February 18, 2013


Did Mar-pa’s son suffer from lice?

This is a question raised by Yael with regard to Mi-la’s description of Mar-pa’s son Dharma-mdo-sde: byis pa yid du ’ong la bzhin dang rgyan bzang ba | smra lce bde ba | snum gyi ral ba shig ge ba zhig. According to the Tshig mdzod chen mo, which, however, also records the same snum gyi ral ba shig ge ba from the biography, the answer would be in the negative (at least not on the basis of this expression). According to the same  dictionary, shig ge ba means “wriggling,” and here perhaps “curly.”

Three points seem worth making here. First, we have cases of duplicating the preceding postscripts (rjes ’jug), adding e vowel + ba, and often having an adjectival meaning (which can, of course, also be substantivized or made into an adverb). See, for examples, q.v. -g ge ba, -ng nge ba sogs. Such a possibility would explain construction shig ge ba. But what the hell does shig ge ba mean? This brings us to the second point that I want to make. Let us consider how shig ge ba is used in these few examples from the Tshig mdzod chen mo: mdog khra shig ge ba (“having colourful stripes, having colours of bright stripes”), smug shig ge ba (“having a deep purple colour”), lhug shig ge ba (“having a very loose or laxed structure/stature”), and bde shig ge (ba) (“having a very leisure mood/disposition”). In all of these examples, shig ge ba cannot stand alone and would makes sense only with a preceding syllable or word. My attempt at explanation would be shig ge ba in such contexts expresses a certain kind of rasa (nyams) (as in Indian rhetorics) both in its objective and subjective senses. That is, it expresses not only the quality of certain objects but also certain feelings/sentiments that these objects cause. For example, an “object” such as a creepy crawly creature would cause a feeling of creepiness in the “subject.” Such an object or sentiment may be described with the help of shig ge ba. By the way, I think, shig ge ba in such a construction can be replaced by shig shig. Consider the following examples: khra shig shig, ’gul shig shig, stod lhod shig shig, dal shig shig, ’dar shig shig, dpung gdang shig shig, blo lhod shig shig, mer mer shig shig, yang shig shig, lhod shig shig, mig ’dzum shig shig, and so on.

The third point concerns our shig ge ba in question, which seems to be used slightly differently and only in the sense of “wriggling,” “curly,” or “wavy.” Thus, ’bu srin shig ge ba may be translated as “ wriggling/creepy worms,” lag pa’i pags pa shig ge ba “wavy lines of the palm (lit. skin) of the hand,” and ral ba shig ge ba “wavy/curly hair.”

I recall that the interpretation of shig ge ba (as in ral ba shig ge ba) is already a vexed question. Maybe Dan, Rob, and others are right. Without holding on to my position apodictically and dogmatically, I think we cannot rule out the possibility that I suggested, especially in cases such as ral ba shig ge ba, which I proposed to translate as “wavy/curly hair,” based on a lexically attested meaning “a manner of movement of worms, and so on” (’bu sogs ’gul tshul zhig). See the Tshig mdzod chen mo, s.v. shig ge ba. Note also that the second meaning “wriggling patterns” or “patterns of fissures”) given in the Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v. shig ge ba: lag pa sogs la ser ga ’gas tshul lam ri mo mngon tshul zhig | lag pa’i pags pa shig ge bar gas song | de rnams kyi nang nas byis pa yid du ’ong la bzhin dang rgyan bzang ba | smra lce bde ba | snum gyi ral ba shig ge ba zhig ’dug |). I see no indication of anything “lustrous or luxuriant” about the things described here. If at all, the meaning “lustrous or lustrously” might work only in cases such as khra shig shig or khra shig ge ba (not in cases such as ral ba shig ge ba or pags pa shig ge ba) which may be translated as “lustrously/brilliantly variegated.” 

At least the Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v.) seems to express the following patterns with the word shig ge ba


  1. Hi,
    I am speaking from memory, and with age progressing the chance of being mistaken is growing, but for me shig ge (like in shig ge shig, I believe), was used in the rituals we practiced to describe the loose, unknotted hair of the daka or vira. I may have seen it in the ldang ba'i rnal 'byor practice (I believe written by Jamgon Kongtrul). I don't have it with me so I can't check it.

  2. Dear J,

    Yes that would be a description of wavy/curly hair, I think.



  3. I think they're just lustrous or luxuriant locks. This does give me deja vus of Rob's blog some time back.