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Karma Tseten

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Karma Tseten

Karma Tseten (Kar ma ts'e brtan) (fl. 16th century) was a king of Upper Tsang in West Central Tibet. He was the founder of the Tsangpa Dynasty that had an important role in the history of Tibet up to 1642.

Rebelling against the Rinpungpa

Karma Tseten, in full Karma Tseten Dorje, belonged to a clan from Nyag which claimed descent from Jñanakumara, a contemporary of the eighth-century tantric master Padmasambhava.[1] He was related to the Rinpungpa Dynasty which held superior power in the Tsang region in the 16th century. Coming from relatively modest circumstances, he was used by the Tsang ruler for various tasks, such as chief groom and tax collector. In 1548 he was entrusted with the governorship of the Samgrubtse castle in Shigatse.[2] This was a place of great strategical importance in Tsang. Some years later he began to plot against his Rinpungpa master. According to one story he obtained a written permit to collect 300 sewing needles from the local population. As the words for needle and armour are very similar in Tibetan, Tseten Dorje made a slight change in the document, and could thus collect 300 suits of armour.[3] In 1557 he raised the standard of rebellion, helped by the discontent with the Rinpungpa among many vassals. In 1565 he was able to take Panam Lhundrup Kyungtse and the Pakmori Gold Castle from the ruler Ngawang Jigme Drakpa. The Drukpa lama Kunkhyen Pema Karpo was able to mediate between the warring parties. However, just after the Tibetan new year in 1566, fresh fighting broke out in lower Nyangtod. The Drukpa lama intervened again. Karma Tseten requested all the lands above Jomo Kharek, but was finally content with the entire Panam area.[4] With these events the Rinpungpa faded into insignificance.

King of Upper Tsang

After 1565-66 Karma Tseten, who was also known as Zhingshagpa, declared himself Tsangtod Gyalpo, King of Upper Tsang.[5] His dynastic regime became known as the Tsangpa, after the Tsang region. He made friendly overtures to the Phagmodrupa dynasty, the weak line of kings in Nêdong in Ü (East Central Tibet). He also made contacts with the Mongols of the Kokonor region, and secured a promise of assistance from the Chogthu tribe.[6] He furthermore undertook expansion towards western Tibet, where the territories Latod Lho and Chang were placed under his authority. This was probably just a case of loose overlordship, since these areas had to be reconquered by his grandson Karma Phuntsok Namgyal in 1612-13.[7] Karma Tseten had nine sons, of which the most prominent were Karma Thutob Namgyal, Khunpang Lhawang Dorje and Karma Tensung.[8] Of these, Khunpang Lhawang Dorje intervened in a local feud where two brothers of the Changdakpa line quarreled, and favoured the elder brother. Karma Tseten forced the younger brother Tashi Tobgyal (1550?-1603) in exile to Ü. The vengeful Tashi Tobgyal performed tantric rites, with the supposed result that Karma Tseten died from "the sharp pain from Vishnu's sword".[9] The year of his demise is not clear; nor are the details of his succession.[10] The next important Tsangpa king was, however, Karma Tensung.

References

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