Uddiyana VS Swat

Was it the Swat Valle, or a much larger region along the upper Indus river?

Whereas many a Tibetan text simply locates Uddiyana by saying that it lies to the West of India, Patrul Rinpoche (b. 1808) provides us with more detail when describing the birth place of Garab Dorje not simply as 'Uddiyana' but as being close to Lake Kutra in the region of Dhanakosha; thus indicating present day North-eastern Kashmir (now Pakistan) - a region right in the middle between Chitral, Gilgit and Swat. [The Words of My Perfect Teacher, pages 338-339]

When Giuseppe Tucci strongly proposed the idea (in 1940) that the land known as Uddiyana was finally identified as the Swat valley, he did not know Patrul Rinpoche's text (translated in 1994). Instead, he based himself on two medieval Tibetan travelers who had visited Swat and believed it to be the legendary region that produced such well known adepts as Garab Dorje, Padmasambhava, Luipa and Tilopa - not to mention their mainly female teachers; the women who made this country famous as Paradise of the Dakinis. Tucci had translated these medieval texts and published them as Travels of Tibetan Pilgrims in the Swat Valley - and from then onwards, most authors and translators kept reciting and reprinting the mantra "Uddiyana is Swat" until almost everyone believed it.

Understandably, the majority of scholars (among those interested in Tibetan history and culture) was so excited that Uddiyana had finally been located in space/time (i.e., geography and history), that only a few noticed that the same Giuseppe Tucci - 30 years later - also had to report that ceramics found in the royal tombs of Leh (Ladakh) stand in clear relation with others that were found in Swat [1970, page 244]. Although Tucci does not say so explicitly, this does show us that we're dealing with a cultural realm larger than the small valley along the Swat river alone.

For another decade or two, Tucci's original assessment was generally believed, much quoted, and thus multiplied, as can be seen from the following selected quotes:

  • When speaking of the four pithas named in the Hevajra Tantra, Prof. Sircar writes without hesitation (in 1948) that the name Odiyana Pitha refers to "Uddiyana in the Swat Valley". [1948, The Sakta Pithas, page 12]
  • Discussing the birth and childhood of Padmasambhava, Snellgrove and Richardson state that he was "nurtured by the king and queen of ancient Swat (known as O-rgyan in Tibetan from the old Indian name Oddiyana)". [1968, A Cultural History of Tibet, page 96]
  • In one of his footnotes, Keith Dowman explains that O-rgyan or Oddiyana is the ancient kingdom of the Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan which was a center of Tantric practice, at least up to the Muslim invasion. [1984, Skydancer, page 189, note 4]
  • Discussing the writings of the Mahasiddha Anangavajra, David Snellgrove speculates that he may have been a contemporary and direct student of Padmasambhava, especially since both are said to have come from the Swat Valley (Uddiyana). [1987, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, page 182].

At some point, however, due to unconvincing investigations in Swat - and probably due to a publication I am not aware of - the scholarly community gets more cautious and the concept of Uddiyana shifts away from the Swat Valley to a larger region: in fact the whole area of mountain ranges (and mountain peoples) from North-eastern Afghanistan to the Kailas range in the far West of Tibet.

Writing in 1994, Robert Thurman cautiously formulates in his glossary to the Bardo Thodol that Uddyana (Tib., U rgyan) is a "Buddhist country in northwestern India (perhaps present-day Pakistan or Afghanistan)". [1994, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, page 273]

This new concept of a greater Uddiyana is described most objectively - to my knowledge - by John Myrdhin Reynolds. Having discussed Tucci's apparent discovery and the subsequent failure of archeology and art-history to back up this claim, he concludes that perhaps Uddiyana is actually the name of a much wider geographical area than the Swat Valley alone, one embracing parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Western Tibet (Zhang-zhung). The best approach is to remain open-minded and not restrict the name only to the Swat Valley." [1996, The Golden Letters. Snow Lion Publications]

The idea of Uddiyana being the name of a large region rather than of a small valley, actually reiterates information published 100 years earlier by Laurence Austine Waddell in his Buddhism of Tibet (New York: Dover Publishing, 1895; reprinted in 1972 as Tibetan Buddhism). Although Waddell writes twice that Uddiyana equals Swat, he also noted in a footnote (3) that from the extent assigned to it by Hwen Tsang, the name probably covered a large part of the whole hill region south of the Hindu Kush, from Chitral to the Indus, as indeed it is represented in the Map of Vivien de St. Martin (Pelerins Bouddhistes, ii.).

Taking this view of Uddiyana and projecting it in the form of a map (which I've done here), one arrives at a very interesting image. Uddiyana thus becomes the uniting name for the whole region along the length of the Indus river for as long as it stays in the mountains. Starting with the river's multiple sources near Mt. Kailas, passing through Zhang-Zhung, Lahul and Spiti, crossing Kashmir with Zanskar on the left and Ladakh on the right before moving into Gilgit; the Indus turns South just before reaching Chitral. From here onwards, the river becomes the natural (Eastern) border of the Swat valley (the ancient capital was near present day Mingora) until its waters leave the mountains and reach the low and fertile plains that much earlier gave rise to the Indus Valley civilization (Harappa, Mohenjo Daro) as well as the later Buddhist kingdom of Gandharva.

Thus recognized, Uddiyana is not only the region into which the 14th Dalai Lama fled when forced to leave Tibet (an idea based on a personal communication with Jane Sperr), it also includes the very ancient Odiyana Pitha (Bhimasthana Tirtha) much cited by Sircar, as well as Jvalamukhi Pitha (sacred to both Hindu and Buddhist Tantrics); two of the ten most important shrines on the Indian sub-continent dedicated to the pre-Vedic Mother Goddess whose worship survived all attempts at displacing her. At the same time, this larger definition shows Uddiyana to be the most likely mediator for

  • injecting Persian concepts into Bon,
  • transmitting Kashmir Shaiva-teachings into Tibetan Buddhism and
  • combining the early Mahayana of India with Tantric teachings and aspects of folk-religion, a mixture that helped shape the later Vajrayana of Tibet and its surrounding regions.

This view of a greater Uddiyana does not exclude the possibility that the kingdom in the valley of the river Swat had perhaps a pivotal role, for example in establishing and training the apparently all-female priesthood of the region (a fact that has been well documented by Miranda Shaw in her Passionate Enlightenment; 1994).