The Epic of King Gesar

Last updated by joyce at 2014/10/20

Table of Contents

The Epic of King Gesar is also called the Life of King Gesar. It has more than 1, 000,000 lines of verse and 20,000,000 words. The story is about Gesar the king of Ling Kingdom. King Gesar fights with astonishing will and magical power to help the weak and bring his people better life. The Epic of King Gesar is regarded as the last epic poem being resounded in the world. It enjoys popularity in Tibet, Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, Inner Mongol and other places. Gesar epic tradition has been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO.


It is said that the Epic of King Gesar is a collective work by Tibetan people in the 5th -6th Century BC. It records the ups and downs of Tibetan history of Tubo kingdoms and the wisdom and oral art of Tibetan people who live in the snowy plateau, representing the Tibetan folk culture as well as the totality of Tibetan folk literatures such as mythologies, legends, poems and proverbs. The Epic of King Gesar is regarded as the “oriental epic poem of Homer”, as well as a bridge to know about Tibetan culture.


The Epic of King Gesar tells the following story: Long, long ago, natural and man-made calamities occurred all over Tibet and all forces of evil trampled on the masses. To deliver all living creatures from torment, the Goddess of Mercy begged Amitabha to send the Son of God to the world to vanquish demons and monsters. So, the Son of God, Tuiba Garwa, descended to Tibet and became King Gesar. In order that Gesar could complete the sacred mission of vanquishing the demons and benefiting the people, the creators of the epic bestowed on Gesar outstanding characteristics and rare abilities, and portrayed him as a semi-human and semi-god-like hero, a combination of deity, dragon and Nyi devil King. After descending to the world, Gesar was often attacked, but because of his own powers and the protection of the gods, he was never harmed, instead, the demons and monsters that attacked him were always killed. From the day he was born, Gesar began to rid people of the scourges.

The Epic of King Gesar involves nearly a hundred tribes, small kingdoms and areas. The epic can be mainly divided into three parts: the first part, Birth of Gesar; the second part, Conqueror of Demons and the third part, Return to Heaven. The second part, Conqueror of Demons, is the richest in content and the longest among the three. Besides, the well-known four segments of history about fighting against demons, i.e. Conqueror of Demons in the North, Battle Between Hor and Ling , Protecting Yanghai, and Battle Between Moin and Ling, there are the 18 large Zongs, 18 medium-sized Zongs and 18 small Zongs, each important story and each battle in which can be seen as an independent epic. The Epic of King Gesar is just like a treasure bag that can contain the world, a huge garden filled with the flowers of literature and art as well as aesthetics. It is rooted in the land of the social life at that time and exhibits the profound and wide social life. It also portrays hundreds of characters with distinct personalities, outstanding images which make an indeible impression on people.

TOPPosition and Meaning 

The Epic of King Gesar is a heroic epic poem with the largest scale and the greatest singing room in the world. It has more than 120 volums, 1,000,000 lines and 20,000,000 words. Seen from the length, the Epic of King Gesar is much longer than the totality of several famous epic poems in the world, representing the highest achievements of ancient Tibetan folk culture and oral tradition. It is an encyclopedia for people to study on the social history, communication, moral concept and folklore of ancient minorities. As a great epic poem handed down orally for one thousand years, the Epic of King Gesar is regarded as the “oriental Iliad”.

TOPSpread and Influence

The Epic of King Gesar has enjoyed high popularity among people. There are professional singers and many hand-copied books with different volumes in many places. With the further development of the communication between nationalities in China, the Epic of King Gesar is spread to different nations such as Mongol nationality, Tujia ethnic minority, Naxi nationality, Yugu nationality and Pumi nationality, combining with different cultures and traditions, which have profound influence in the history of national.cultural development. Besides, this epic poem is also spread to foreign countries such as Outer Mongolia, Buryat and Kalmyks in Russia, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. 

TOPCollection and Preservation

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has been publicizing the epic tradition and culture in many ways in regions where the Epic of King Gesar is spread such as Beijing, Sichuan, Tibet, Inner Mongol and Qinghai since 2002, holding many academic and memorial activities. The work of rescuing, collecting, summarizing, publishing and research has gained international recognition and favourable comments.

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