GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (68)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

João Cabral also tells us about Xembala, although from a perspective different from Cacela’s. In the letter written at the end of January 1628, in Shigatse, which he would send from there to Europe before his return trip to Bengal, this time via the Kingdom of Nepal, he geographically identifies the Utsang region (Central Tibet) which he compares with Alentejo: it “has large wheat fields and I have not seen a land more like Alentejo in Portugal.” He informs us that it bordered the North with the Tartars, “with whom this Tibetan king sometimes fights,” 

and many of those Tartars visit this place, “for their law is the same.” In fact, the Mongols had adopted Tibetan Lamaism, already introduced in the thirteenth century, from the kingdom of Altan Khan (1543-1583). After describing to us the Conchinchina, from which many goods come, as well as from China “which lies northeast,” João Cabral recalls the Kingdom of Cam, which is no more than Eastern Tibet, “where musk comes from,” and still Xembala, which in Cabral’s opinion had nothing to do with Cathay, but with those parts indicated on the maps as being the Great Tartary and which “is further diverted to the North.” There is also a curious association of a particular region with a product much sought at that time, the musk. Xembala corresponds to the Shambala of Buddhist tradition, the mythical northern kingdom where the famous Tantra Kalacakra, better known as the “Wheel of Time,” was conceived and structured. Cabral has probably heard of Shambala in conversations with Tibetans and the information gathered by his confrere Jerónimo Xavier, “master of novices” and nephew of St Francis of Xavier, one of the best-placed Jesuits at the court of Emperor Akbar, at the time he had his court stationed in Lahore.

To summarize and conclude: João Cabral identifies Shambala with present-day Mongolia, and his observations would apparently be well accepted among the remaining mapmaking missionaries of the next century, as evidenced by a map found in the Vatican Archives dating from 1782, where the names of those Asian regions appear as described by João Cabral.

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