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The Many Faces of Ling Gesar

A Tribute to Rolf A. Stein
Matthew Kapstein et Charles Ramble
p. 44
Cet article est une traduction de :
Destins divers de l’épopée de Gesar de Ling

Notes de la rédaction

Source: La lettre, no. 39, March 2015

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An image of Gesar taking the form known as “Gesar Norbu Dradul”. This 18th century scroll painting, attributed to the artist Hor Namkha Gyan from Kangdze, in Eastern Tibet, may be the earliest known Gesar composition

© Himalayan Art Resources Inc.

1Rolf Alfred Stein (1911-1999) was born in Germany, but fled to France in 1933, where he continued his education in Asian Studies under the leading orientalists of the time, notably Marcel Granet and Henri Maspéro in Sinology, Paul Pelliot in Mongolian and Central Asian Studies, and Jacques Bacot and Marcelle Lalou in Tibetan Studies. His remarkable versatility allowed him to devote his talents to work in such diverse areas as the Taoist religion of China and the Bön traditions of Tibet, the philological and historical analysis of the Dunhuang manuscripts in both Chinese and Tibetan, the religious significance of miniaturization in East Asian civilizations, the ethnohistory of the Sino-Tibetan marches, and much more besides. In Tibetan Studies in particular, his Tibetan Civilization [1962] is regarded as a fundamental synthesis, while his two major contributions to research on the epic of Ling Gesar (LÉpopée tibétaine de Gesar dans sa version lamaïque de Ling in 1956 and Recherches sur l’épopée et le barde au Tibet in 1959) are among the cornerstones of the field. His sustained interest in topics involving the interrelationships of religion, literature and popular culture is also manifest in his work Vie et chants de ’Brug-pa Kun-legs, le yogin (1972). Rolf Alfred Stein was professor of Chinese and Tibetan religions at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE) from 1951 to 1970, as well as professor at the Collège de France from 1966 until his retirement in 1981.

2Although a considerable part of Prof. Stein’s career was devoted to the study of the Tibetan epic of the hero Gesar, research on this subject has progressed little within the half century following the publication of his major contributions. In recognition of this, the international symposium, The Many Faces of Ling Gesar, was organized to honour his memory and at the same time to renew a field of which he was particularly fond. In the spirit of Prof. Stein’s work, we spent two days exploring the variety of the traditions linked to Gesar as they have developed in the regions of Eastern Tibet, Mongolia, and in parts of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir.

3John Scheid, Collège de France professor and Vice-Administrator, and Hubert Bost, president of the École Pratique des Hautes Études, kindly agreed to open the symposium. Two of Prof. Stein’s best-known students also delivered talks on the occasion: Anne-Marie Blondeau outlined Stein’s career, with a special focus on his research on the Gesar epic, while Mireille Helffer spoke on the current efforts to preserve the first recordings of bardic recitations of Gesar preserved in French collections, some of which were made by Prof. Stein himself.

4The contributors to the symposium included four eminent representatives of current research on the Gesar epic in China: Yang Enhong and Norbu Wangdan, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, Chopa Dondrup, professor emeritus at Qinghai Nationalities University, and Wang Guoming of the Northwest University for Nationalities, in Lanzhou, Gansu. Mr Wang, son of the last Gesar bard among the Monguor people of Qinghai, punctuated his presentation with the improvised recitation of a few passages from the epic, sung in his father’s tradition. Donagh Coleman’s documentary film A Gesar Bard’s Tale, portraying a Tibetan bard in Qinghai province, precisely complemented the contributions of the Chinese specialists. The versions of the epic preserved in Western Tibetan cultural regions were examined in the presentations of Siddiq Wahid, from the University of Kashmir, and Estelle Dryland, from Macquarie University (Australia). Mr Wahid also presented The Kesar Saga, a poetic documentary filmed in Ladakh by the Kashmiri director Iffat Fatima. Other participants who spoke on the literary, ritual and historic dimensions of the epic included George FitzHerbert (Oxford), Gregory Forgues (Vienna), Frances Garrett (Toronto), Frantz Grenet (Collège de France), Lama Jabb (Oxford), Matthew King (Riverside, California) and Geoffrey Samuel (Cardiff).

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Légende An image of Gesar taking the form known as “Gesar Norbu Dradul”. This 18th century scroll painting, attributed to the artist Hor Namkha Gyan from Kangdze, in Eastern Tibet, may be the earliest known Gesar composition
Crédits © Himalayan Art Resources Inc.
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Référence électronique

Matthew Kapstein et Charles Ramble, « The Many Faces of Ling Gesar », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 9 | 2015, mis en ligne le 25 septembre 2015, consulté le 10 décembre 2018. URL :

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