I propose to examine the mythological and ritual significance of an important yet little-known Tibetan protector deity named Tsiu Marpo (Tsi’u dmar po). Tsiu Marpo is the protector deity of Samyé (Bsam yas) monastery (est. 779 C.E.), the oldest Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Almost nothing is known of this figure in available scholarship. De Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1998, Gibson 1991, and Kalsang 1996 are the only secondary sources available on Tsiu Marpo, and the latter source provides a very poor and rudimentary history. The first two sources are informative; however, de Nebesky-Wojkowitz is outdated and Gibson only briefly examines Tsiu Marpo for the purpose of his larger argument.
Due to this paucity of information, in order to understand better this deity and his importance in Tibet, I will explore Tsiu Marpo through four venues representative of his influential role: his origin story and its connection with Tibetan cultural history, his iconography and its representation of Tibetan expressions of violence, his involvement in apotropaic ritual, and his importance within the Tibetan oracle tradition. This last venue of exploration will pull from all previous venues in order to elaborate on the oracle tradition as a dynamic outlet, through which the ritual program of the deity is enacted for a social service, and which utilizes iconographically significant ritual implements to submerge the service within a realm of sacrality. Through this detailed examination of one Tibetan protector deity, I hope to provide a template for further studies on protector deities as a whole, an arena of Tibetan studies that is still dim and disorganized.
Therefore, my thesis will begin with an introduction to Tibetan protector deities, the texts through which they are encountered, and the various sources that have contributed to the figure of Tsiu Marpo and of protector deities in general. From there my focus will contract into a detailed exploration of the protector deity Tsiu Marpo and expand outward into his iconographic, cosmologic, ritual, and oracular importance. My conclusion will tie these observations together to illustrate the multifaceted connections between the ritual and the social in Tibetan Buddhism and the importance of protector deities as a cohesive force between multiple cultural milieus, particularly lay and monastic communities.