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Tibetan Army Regimental Flags (Tibet)

Last modified: 2019-08-06 by zoltán horváth
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A sample of regimental flag

[Tibetan flag]
images by Corentin Chamboredon, 31 March 2014

I found several interesting informations about Tibetan flags in a two-volumes book: Political and military history of Tibet, by Gyaltse Namgyal Wangdue (Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2010 and 2012). The author is a retired army officer of the Indian Special Frontier Force, and had also been a soldier in the traditional Tibetan army until 1959.
I hoped to find much more accurate informations in these books, but there wasn't that much things about flags. There are plates in each volume, but they show black and white photographs, and their quality isn't good enough for my search. The only usable graphic content is in fact the colour cover (identical for both volumes). There we can see the flag of the Tibetan army, the Tibetan flag, and a third flag. It is drawn (still in black and white) in the first volume (p. 233), with a caption saying "A sample of regimental flag" without more details. The flag has a blue field with white mountains covering all the lower half. A snow lion appears in the middle of the mountains, walking toward the fly. There is a yellow border at the hoist.
Here are the interesting informations :
Vol 1, p. 6-7, about the flags of the imperial era
"Every regiment had its own regimental colours and flags attached to the spears and helmet of the soldiers."
"The upper and lower U-ru had a red flag with multicoloured flaps (dar lce) and a red heroic banner or padar (dpa' dar)."
"The upper and lower Yoru had a white flag, with an image of a black-chested lion at the center."
"The upper and lower Yeru had a black flag with a white-chest garuda bird as its emblem. Their padar flag was gray and had colourful borders."
"According to the old Tibetan records, the flag of the upper and lower Rulag had a leaping snow lion as the emblem. They had a black padar flag."
Vol 1, p. 22-23, about the military and national flags
"The uniform, emblems, insignias and colours of all the Tibetan army units were all made based on the British style."
"The Tibetan military flag was red with brownish edges, two snow lions at the center, facing each other in the manner of lifting crossed-vajras together. In those days, the national flag and the military flags of Tibet were similar in design, except for their emblem - the national flag had flaming jewels instead of crossed-vajras, A military law was codified and announced throughout the country. The flags were flown permanently at the Army Headquarters and they were flown or carried during all officiel ceremonies. In his memoir, Eric Teichmen, who spent many years in Chengdu as the British consular officer in China, describes the Tibetan national flag having a yellow background, with snowy mountains on which two snow lions face each other. However, some Tibetan veterans told me that the Tibetan national flag had a red background with light brown edges, with two snow lions facing each other at the center, in the manner of lifting the flaming jewels.
This is the real description ot the Tibetan national flag, and some samples of old Tibetan national flags can still be found in army stores in Tibet. In fact, the Tibetan national flag and military flags had the same background color, but the national flag had the flaming jewels and the military flags had the crossed-vajras as its emblem."
The author gives a list of the regiments. Phadang regiment is particular. It was better known as Drongdrak (the better families) regiment because its men had been conscripted from high class families, much to the chagrin of their sons who really didn't want to go to the army. It was created in 1932 by Künphela, a favorite of the XIIIth Dalai lama who saw this favored regiment as a tool to support its own power. Less than two weeks after the death of the Dalai lama, the regiment asked for its own disbandment, which caused the fall of Künphela.
Vol 1, p. 60
"Regarding the Tibetan army's flag, as mentioned above, it had a red background with yellow crossed-vajras as the emblem. The name of a regiment (ka, kha, ga, nga, etc.) was written in the top corner of the flag. All the regiments had their own regimental flags, whose colours differed from one another. There were also small flags used for giving secret signals on the battlefield."
Vol 1, p. 69
"In 1945, soon after the end of the Second World War, the Tibetan military uniforms and drill commands, which had been in British style, were changed to Tibetan, except for the Kadang Bodyguard Regiment which retained the British uniform."
"The military flag was the same as the old one. The Tibetan national flag was modified and flown at the Tibetan Army Headquarters and all the regimental barracks at all times, and carried and flown during all military parades, as in the past."
The author also writes about the Simpa Guards, which dated back to the XVIIth century. The Simpa Guards were tasked to protect the Potala and maintain order in the palace and in Lhasa. The guards usually wore old style armor and weapons.
Vol 1, p. 48-53
"The two armoury-keepers of the Headquarters also had to attend, carrying both the white and the yellow military banners."
"The two flag bearers would stand behinf the stupa and look ar the Potala palace frequently [to see if whether the Namgyal Monastery's monks were appearing to blow conch-shells], and remain alert. At around 9 am, two monks from Namgyal Monastery at the Palace would sound conch-shells. The flag bearers of the Simpa Army would immediately raise their flags."
"The flag or the banner of Simpa Yeru had white flaps and that of Simpa Yonru had brownish flaps."
In 1916, after four units ot the Tibetan army were respectively trained in Japanese, Russian, British and traditional Tibetan system, they held a public competition so that the Dalai Lama could decide which training the Tibetan army was to adopt.
Vol 2, p. 28
"He found the British military system the best, so he adopted it as the model for the Tibetan army. In order to apply this system uniformly to all the army units in Tibet, the Dalai Lama issued edicts to all the army barracks in Kham and sent military instructors to give them training. Besides this, the Tibetan army was divided into regiments, numbered in Tibetan alphabet (i.e. ka, kha, ga, nga, etc.), created new military and national flags"
Vol 2, p. 33
[In 1918, in Eastern Tibet] "According to Eric Teichman's book (Travels of a Consular Officer in Eastern Tibet), in those times, the flag of the headquarter of the Governor-General of Kham and all the army regiments had a yellow background with a white snowy mountain, two snow lions facing each other and a sun and moon above the two lions."
The Governor-General, Jampa Tendar, was in the same time the monk-minister of the Tibetan government (kalön lama), and the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan army (magchi).
Corentin Chamboredon, 31 March 2014

Giving it a few seconds extra so YouTube can start counting while it's still loading:
After that a Tibetan regiment (?) flag, BTW, of the common design. It  has a yellow top edge, blue bottom edge, what seems to be a red hoist  edge and tube, two yellow sectors, a red sector in the bottom hoist  corner (on the dexter hoist side), and the reverse has the reverse pattern of the sectors. Other details not clear enough to be certain,  though it's obviously the same general design.
These two are under the same comment about the relations between Tibet and China, but I don't know whether they were shot as the same occasion.
The "presumably" for the red of the Chinese unit colours was because it looked rather orangey. I now realised the Tibetan regiment flag has that  same shade for its red sectors, so it's fairly certain it's how flag red looks in that film.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 04 April 2014

I totally missed these few shots, thank you ! Since we can't see any character, we can't be sure of wether this is the Khadang regiment or not, but its borders are identical to those appearing on the latter's flag (while what seems to be Tadang regiment's flag had different borders).
Corentin Chamboredon, 04 April 2014

I now have a source for the numbering of the Tibetan regiments in In the Service of His Country: The Biography of Dasang Damdul Tsarong, by Dundul Namgyal Tsarong (2000, Snow Lion Publications), pp. 49-50.
"In accordance with His Holiness's desires, Tsarong continued to increase and organize the army. As the new battalions were being formed, they were numbered alphabetically, as Ka-1, Kha-1, Gha-1, etc., according to the Tibetan alphabet. Thus it was easy during future expansion of the regiments to simply add numbers once having completed the thirty letters of the alphabet. In this way, the army continues to increase its numbers to about ten thousand men by 1924. The first three regiments had one thousand troops in each, including the Dalai lama's special bodyguard battalion; therafter each regiment had five hundred men."
Then, the Tibetan regiments were all called XX-dang (or 1st XX) because there were never more regiments than Tibetan letters. If that had been the case, the 31st regiment would have been Kanyi (2nd Ka), the 32nd Khanyi (2nd Kha), etc. Therefore, the list of regiments I sent with their possible numbers is totally wrong since.
Corentin Chamboredon, 09 April 2014