar and Dzong are, like Kag, the site of now-derelict castles. Noble families from the north, led by the Kyekya Gangba clan, who came to Baragaon in the sixteenth century on behalf of Lo, established themselves in these two settlements and in Kag, as well as in Dangardzong (Schuh 1995: 52–53). Dzar, Dzong, Kag and Dangardzong are four of what are accordingly referred to as the five “capitals” (Tib. rgyal sa) of Baragaon. The fifth capital, Samar, is now a small village at the northern end of Baragaon, some two hours’ ride below Gelung. Chongkhor, which stands on land donated to the founder lama by the village of Purang, is a community of householder priests (Tib. dbon po) of the Nyingmapa sect. The inhabitants of Lubra, to the south of the Muktinath Valley, are also of Priestly class (Tib. bla mchod), but are followers of the Bon religion.

Returning to the Kali Gandaki Valley, the settlement immediately to the north of Kag is Tiri, which is located on the right bank of the river, and a full day’s walk to the west of it, on the way to Dolpo, is Sangdag.

All the villages listed so far are linguistically homogeneous, to the extent that they speak mutually comprehensible variants of South Mustang Tibetan (SMT).

North of the territory of Tiri this uniformity is broken by a group of five villages: Tsele, Gyaga, Tshug, Taye and Te. The five villages are collectively referred to as the Shöyul (Tib. Shod yul). The northernmost settlement in Baragaon is the little community of Samar.

Baragaon is the anglicised form of a Nepali name meaning “the Twelve Villages (bāhragāũ), but documentary evidence suggests that this is the translation of an older Tibetan name, Yulkha Cunyi (yul kha bcu gnyis), meaning the same thing (Schuh 1994: 43). In the documents presented here, the term Yulkha Cunyi is habitually replaced by a Tibetanised rendering of “Baragaon” (bha ra gung, ba ra ga’ung etc.), often in conjunction with the epithet “lower Lo” (glo smad).  As mentioned above, another sobriquet for the area that appears commonly in local texts, either by itself or preceding the term Baragaon, is mNga’ zhabs, ‘the Subject [region or people]’. The name—like Baragaon/ Yulkha Cunyi—may date from the period when the region was under the sway of the Kyekya Gangba family. When it appears in documents the name denotes the population or representative assembly of Baragaon minus its aristocratic rulers; as we shall see, the commoners and the nobility were not always on the best of terms. The original justification for the name Baragaon/ Yulkha Cunyi remains something of an enigma, since the region comprises not twelve but nineteen settlements.

The nineteen villages were grouped into eight taxpaying sectors (tsho). Smaller settlements, such as Lubra, were rated as quarter-sectors; some (Dzar, in the Muktinath Valley, is an example) were classified as halves, while a few, such as Te, comprised full sectors by themselves. This sort of sectoral organisation was not confined to Upper Lo and Baragaon; Dolpo, to the west, was traditionally divided into ten-and-a-half sectors (Jest 1975: 286), Manang, to the east, into three, while areas of Tibet adjoining Mustang are also referred to in local documents in terms of sectors. Examples of similar groupings are to be found in Tibet. The enclave of Porong (sPong rong), in modern Nyelam County of Shigatse prefecture, was traditionally grouped into eight tsho.

I have heard two versions of the sectoral groupings of Baragaon’s villages. One of them is as follows:

1. Purang and Dzar

2. Dzong and Chongkhor

3. Kag and Khyenga

4. Tangbe (two-thirds) and Gyaga (one-third)

5. Tshug

6. Te

7. Tsele, Putrak, Tiri, Samar

8. Lubra, Phelag, Dangkardzong, Pagling

Thus Lower Lo comprises eight sectors; Upper Lo has seven; Gelung, in the middle, which seceded from Lo in the seventeenth century, probably had the status of a full sector.

The other version replaces Lubra with Sangdag in the last sector, and Lubra is a quarter-sector on its own. Either configuration is possible, and no documents have come to light that might settle the matter. Sangdag is frequently unrepresented among the signatories to agreements concerning Baragaon; but this is simply because of its geographical remoteness. The last occasion that Baragaon assembled in the past few decades was in 1993, when the present collection of documents was photographed; no one from Sangdag came. In the second scheme, Lubra’s status as an afterthought may be simply because it was still a satellite of Thini at the time the sectors were arranged, and entered the enclave of Baragaon only at a later period.

Issues that concerned Baragaon as a whole—whether internal matters or questions of policy regarding the enclave’s dealings with external agencies, such as Upper Lo or the government of Nepal—were debated at general assemblies, when representatives of all the villagers were required to be present. The task of representing Baragaon in dealings with Kathmandu was originally shouldered by the local nobility, but after the rise of the subbas, the customs-brokers from Thak, this mediatory role was assumed by a Thakali warden, called the cikhyab (Tib. spyi khyab). The people of Baragaon are said to have requested the intervention of the powerful Serchan family some time in the 1930s. Baragaon was duly apportioned out between prominent brothers. Mohanman took over the wardenship of southern Baragaon, while the five Shöyul and two villages of Panchgaon fell to Hitman. The two parts of Baragaon were united under a single warden in the next generation. For part of his long career, the last warden of Baragaon, Sankarman Serchan, combined this unofficial role with the official one of tax-collector (Nep. tālukdar). The warden advised the villagers of Baragaon about developments in government policy, intervened in local disputes, and when occasion demanded, summoned general assemblies of the enclave. He was assisted by a team of eight ‘supervisors’ (spyan btsug) who were appointed on the basis of their personal competence, and these in turn would liaise with villages through their headmen.

Information regarding the supervisors is inconsistent. Sankarman himself was vague on the subject, saying only that he did not recruit these officials. One villager informed me that the supervisors were appointed from Baragon by the two priestly communities of Lubra and Chongkhor, to help in the organisation of responses to specific crises, and were not a permanent or long-serving corps. Some documents seem to imply that individual villages had officials called supervisors, which suggests that the term may not always denote the same office. 3

The expenses of the supervisors, as well as those of anyone charged with undertaking tasks on behalf of the community, were shared by all the villages.


Rank and kinship in Baragaon

Since the notion of a hierarchically structured society continues to be a matter of some importance, the structure may be described briefly here. The inhabitants of Baragaon are ranked in four main castes, known as gyupa (brgyud pa) in accordance with a system of social classification that was widespread in Tibet. 4

The highest rank comprises the nobility, who are referred to by a variety of names: the standard expression is hrewo/ hremo (sras po/ sras mo), literally “noble sons/ daughters”, the customary term of address, and also the prefix, to a Noble’s name. There is a degree of stratification within the Noble caste itself. Thus the ruling families withing the nobility were referred to as dpon po, “the lords”, and enjoyed certain privileges over their peers. Certain material advantages accrue to this rank even at the present time.

After the nobility are the Priests, 5 known variously as lama (bla ma), mchod gnas, “chaplain”, and bla mchod among other names. The two main priestly communities are Lubra and Chongkhor, but families of this rank are to be found in a few other villages as well.

Third are the phal ba, the “Commoners”, who account for the majority of the population in Baragaon in general. There are in fact subsidiary strata within the Commoner caste in Baragaon as a whole, but since this subdivision does not manifest in any of the documents in the collection the matter need not concern us here.

The fourth and lowest rank are the smad rigs, literally “low sort”, 6 who are said to have been an artisanal community prior to the arrival of Indo-European blacksmiths (Nep. Kami) in the region. The fact that the smad rigs, like the Kamis, are often referred to as mgar ba, “blacksmith”, supports this assertion. They may be referred to as Artisans, although it must be emphasised that they do no actual artisanal work. Members of this social group are also sometimes referred to as bheda, probably derived from the north-Indian term beḍḍa. While bheda is the usual term for smad rigs in Dolpo, it is not commonly used in Mustang, although it occurs in document HMA/Baragaon/Tib/40 to refer to an Artisan family from a small settlement outside Lo Monthang.

Most of the communities of Baragaon also contain one or two households of Indo-European occupational castes, Blacksmiths (Nep. kāmi) Tailors (Nep. damāi). In the Mustang Tibetan dialects the former are referred to as ser bzo ba, lit. “goldsmiths” (or possibly gzer bzo ba, “nail-makers”) and the latter as duli, presumably derived from a north-Indian term holi, meaning “drummers” and referring to their ceremonial role both within Baragaon and the region of western Nepal to which they trace their origins.

The ascription of social status is a complex matter, and, empirically speaking, the ultimate determinant appears to be residence, although probably no one in Baragaon would explain things in this way. In theory – and, to a great extent, in practice too – social rank is inherited from one’s father. In common with Tibetan culture as a whole, the “bone” comes from one’s father’s side, and the “flesh” from one’s mother. These terms are understood in both a literal and a figurative sense. Marriage with anyone who has the same “bone” or “flesh” as oneself is classified as incest, and is strictly prohibited. While “bone” is regarded as an enduring property, however, it is said that the identity of “flesh” is soon lost. Thus marriage between matrilineally related individuals is permissible if they are more than three generations away from the common ancestor. Cross cousins – that is, if one is male, the daughter of one’s maternal uncle or paternal aunt – do not fall into this category (their flesh and bone are different from one’s own), and marriage with them, or more distant kin who are classified as such – is traditionally preferred.

Hierarchical distinctions between social groups find expression mainly in two institutions, kha, literally “mouth”, and gral, “seating-row”. One of the documents in the present collection (HMA/Baragaon/Tib/52) in fact concerns the problem of the status of a particular individual with respect to these two quantities. The manifestations of these concepts can be highly complex, since determinants of social status other than caste affiliation must be taken into consideration, but an outline of the general principle may be given here. Broadly speaking, members of one sex within the same caste are said to be of “one mouth”, signifying that they may share a cup without incurring ritual pollution (grib). When an outsider is fully accepted into a certain caste with a given community (following marriage, for example), it is said that the individual in question has been “given mouth”, that is to say, he or she has been granted the right to share the cup with others members. A person who has been “given mouth” automatically receives the right of “seating-row” (gral), in other words, of occupying a place according to his or her age in the row of members of the group on ceremonial occasions. In a typical multi-caste gathering at some hypothetical occasion, all members of the nobility will sit in a single line, with the eldest at the head of the row and the youngest at the end. In a separate line there sit the Priests, and in a third the Commoners, also in age order. The Artisans have no row 7 of their own but cluster outside, frequently in the room where the beer and food are being prepared. Blacksmiths and Tailors are barred from both areas.

It quite often happens that an individual is only partially integrated into a caste. This may occur if, for example, a man in a Commoner village receives as a wife a woman from a village inhabited by a lower “sub-caste” of Commoners. In a case where such a marriage occurred, the bride received neither “mouth” nor “seating-row” from the women of her new community. The husband was permitted to retain his place in the seating row, but was deprived of his right to share the cup with other members of the group.

A person who has lost caste status through ritual pollution may recover it by the expedient of a purification ritual. In brief, this involves living for seven days on a diet of ground barley husks, which are said to clean the insides of a person in the way that they also scour cooking pots. He or she must also bathe daily in the purifying waters of Muktinath, and drink gser chu, water containing gold filings.


Sankarman Sercan

Sankarman Sercan was the third of four sons of Mohanman, who was himself the great-grandson of Balbir. The latter was the first Thakali to hold the contract, issued by the government of Nepal, on the collection of customs at the revenue office in Dana, southern Thak. The contract, awarded in 1869, brought with it the title of subba, which entailed a certain judicial authority. Tenure of this contract was conditional on the provision of guarantors who would stand security in the event that the contractor might default on his payments to the government. The guarantors were known as jamāni subba (see HMA/Baragaon/Tib/38, l. 2).

Sankarman is referred to by a number of titles in these documents. Those of Warden (spyi khyab) and Collector (talukdār) have been discussed above, but two others are worth our brief attention. First, subba: strictly speaking, Sankarman was not a subba, since he never held a customs contract. The last holder before the monopoly was abolished in 1927 was Mohanman, Sankarman’s father. 8 Sankarman’s elder brothers, Lalitman and Nagendraman, were subbas, but only by virtue of their tenure of customs contracts on the Indian border. The title, therefore, seems to have been an honorary one inherited from his father. Secondly, sras po: pronounced hrewo in the Mustang dialects, the term is used for male members of the aristocracy in the Tibetan-speaking communities (see above). Women of this rank are referred to as sras mo (“hremo“). Thakali society is not stratified in the same way, and there is no aristocratic class among them. Applied to Sankarman, therefore, the title sras po must therefore be understood as an honorary one in recognition of his elevated status in Baragaon.


Presentation of the documents

The presentation of each document in this volume is divided into the following components:

1. Transliteration of the text (the conventions for which are given below)

2. Suggested emendations for an improved reading

3. Translation, paraphrase or summary. In certain cases a full translation is preceded by a brief summary.

4. Commentary

5. Facsimile reproduction


Conventions for the presentation of Tibetan text

The transliteration of Tibetan words loosely follows the so-called “Wylie system”, with the main difference that no hyphens or capital letters (except for proper names) are used. The conventions for representing other features of the text are based on those adopted by Dieter Schuh in his book Das Archiv des Klosters bKra-śis-bsam-gtan-gli von sKyid-gro (1988) and explained on pp. xi to xii. Since these have been modified slightly to suit the particular  requirements of the documents with which we are dealing here, they may be described briefly.

[ ] An unknown quantity of text missing owing to physical damage.
[±5] Approximately the given number of letters missing. (Note that “letter” also denotes a vertical cluster which may include several contracted consonants.)
[±5S] Approximately the given number of syllables missing.
[abc] Letters missing altogether but guessable with reasonable certainty from the context.
[—] or [S—] The number of missing letters or syllables is known with a fair degree of certainty and corresponds to the number of dashes.
±3 or ±3S The quantity of text specified is unreadable.
|abcd| Letters damaged but recognisable
abcd Identity of letters uncertain
[abcd] Identity of letters extremely uncertain
{abcd} Intentional deletions in the text.
{—} or {±3} or {—} or {±3S} Unreadable deletions
abcd abcd abcd Text intercalated above the line.
abcd abcd abcd Text intercalated below the line
(abcd) Words or syllables presented in contracted form in the text, but spelt out in full in the transliteration.
? May be added to any of the above to express or emphasise uncertainty.
/ Alternative reading of an indistinct syllable. (The punctuation mark shad is consequently represented by a vertical stroke “|”.)


May be added to any of the above to express or emphasise uncertainty./

Alternative reading of an indistinct syllable. (The punctuation mark shad is consequently represented by a vertical stroke “|”.)



All texts are presented in their original, ‘unimproved’ form. However, the text of certain documents is followed by suggestions for amended spellings to words or passages occurring in the specified line. The spelling in these documents is often highly irregular, and the meaning of numerous syllables is by no means clear. Intractable syllables are repeated in the emendations in the form in which they appear, followed by a question mark, in order to indicate that, although the original is probably not correct, I have no idea what it ought to be. Longer unintelligible passages are enclosed in round brackets before the question mark. Uncertain emendations are also marked with a query. Many of the words in the documents are either of Nepali origin or else are renderings of terms in South Mustang Tibetan (SMT) dialect that have no obvious Tibetan orthography. Nepali words are reproduced in the emendations in italic font, following the orthographic conventions in Turner’s Comparative and Etymological Dictionary of the Nepali Language (2001 [1931]). SMT words are presented in roughly phonetic form, underlined and followed in round brackets by the nearest literary Tibetan equivalent. It should be emphasised, therefore, that the symbol ‘<’ is to be understood not as ‘derived from’ but ‘corresponds to’. Emendations are for the most part limited to spelling, and no attempt is made to ‘correct’ more substantive grammatical idiosyncrasies. Occasionally syllables are presented in braces {…} to indicate that they were better omitted, while material in square brackets […] indicates material that might be added for an improved reading.

Although full transliterations are not always followed by emendations, the absence of the latter by no means signifies that the text contains no orthographic irregularities; in fact, none of the items in the archive is free from unorthodox spellings. In the case of documents that have been given more cursory treatment, suggestions for improved readings are sometimes provided within the paraphrase or summary of the text.

Contracted forms (bsdus yig) are a common feature of these documents. The convention for transliteration adopted here entails the contractions being reproduced as far as possible in roman script, followed by a full-length rendering of the intended term in brackets. This presentation makes it difficult to reproduce accurately unorthodox spellings the contractions may reveal. Accordingly, while obvious contractions such as bkris are simply written out as “bkris (bkra shis)”, wildly heterodox spellings are standardised in their full-length rendering, and the standardisation indicated by the symbol <. Thus the cluster མངོབྲུབས་ that appears in HMA/Baragaon/Tib/22 (left column, l. 5) is rendered “mngobrubs (< dngos grub)”.

A curious feature of many local documents from Mustang is that the root-letter  zh is prefixed by what sometimes appears to be a so-called ’a chung. However, the distinctiveness of the shape of this prefix, and the fact that it is used in documents where the scribe would surely be aware that this combination is orthographically unacceptable in standard Tibetan, suggest that this is not an ’a chung but a che rtags, the symbol (resembling the Tibetan numeral 7) that often precedes the names of revered individuals or institutions. The origin of the convention of prefixing the letter zh with a che rtags even where the word concerned is not especially auspicious remains a mystery. The che rtags is represented in the transliterations as ‘Z’.



The English renderings of the documents also vary in exactitude. ‘Summary’ denotes a general description of the content of the text, while ‘translation’ indicates a relatively close adherence to the original. Looser translations are given under the heading ‘paraphrase’. The commentaries to the documents range in scope from simple remarks on particular expressions in the text to more elaborate discussions of their social or historical context. In a few cases—especially where a number of documents are concerned with a single episode or issue, an introduction has been provided by way of an overview of the circumstances. As a general rule, personal names are given in Wylie transliteration, whereas toponyms—the proper spelling of which is often highly uncertain—are presented in a simple, roughly phonetic form.


Click on the links below the images for a transliteration and transcription.


Show 8 footnotes

  1. Ehrhard 1998; Ramble 1992–93, 1994; Schuh 1994, 1995.
  2. The following sections on Mustang and Baragaon are substantially similar to the corresponding passages in the Introduction to Tibetan Sources vol. 1. I have nevertheless reproduced them here for readers’ convenience.
  3. Concerning the possible etymology of spyan btsug, see Demoness 364, note 9.
  4. The justification for the translation of the term brgyud pa as ‘caste’ in the case of Baragaon is given in Ramble 1992–93.
  5. Capital initials will be used to designate members of castes. Thus a priest is a man who performs rituals on behalf of a client; a Priest is a member of the priestly caste, even though he or she may be incapable of performing a ritual.
  6. I have heard it said that some Artisans prefer to derive the name ‘mendrig’ not from smad rigs but  from the term dme ‘dre, meaning ‘incest’. The argument is that the Artisanal lineages are intrinsically “pure” (and therefore not smad rigs), and that the present status of the people derives from a legal degradation following an incestuous union between certain ancestors. On the subject of Nepalese laws relating to loss of caste status as a punishment for incest, see Höfer 1979. In Baragaon, it is believed that the sin incurred by committing incest may be purified by means of a penitential pilgrimage to a certain sacred site about a week’s walk away.
  7. As far as I am aware, the only village where the Artisans have a row in mixed-caste gatherings is Pagling. This community is unusual to the extent that the population comprises primarily Nobles and Artisans. Some years ago another village permitted its Artisans to have their own row; however, complaints from the Artisans that their row received inferior hospitality during public gatherings led to disputes that culminated in the dissolution of the row.
  8. The secondary literature indicates some uncertainty over the date of the end of the monopoly (Vinding 1998). Two Nepali documents in the private collection that Sankarman kindly permitted me to photograph give the date as 1st Baisakh 1985—the first day of that year according to the Bikram Sambat era. This corresponds to a date of March–April 1927.