Following Dongba tradition, the origin of Dter-gko is related in the manuscript entitled Dter-gko ssaw the origin of the Dter-gko[1] which told about the magical origin (pg.1, rr. 1 – 4)

Casella di testo:  1st page of manuscript Dter-gko ssaw, from Harvard Yenching Library collection, ms. n. 136127686

and the number of Dter-gko (r. 5) which is the symbolic 360.

The myth follows with the enumerations of many different kinds of Dter-gko:


(8) 360 celestial Dter-gko

(9) The rays of the sun caused a magic and there was born Nyi-bpa-na-sso Dter-gko.


(2) The rays of the moon caused a magic and there was born Nyi-dsaw-mun-mi- Dter-gko

(3) The white and black clouds had intercourse and there was born Shou-t’i-k’v-wu Dter-gko.

(4) Fire and waters had intercourse

(5) and there was born Mi-lo-ha-t’a Dter-gko of the keen hears and hearing and Lu-lo-miu-t’a of the keen eyes and sight.

(6) Between white (gods) and black (demons) there were born 30 Dter-gko

(7) Between the Ngaw and Nyi there were born 30 Dter-gko

(8) Between the Ch’ou and Shu (dirty vs pure) there were born 30 Dter-gko

(9) Between Dgyu and muan dgyu (they haves and have not) there were born 30 Dter-gko

(10) Between the Khi and the Ts’u (people and demons) there were born 30 Dter-gko […]

As evinced in manuscripts related to the origin and the description of serpent-like deities, the manuscript goes on  enumerating all the Dter-gko and their different origin in a recurring pattern, where the constant aspect could be identified
in the close relationship between the Dter-gko and some element of nature, often coupled in dualistic pairs.

For instance, as emerged from Dter-gko ssaw, since they had birth the winged deities are closely associated with clouds, sky, earth, sun, moon, fire, water.

Such relationships with natural element is also attested in manuscript Pu la ssaw,[2] where the various Dter-gkos are directly distinguished with the natural elements which they are associated to, as the Dter-gko of the sun and the moon (or of the day and the night), the the Dter-gko of the stars and planets.[3]

Joseph Rock also stated that Naxi – Dongba manuscripts distinguish among white and black Dter-gko, and the author linked such distinction to the local tradition in which white and blacks are opposite colors related respectively to gods’ or demons’ presence, and thus he finally considered the white and the black Dter-gko as counterparts.

According to Rock the white and black Dter-gko are named in manuscript he numbered as 1509, where is written about Dter-gkp na ngv ssuthe nine black Dter-gko and Dter-gko p’er ngu ssuthe white 9 Dter-gko[4].

He analyzed further, and stated that such manuscript relates about this two groups of deities as parents of others off-spring of Dter-gko.

At today the manuscript quoted by Rock is still unidentified, however a copy of manuscript Dter-gko ssaw available reports at page 5 rubric VI , about the 30 white and black Dter-gko, thus the distinction among white
and black could be at least hypothesized .

From Dongba manuscripts is possible to evinced that the Dter-gko are also believed to be powerful deities, omniscient and omnipotent, as attested in manuscript Pu la Ssaw [5] where the sequence of pictographs represents the written form of the traditional formula which means the Dter-gko that all see, all know and all can[6], a concept of omniscience which Rock linked also to his manuscript 973[7] form which he transcribed the sequence of pictographs which represents a written form of another Naxi – Dongba traditional formula translated as “how many sons and daughters the ants have below the ground, man doesn’t know, but the Dter-gko have seen”, implying the ability of all-knowing and all-seeing.[8]

Such attestations and information deduced, and with the help of other manuscripts’ attestations of Dter-gko is possible to hypothesize some peculiar features of Dter-gko iconology and iconography.

As introduced, the most frequent attested iconography of Dter-gko consists in an eagle-winged and headed pictograph.

Rock identifies other 7 complex pictographs of Dter-gko[9] which depict this deity as:

· eagle body, winged, and Khyu-t’khyu head, as the Dter-gko from manuscript GkoO[10]

· eagle body and animal’s head, as the [11] Gko-p’er Dter-gko = the white crane headed Dter-gko, or [12] Ha-shi-yu-shi Dter-gko = the golden monkey headed Dter-gko.

· human body, eagle wings and head of the eagle, an icon which is often attested for the Yuma class of deities.[13]

Confronting and considering Rock quotations and jointing them to the attestations of Dter-gko pictographs directly
retrieved on manuscripts, the author identified five different iconographic typologies:

A. eagle body and eagle headed

B. eagle body and Khyu-t’khyu headed (eagle head, with horns and trilobate crown)

C. eagle body and head of animal

D. human parts of body (legs, body, arms) winged, eagle headed

E. eagle body, other animals’ parts (hoof, claws, etc..)

Attestations of Dter-gko according to the iconography are resumed as follow:

According to scholars, the Dter-gko class of deities could be closely associated with the ཐུགས་དཀར thugs-dkar of the Tibetan Bon tradition[14], and as suggested by Rock and Rène De Nebesky – Wojkowitz they “are perhaps  identical ”.[15]

According to Das Sarat Chandra, 1902: 578 the word ཐུགས་དཀར་ཝ thugs-dkar means the 360 Bön gods called Thugsdkar, and by the term ཐུགས་དཀར Thugs-dkar wa the Tibetans indicate two meanings: 1) a white heart, sincerity, and 2) those who conducts religious rites to propitiate the 360 thugs-dkar. Snellgrove also states that ཐུགས་དཀར thugs-dkar are often named ཐུག་དཀར thugdkar,[16] in both case a certain similarity between the Tibetan and Naxi name could be

As the Dter-gko, the ཐུགས་དཀར thugs-dkar are 360, they are considered a class of human friendly genies, helpful for long life, prosperity and the like. They do belong to the general bigger class of the དགྲ་ལྷ སྒྲ བླ dgra-lha sgra blagods,[17] and as the Dter-gko they were born from a white egg.[18]

The religious rites which included ཐུགས་དཀར thugs-dkar have to be considered as belonging to those related to the 2nd of the 9 ways of Bon, named སྣང གཤེན ཐེག པ snang gshen theg pathe way of practice of visible manifestation: this way is principally concerned with སྣང་བ snangbavisible manifestation, perceived as positive manifestations of the activities of the ལཧlha gods who come to the aid of humanity.

Therefore, the emphasis is placed on ལཧགསོལ་བ lha gsolba invoking the gods for their aid, and this includes such classes of deities as the ཏཧུགས་དཀར thugsdkar, the སགར་བླ sGra-bla, the ཝེརམ Wer-ma and so on.

This is a point in common with Naxi – Dongba tradition, in which the Dter-gko like the ཏཧུགས་དཀར thugsdkar are protective tutelary spirits, winged and powerful, and they can suppress demons, as they are invoked whenever a  ceremony is performed during which demons are to be exorcised. Moreover the Dter-gko as the ཏཧུགས་དཀར thugsdkar are besought to drive the evils out, practice which in Naxi Dongba tradition coincides with the ritual and related  manuscripts of Dter-gko ssaw and yu-ma ssaw, where ssaw, in Naxi, means to invite.[19]

[1] of which actually 3 copies are known . The 3 copies of manuscript Dter-gko ssaw = the origin of Dter-gko are all actually preserved in Harvard Yengchin manuscript Collection. They are cataloged as 11161720, 13612786 and 12885250, which correspond respectively to Joesph Rock manuscripts number 2074, 5056 and 5067. Rock also quoted a manuscript numbered as 986 entitled Dter-gko ssaw yet , which actually wasn’t possible to retrieve.

[2] Harvard Yenching collection, n. 11100770; in Joseph Rock collection cataloged as number 1016; cfr. Also NNCRC: 163(224), (225)

[3] Both attested twice in ms. Pu la Ssaw: 3 – XI, 10 – VIII

[4] Rock quoted ms. 1509: pg 5 rr. II – V for the black Dter-gko, and pg.4, rr. IX for the nine white ones. Cfr Rock, 1952

[5] Pu la ssaw: 3 – XI. There is another attestation of the same formula attested by Rock in manuscript he numbered 986. Manuscript is actually unretrieved, but the formula transcript by Rock although pretty different in the sequence of pictographs, is equivalent to the one in ms. Pu la ssaw. Cfr. Rock, 1952

[6] Dter-gko [the Dter-gko] gkv[all able] ss[all wise] ndo [all seeing] muan ssu muan dgyu [no limit having]. Literally translation:  Dter-gko [the Dter-gko] gkv[all able] ss[all wise] ndo [all seeing] muan ssu muan dgyu [no limit having], cfr. Rock J., 1952: 176, 178.

[7] pg. 33, r. X.

[8] The formula in Naxi language could be transcript as follow: llu-bbu t’khyu-lo zo mi dgyu muan, dgyu khi nnu muan ddo,  Dter-gko ma mi mu ddo Literally translation: llu-bbu [below the ground] t’khyu-lo [the ancestors] zo mi[sons and daughters] dgyu muan dgyu [unseen] khi nnu [man] muan ddo [not knows], Dter-gko ma [the Dter-gko indeed] mi mu ddo [knows].

Cfr. Rock, 1952: 179.

[9] ms. 986

[10] Manuscript Gko – O , pg. 16. Actually unretrieved, was numbered as 6052 in the Joseph Rock private collection.

[11] Ibid, pg.5, r. X

[12] Ibid, pg. 6, r. VI

[13] Manuscript 986

[14] Joseph Rock, 1952: 136

[15] Rène De Nebesky – Wojkowitz, 1996 “Oracles and Demons of Tibet. The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective deities” : 340(40)

[16] Snellgrove D., 1967 “The nine ways of Bon: excerpts from gZi-Brjid”: 63 – Oxford University Press”: 258.

[17] Ibid: 298

[18] Romano Mastromattei, 1995 “Tremore e potere: la condizione estatica nello Sciamanesimo Himalayano”: 229 “ […] i Thugs-dkar Bon. Nacquero tutti da un unico uovo

[19] Rock J., 1937 “The Nichols Mo-So Manuscript of the American Geographical Society”, in Geographical Review, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Apr., 1937), pg. 234

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